“One’s body is its own best possible doctor”

M. D. Bishop

Many sports and arts could be labelled ‘Bodywork’, but here the term is used specifically to refer to the therapeutic ‘internal’ arts of Yoga, Shiatsu and Udundi, all of which are expressions of the same healing principle at work.

Stress in our systems (whether derived mentally, physically or through accident or illness), creates tension and toxins in our muscles and central nervous system. This disrupts our endocrine system, which increases negative thoughts and emotions as well as a creating a host of physical problems. The whole process is self-perpetuating, creating more anxiety, stress and tension, and leading into a self-perpetuating downward spiral of depression, lethargy and illness.

Our ‘mood’ is a biochemical balancing act governed by the glandular system. It is intricately linked with what we think and how we think it (as positive or negative – ‘glass half-full or glass half-empty’).

The body acts like a dumping ground for the tension generated by the internal conflict between our conscious and sub-conscious minds as we try to make sense of the world around us. This causes our nerves to become over-busy, our muscles to tighten, and our organs to function poorly. The more stressed we feel the tighter our we get. The tighter the muscles and nerve cells, the more toxins they produce and the more pain we are in both physically and mentally. When we habitually hold ourselves tight (which we rapidly lose the ability to sense), we eventually end up injuring the already exhausted muscles which respond by going into spasm, or our organs start to develop problems, and then we have additional misery to deal with.

These arts deal with that stress and tension, the underlying root of so many of our problems, in similar ways; through stretching and compression, and the use of movement, breath, trance (healing) states and body heat to release toxins and tension.

A Yoga back-bend

A Shiatsu back-bend

A Martial Arts back-bend

Another example of how stress can be induced is that of an attack on our body by an outside agent, say a stomach bug (bearing in mind that often virus’s only gets a grip because the immune system is low due to stress in the first place). Our immune system responds to the bug by fighting back and the ensuing battle releases all of its debris (toxins) into the bloodstream. So now as well as our gut not working, our muscles feel sluggish and painful and we feel depressed.

Obviously these explanations are over-simplified, the actual mechanics are enormously complex, but the gist, the overview, is of more use to most of us than the details – it gives us an holistic understanding that we can actively work with to improve our lives.

We humans have a great tendency to scare ourselves by getting wrapped up in the morbid and negative details of our own ill health. We love all the medical jargon. By learning the mystical Latin words we can pretend an understanding which others lack, which makes us feel important, and, we perversely love the extra attention we can solicit, all the while side-slipping responsibility for our own welfare onto the Doctors (or God), and bewailing our fate. Fate?

It is quite possible to take responsibility for our lives for our selves. Our unwillingness to do so is in part due to the negativity brought about by our own lack of attention and body maintenance in the first place, which has become a self-fulfilling downward spiral, but, with a little commitment we can reverse that and start to climb into a positive (and also self-fulfilling) spiral.

Bodywork boosts the immune system by improving the circulation and restoring balance to the endocrine system. This helps us to feel better and think more clearly. Flushing toxins from the soft tissues promotes better communication between the central nervous system and organs, which allows the body to defend and repair itself better.

Long-term practise helps to bring about robust good health and aids vitality, which in turn leads us to a more stable mental state. This is the ‘positive spiral’ – upwards into better health, happiness, and positive thinking.

As the body relaxes the mind calms. As tension is shed we feel better, we have been ‘enlightened’. It’s simple really, but it is a subtle process and we are so easily knocked off course because everyday-life keeps piling more stress into us – everyday.

I think that the common conception of ‘Enlightenment’ is of some sort of universal understanding that comes in a blinding flash, explaining all (usually after having been cloistered away in a Tibetan monastery for years), and maybe it can.

However, we can all benefit from enlightenment incrementally, here at home, via the internal Arts. As we de-stress we develop ’emotional intelligence’ and what was hidden to us becomes clear – as a series of smaller epiphanies. The more bodywork we do, the more we de-stress, and the more we de-stress the more we develop.