Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nature is in the Body, the Body is the Natural World

It may be a cliché that our bodies mirror the earth, but I see it profoundly in my private bodywork practice. For me, this idea began as a child reading the myths and stories of old. The body of Mother Earth with voluptuous breasts and rolling belly was drawn below the masculine, bearded face of Father Sky. In this metaphor, the earth’s topography is anatomically feminine, but as a massage and craniosacral therapist, I have witnessed how the human body reflects the elements of the natural world no matter what the gender. This ecological reflection has led me to ponder the connection between our health as a species and the health of the planet.

In 1998, I undertook a study of my craniosacral clients after many of them reported what I would call “spiritual” experiences. After documenting 116 sessions, I was able to clarify what this meant. Most clients reported a feeling that was “ineffable” or unexplainable. These feelings were “energy” or “fluid”, like floating on water, water rushing through them, or the roll of the ocean tides. After rising from craniosacral work, clients reported experiences like: “I felt there was a pond in my head, a beautiful vernal pond full of life and potential,” or “there was an ocean in my head” or “I saw a waterfall!” Many clients saw images, felt sensations and then were able to work out problems in their minds either there in the moment or later on, days or weeks after the session.

While documenting their responses, I never told them that I often saw images while performing my tasks as a therapist – simply holding their body and attending the space within them and around them, and within and around myself. What I often saw was a forest, a ridge of deciduous trees, and a deer softly feeding. This was my way in to a place of deep meditation and attendance within myself. Images often emerged of the ocean or other forms of water in many different kinds of weather. I have never questioned these images, but I had a felt sense that this was a sacred, natural place within myself from which I could create the healing space for my clientele.

Once at a conference on massage therapy, I was able to witness some of the cellular anatomy in a brilliant presentation by Deane Juhan, one of the giants in the manual therapy field.[i] Looking at cells from afar, I saw the world, Mother Earth, in one human cell. Native American elders and teachers have long said that the circle is sacred, and how this pattern is repeated in nature and life. The cell is the Circle of Life represented in the body. Furthermore, I saw that, in Deane Juhan’s slides, specific structures in the body that mimic specific natural structures. On the screen I saw apple trees, sand dunes, and river eddies, all in the body. A woman’s fertile uterine lining looked like a fertile rainforest. Collagen fiber looked like the grapevine I gather to make a tinder bundle for my fire.

The originator of craniosacral therapy, William Sutherland, gave specific names to the functions he was working with in the body. Craniosacral therapy works with the natural flow of cerebral spinal fluid as it moves up the spine, in and around the brain. Sutherland calls this “the Long Tide,” and the deep rhythm of the flow, “the Breath of Life.” As I track this flow, I can witness it stop, still, swirl, eddy, and regain flow in a stronger way, all connected to a deep mystery of life within.

Native peoples’ stories, rituals and ceremonies often speak of a balance and living harmoniously with nature. These days, it is hard to find that balance just as simple living is rare to find in the hubbub of urban society. Studies and articles speak about the endangered health of natural places: the hole in the ozone, global warming, overpopulation, over-fished waters, pollution of seas and rivers. We are living beyond our means, depleting the earth’s natural resources of fuel, water, trees and minerals.

I wonder about these conditions and the health of humanity. Is there a connection between the rise in chronic health conditions, disease and infertility and the way we treat the earth? My hypothesis is yes but I don’t have data to support my speculation and I try to do my part to help the world be a better place, one client at a time.

[i] Author of Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork

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