The next day, Tess told me she wanted me to do that technique again because she was feeling so good.
“I told you, I didn’t actually do anything that second time. I felt for something and it just wasn’t there, so there was nothing to treat. I don’t think you need me to do this anymore for awhile,” I told her.
“What did you feel the first time?” Tess asked me.
I didn’t have a good answer.
I knew what I felt, but articulating it into words was surprisingly hard to do. She was expecting a concrete and scientific report of what was wrong in her body, the exact steps I took to release the restrictions, and the status of things now. Sounds like a fair request, right? After all, I should be able to explain what I’m doing after all these years. But I was stumped. I couldn’t find the words. With many parts of my job I can do this, but with this it was describing a feel in my hands, something I guess you would call more intuitive. I started using vague words like “melting”, “yielding”, “releasing”, and after getting increasingly quizzical glances from Tess, sighed and decided best to give up altogether…
Left Brain and Right Brain
I thought about this over the next few days with each patient I was treating. I asked myself during each appointment: “Hey, dude, what are you doing?” As in, “Can you explain to someone else what’s going on while you do all these releases and mobilizations?”
When someone comes into my office, I typically want to get as much measurable information as I can. I want to know where it hurts, what makes it hurt, for how long, and what other issues are going on the body. These are all data points. I want the answers to be as exact as possible, so much so that sometimes I think I must’ve been an interrogator in another life. I then do my physical assessment, again, feeling joint motion and strength, and quantifying it as precisely as possible. I take this information, and devise a systematic sequence of things I want to do, in a specific order, with specific goals in mind (like getting a specific vertebra in the back moving better, or getting a shoulder looser by X degrees of rotation). My left brain, my analytical side, is hard at work, just like we were taught in school.
But then once my hands were on someone, I realized that I didn’t care so much about that stuff anymore. That quantity of motion, tightness, and flexibility mattered less and quality is all I seemed to be noticing. Was the tension under my fingers? Was it deeper in the muscle tissue? Where were my hands taking me? I’m guessing this is more how artistic, intuitive, “right brained” people think. I never really looked at myself in this way, but I was positive that if I couldn’t forget the numbers, descriptors and data points for the moment I was never going to get a good sense of the tissues and do my job properly. Maybe there were two parts to being an effective manual therapist, I thought.
It’s strange and hard to describe. My left brain guides and dictates the overall sequence of what I’m doing that day, but there is this back-and-forth in my brain between the analytical and the intuitive. One moment I am in my algorithm; thinking about this thing I want to do, and the next two joints I want to assess after that. The next moment, I am in a different time and space. I’m listening with my hands, trusting their sense of the faintest and tiniest tensions and energies of the body. They are doing the thinking, and my mind’s eye is somewhere in that body. Every exact detail of the anatomy, which the left brain spent so many hours studying and memorizing years ago, starts to melt away in importance. I am going by feel, going with the flow. Then, the technique is done and suddenly the left brain is in charge again. My right brain reports back what it can on the work it just did, but oftentimes it’s frustratingly distilled: “better”, “good”, or “wow that was restricted”. My left brain forgivingly accepts the right brain’s report, and moves on.
My wife had stumped me. But she helped me to better see how in this line of work (and probably many others!), we are certainly scientists, but sometimes we also need to be artists.
There are many benefits from Craniosacral Therapy (CST), which is a gentle, non-invasive form of Osteopathic Manual Therapy that I use every day in my practice. It’s great for people who find conventional approaches (such as medications, exercises or...