So I work with the body’s energy. For some, this conjures a quasi-mystical (or fully mystical) orientation, where the “real” being is composed of currents of subtle, invisible energy, which can only be perceived through special states of consciousness and spiritual training. For others, the mere mention of energy will relegate me to the “practitioners of Woo” category, with never a hope to be taken seriously by those who value reason and science to understand the world. Neither of these perceptions of energy work really reflects how I understand energy and how I work with it, so I will attempt to clear it up a bit.
I had a client ask me a while back whether I worked with energy or the physical body. I had thought about it before, so I had a response ready. I don’t really distinguish between the physical body and the energetic body. The physical body is alive with energy, and work with that energy what separates massage therapy from meat tenderizing. The energetic body expresses itself as the physical body. Really whether I am doing physical work or energy work is a point of view, not a metaphysical distinction. It’s like whether the zebra is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. Either way, it’s still the same zebra.
When I say that the body is alive with energy, I do not mean this in a mystical sense. Whether or not there is an aura, or how Chi flows through Meridians are interesting questions, but they are outside of my current point of view. The energy that I am interested in is energy that I know how to perceive. After all, if we can’t perceive something, how do we do anything with it? Perceiving energy in the body is actually quite simple. Hold your arm out in front of you, resting on something, relaxed. The muscles should feel soft. Now flex your arm and squeeze your muscles. They have become hard, right? The physical substance of the muscle hasn’t changed. What has changed is the energetic state of the muscle. It was using this much energy. Then it was using a lot more. You can feel the difference.
People ask me whether I can feel tension in the body. Why yes, I can. Tension in the body is not different in theory than the exercise I just gave you. Tissue that is holding tension feels different than tissue that is not. There is more energy in the tissue. It’s like a rubber band that is pulled tight. You could tell the difference by touch alone whether a rubber band is pulled tight or hanging loose. In the rubber band we call that potential energy. Under the right conditions the energy will release and then the rubber band will create some kind of motion. Tension in muscles and fascia is also a form of potential energy. Your tissues are like the rubber band pulled tight. Well, it is a bit more complex than that. Your tissues are like a million tiny rubber bands pulled tight in a lot of different directions, with definite opinions about what is happening. And that’s still a gross oversimplification. There are distinct kinds of tension that feel different ways, with different kinds of treatment that are appropriate to them.
Here’s the thing that twelve years spent quietly focusing on how soft tissue feels has taught me. There is a LOT of energy in the body that we can perceive and work with, if we take the time to find it. Our bodies are alive and intelligent in all of our cells and tissues, and that energy is expressed and accessible if we know how to listen. We can perceive lines of pull and tension, we can perceive guarding and release, we can perceive more energy directly than most of us ever imagine. After 12 years, I feel like I am a beginner at this. The complexity and subtlety of the body is vast. The possibilities for both trauma and healing are similarly vast.
My experience is also teaching me that working deeper means becoming more subtle, not using more strength or pressure. It means not paying attention so much to what the muscle IS, but what the muscle is DOING. It’s not just a hard lump that needs to become soft. It has a purpose and a function, it’s working together with other muscles and joints and bones, is supporting here and compensating there and being supported by this over here, and it is performing well or it is under strain or it is close to exhaustion or it has given up and solidified. This is what I mean by working with energy. It is listening to the story that the soft tissues are telling, and facilitating a transition in their energetic state from one of trauma, excitation, and guarding, to one of release, rest, and healing. This is no simple thing.
So I encourage you not be be frightened off by the mention of energy work as something weird and unknown. Neither should you put it on a pedestal, as something superior to the “merely” physical. We in our bodies and our selves are more amazing and complex than that. I can work more physically or more energetically, it all depends. It could be that some people need a more physical approach and others a more energetic. Or a single person could need a more physical approach one day and a more energetic approach the next. Or your calf might need a more physical approach and your hip a more energetic. Or your shoulder might need two minutes of physical work followed by five minutes of energetic work then four more minutes of physical work. The possibilities are really endless, and the best way to know what is needed is by quietly listening.