Studying Asian Bodywork Modalities

Studying Asian Bodywork Modalities

I read a blog post by Terry Norman, an instructor and highly qualified practitioner of my favorite modality, Tuina.  His post was written in June of 2008 and I feel it is quite relevant today.  I am, with his permission, quoting the blog post below:

"I have been aware over the past 7 years that there has been a steady decline in interest among massage therapist to learn any Asian forms of bodywork like Shiatsu, Tuina, Amma, or Acupressure.  When asked "Why?", what I tend to get as an answer is that these modalities don't really work, and that they aren't based upon "science."  Therefore, we've been seeing MT's move towards the Western sciences of Pathology, Kinesiology, and backwards towards modalities and techniques such as Myofascial Release (MFR), Deep Tissue, and Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT).  


Now, don't get me wrong, these are necessary techniques to know, and it is crucial that MT's are versed in Pathology, Kinesiology, as well as Anatomy & Physiology.  But, if therapists want to move forward from a position of performing "therapy" and into one of "healing," they should look more seriously into the ancient therapeutic arts from Asia.


First of all, Asian bodywork is based largely upon Traditional Chinese Medical Theory.  Which is definitely rooted in science.  The Chinese system of medicine dates back more than 5,000 yrs, with its earliest form being massage.  The first book ever written on massage in the world was published around 2694 B.C. in China.  It covered bone setting, strains, sprains, dislocations, illness due to exposure to cold, heat, damp, wind, and dryness, the birthing process, pediatric disorders and sickness, hormonal imbalances, general injuries of an orthopedic and neurologic nature, and diseases of the elderly.


As the centuries, yes "centuries," went by, research went into understanding the etiology and pathogeneses of all these aliments and diseases.  Procedures and techniques were developed, refined, and re-developed in an attempt to discover what was the most effective in a treatment protocol.  New schools of theoretical and procedural approaches were developed based upon research, observation, testing, examination, political environment, what was in fad, and what worked the best.  Similar to how we develop new procedures today in therapeutic treatments.


As techniques became more and more medically specific, newer names were coined to represent these newer styles of massage.  During the Sui and Tang Dynasty (581-907 A.D.), Chinese massage began to flourish.  It was known as  Anmo.  At this time, massage had achieved the level of doctoral degree in the State Office of Imperial Physicians.  


By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), a specialty department of Anmo was developed that was more medically specific than anything before.  It was during this time that the term Tuina  began to replace Anmo.  Today, Tuina is practiced by doctors in medical hospitals, clinics, and at the Olympic Training Center in Beijing.


My point is that for all the non-western terms such as Yin & Yang, 5 Element Theory, and Theory of Channels and Collaterals, Chinese medicine and Asian bodywork is based upon a level of science and physics that we in the West haven't discovered as yet.  They explain physiological and pathological phenomena, and the changes that take place through physical and energetic manipulation from their cultures point of view which is obviously much different than ours.  Unfortunately, by not understanding their approaches to illness and disorders, along with not clearly understanding the illness and disorder as a whole, we tend to ignore and ridicule the Asian explanation, and attempt to explain these physical phenomena as something else............running it through our filter of limited understanding, and stating that the observed condition is actually something of a neurological, neuromuscular, or orthopedic problem.  It has nothing to do with some invisible energetic system of "channels" causing the phenomena we see.


In addition, the other argument I've heard against studying Asian modalities is that it "just takes to long to learn."  No one wants to take years to learn techniques and procedures to treat injured people.  We don't want to put forth the effort and discipline to develop skills that can actually "heal" a condition instead of only reducing or manage it.  We want, "Instant gratification!"  But, in fact, don't we continue to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on continuing education in an attempt to gain more knowledge and skill to do just people suffering in pain in the most efficient and fastest way possible.  


One of my students put it perfectly.  He said that we in this country have, "No sense of Kung Fu."  No, that doesn't mean that we must learn to break bricks with our hands, and fight like Bruce Lee.  The words "Kung Fu" mean "Skilled Man."  The closes word we have in our language is "Craftsman."  We've made inferiority the norm.


So, those of you out there thinking that taking a class in Acupressure, Shiatsu, or Tuina would be a waste of time due to that fact that it isn't based on science, should think again.  These therapies can take you to a much high level of expertise than you've ever been, or ever thought you could be.  If you've taken a class in Asian bodywork before, and have found it not to be effective, I'd ask you to inspect the quality of your instructor.  If they know what they're doing, have the proper qualifications, and have taught you well, the techniques you've been taught will work on your clients.  If they're a poor instructor, then you won't get the results.  This is IF you have put in the proper amount of practice.


You should ask yourself this.  "If these techniques and procedures have worked for thousands of years, and most of the other countries of the world use them effectively, then why shouldn't I want to learn them, and integrate them into my procedures?"  Just make sure your instructor is an experienced and qualified teacher of the modality they are teaching.  And most of all, don't be afraid to learn something that may take time and practice to develop.  Remember that many have been where you are starting now, and have developed into amazing doctors and therapist that have achieved unbelievable results.  You can too.

Terry Norman LMT

To Study Asian Bodywork, or Not to Study Asian Bodywork.  That Is the Question.

Blog Post on June/2008
 After reading this I have found the same arguments are used today.  "TCM isn't based in science," or "I don't have time to learn those techniques".  Saying you don't have time is to say you don't consider it a priority; which means helping your clients to find the path to healing is also not a priority, but we will get to that. 
What is science?  Science is the observation and catalogueing of our environment and its reaction to a given stimulus or event.  It is also a method of understanding our environment through the formulation of a hypothesis, then testing, retesting and comparing the results of the tests.  Then having the test duplicated by another party to compare results.  In short, science is a methodology and verification or refutation of our beliefs and understanding of our environment.  For over five thousand years, the chinese have studied the body, environment, nature and our reactions and interactions with them.  They came up with The Yin/Yang Theory, Five Element Theory, and Channel/Collateral Theory and then devised a way of treatment by stimulating the vital energies within that framework.  They were treating conditions four thousand years ago with this method, to great success that would be a death sentence in the western world.  If you can say that after five thousand years of corroboration, study, review, adaptation, and evolution of understanding that something is not based in science, then you would have to be seriously skewed and biased against it and not because of science or lack thereof. 
As far as not having the time.  Someone that says they "Don't have time," is only saying it isn't a priority or don't care about the subject.  We prioritize what we deem important and we make sure we take the time to do it.  Terry mentions Kung Fu or "Skilled Man".   Gong Fu, is the basis of all skills.  It means Supreme Skill through hard work.  The problem is many of those who say they don't have time, are really happy with mediocrity and lack of growth.  To grow one must go outside their current comfort zone.  They don't want to do that, for fear, laziness, or apathy is to each their own.  I have been a massage therapist for nearly ten years and I have found that I have studied more than most therapists that have been in the field for twice that.  When I was asked by a veteran of massage therapy that had been practicing for over thirty years why I studied so much, I gave a simple answer... "To stop learning is to stop living".  That to me says everything.  Many therapists will stick to the same classes and never grow because they feel they know enough.  To me, they lack wisdom.  A wise person knows that there is always more to learn and even if one learns for a thousand years all they can, they will still only have barely scratched the surface of all their is to know.  
You can always learn new techniques and gain a better understanding of your field.  I encourage you to do that.  Blessed Be.