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What’s the deal with bodywork (and should I try it)?14 min read

What is bodywork (and should I try it)?

Your fight-or-flight response is a natural physiological survival mechanism. We’re all born with it. When you perceive a threat, your sympathetic nervous system activates, stimulating the adrenal glands and triggering the release of adrenalin and other hormones.

Your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes more rapid, your pupils dilate and you may start trembling or perspiring. Your body is literally preparing you for fighting back or escaping a life-threatening situation.

In modern life, we are regularly experiencing this state of fight-or-flight. Many of us are either unconsciously or purposefully inducing a state of stress, essentially perpetuating a fight-or-flight state, so that we can use the resulting energy as fuel.

This “hack” can give you a competitive edge, but as nature designed it to be a temporary state, prolonging and maintaining it for long periods of time is draining and detrimental both physically, emotionally and mentally.

Without taking the time to recharge and recover; trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of resting, digesting, healing and detoxing, you will find yourself in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight and you will feel stressed, tense and depleted.

In this state you will focus on you body and be able to disconnect from your emotions. This kind of avoidance can have tangible physical consequences: bottled up emotion (grief, anger and hurt) often manifests as physical pain and illness through a process called somatization.

When you don’t move through your emotions – as waves, as sounds, as vibrations – you end up holding them as tension in your body.

I was searching for a way to heal and recover from stressful relationships in my family when I wandered into bodywork

I’ve always been sensitive to the energies around me and I think that’s what attracted me to bodywork at a young age. Being an empath I was a bit of an oddball according to most people.

She moves in her own way‘, they’d say.

Several family members found me quite unseemly by the standards of proper society and gasped ‘Oh, so you’re a fatalist!‘ when I once (ONCE!!!) expressed a chips-fall-where-they-may sentiment.

I was attracted by all things alternative (the more it irked the snobs in my family, the better) and I dove down the New Age rabbit hole like a starving fox.

The hole kept going down a lot further than I had the patience to follow it, though. But I still spent a good part of my time growing up around gurus, masters and different meditation/hippie/new age practices.

I started learning Reiki, a type of touchy-feely woo-woo practice from Japan most of you probably haven’t heard of

By the time I was 14, I’d progressed to “Reiki master” and was considered as learned as one could be in the practice. Having trained in martial arts for many years already, the strict hierarchical system where you progressed slowly from apprentice to master was very familiar to me.

Over the years, I’ve learned a whole slew of traditional practices: shiatsu, acupressure, acupuncture, reflexology, smudging, aromatherapy, all manners of meditation practices, zen techniques, pranic healing, karate, aikido, tai chi, qigong, rebozo/mantilla massage… you get the idea.

I worked as a practitioner of bodywork for many years, offering my services to people who wanted them. (Too) often on barter trade because who needs to pay rent when you can get a year’s supply of organic, home-made jam?

Eventually, this led me to further study the body and healing as I got a degree as a massage therapist. Though I don’t take clients anymore, I practise my skills with friends and family.

Often when someone comes begging for a neck massage, I’ll pull out a combination of different techniques that suit that particular situation.

Sometimes this means initially disappointing some people because “Hey, aren’t you a massage therapist?” – but as relaxation begins to set in, they forget all about what technique I used to make them feel oh-so-very relaxed.

What is Reiki?

Since I started out with Reiki (I was quite the Japanophile growing up), I thought I’d take a closer look at this specific practice to give you an idea of what this bodywork technique is like.

Reiki is a Japanese word and is pronounced “ray-key” and has its roots in a forgotten practice described in the Buddhist book Tantra of the Lightning Flash.

The literal translation of Reiki is “universal life-giving energy” and is known by many different names; ki, chi, life force energy, vital energy, bioenergy, qi or prana.

It’s the energy that animates your body at a cellular level and when it’s depleted or you’re disconnected from it you feel sluggish and ungrounded. When you’re tapped into it you feel in-sync with your body, energised as well as present in the here and now.

This energy is defined as the natural healing energy of unconditional love, the energy conveyed by loving human touch. This love is the most powerful healing energy known and can restore a state of peace, harmony and balance.

This restored state can be described as good health or wholeness. Reiki is a hands-on healing practice and practitioners channel this natural healing energy, into themselves and others.

What makes Reiki unique among healing methods are the attunements, or reiju, the practitioner receives during training.

These attunements clear blockages in the practitioner’s own energy centres and the goal is to open the practitioner as a clear channel for restoring energy.

The attunements also increase the practitioner’s own ki by connecting them to their source. This source can be called anything according to the beliefs of each individual practitioner; God, Goddess, Universe, the Creative Source, Smurf Fairies and so on.

Reiki is not a religion, even though it has its roots in Buddhism, and is free of any dogma.

Reiki is based on five spiritual principles:

  1. Just for today, I will let go of anger.
  2. Just for today, I will let go of worry.
  3. Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings.
  4. Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
  5. Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

It’s simple, straightforward and mostly based on love and gratitude. That’s why it works for me. It is believed that the aim of founder Mikao Usui’s teachings was to provide a method for students to achieve a connection with the “universal life force” energy that would help them in their self-development.

“OMG, are you crazy?! That sounds like some kind of airy-fairy hippy nonsense!”

Yep, talking to people who have no idea what bodywork is can be challenging. I used to be more cautious about who I told about my obscure bohemian practices. These days, I’m much less concerned about what people think of me and am more direct about it.

There are many, many practices that I came across but never really understood. A lot of them, such as urine therapy where you drink your own urine *shudder*, just never struck me as very logical, because despite my attraction to the more offbeat, I love me some science.

And this is where it gets interesting because even science agrees, everything is energy.

What we typically perceive as our physical, material world, is really not physical or material at all.

Time and again scientists have made significant contributions to our understanding of the atomic structure and quantum theory.

At the turn of the 19th century, physicists began to explore the relationship between energy and the structure of matter. Up to this point, the physical, Newtonian material universe had been at the heart of all scientific knowledge.

The field of quantum physics began to emerge and the discovery of quantum mechanics solved the problem of the universe’s nature. Bright physicists were (again) faced with believing the unbelievable: that the universe is mind-bending.

Matter can simultaneously be defined as a solid (particle) and as an immaterial force field (wave). When scientists study the physical properties of atoms, such as mass and weight, they look and act like physical matter. However, when the same atoms are described in terms of voltage potentials and wavelengths, they exhibit the qualities and properties of energy (waves).

As Sir Arthur Eddington, English astronomer, physicist and mathematician, explained: “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character”.

The idea of a physical universe was replaced by the realisation that matter is nothing but an illusion as scientists began to recognise that everything in the universe is made up of energy

Quantum physicists discovered that physical atoms are made up of vortices of energy that are constantly spinning and vibrating; each atom is like a wobbly spinning top that radiates energy.

Because each atom has its own specific energy signature (wobble), assemblies of atoms (molecules) collectively radiate their own identifying energy patterns. 

– Bruce H. Lipton, The Biology of Belief

Time and again, quantum physics has shown us that if we truly want to understand ourselves and discover what we are, we need to understand that we are actually beings of energy and vibration, each radiating our own unique energy signature.

The fact that energy and matter are one and the same is precisely what Einstein recognized when he concluded that E = mc2. Simply stated, this equation reveals that energy (E) = matter (m, mass) multiplied by the speed of light squared (c2). 

Einstein revealed that we do not live in a universe with discrete, physical objects separated by dead space. The Universe is one indivisible, dynamic whole in which energy and matter are so deeply entangled it is impossible to consider them as independent elements.

– Bruce H. Lipton, The Biology of Belief

We are so much more than our physical appearance

If you were to observe the composition of an atom with a microscope, you’d see a small, invisible tornado-like vortex with a number of infinitely small energy vortices called quarks and photons.

These are what make up the structure of an atom. If you focused in closer on this atomic structure, you’d see nothing: you would observe a physical void.

The atom has no physical structure and therefore we have no physical structure. I repeat: physical things don’t have a physical structure. Atoms are made out of invisible energy rather than tangible matter.

It’s quite a kicker, isn’t it?

Our experience tells us that our reality is physical; that it is made up of physical objects and beings, and that our world is an independently existing objective world.

Scientists such as Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg, among others, have contributed to this idea that the universe is a holistic entanglement of immaterial energy, rather than an assembly of physical parts, as suggested by Newtonian physics.

A fundamental conclusion of this new physics is the acknowledgement that the observer creates reality. As observers, we are personally and directly involved in the creation of our own reality.

Physicists are concluding that the universe is a mental construction.

The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter… we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.

– Sir James Jeans

What are the benefits of energy work?

Bodywork can bring about a deep feeling of relaxation and a resulting feeling of balance, wholeness and well-being.

Bodywork can (in addition to making you deeply relaxed) be a spiritual experience and feel like being steeped in unconditional love.

The driving philosophy behind any kind of bodywork is to balance and harmonise the energy flowing in, through and from you.

When there is too much or too little energy in an area, it is not balanced. Where there is an imbalance there is potential for illness to manifest itself. Much like overloading or improperly loading a cart can cause a wheel to break.

The root cause of most illnesses can typically be found at a deeper emotional, mental or spiritual level.

Since life energy (ki, chi or prana) courses within you at all times anyway, bodywork is really about directing that energy in order to attain balance and harmony.

When you work with energy, you work on all the levels: the emotional, mental, spiritual as well as the physical. In this way, the cause of the malaise is being treated as well as the symptoms you are experiencing.

When you are in a harmonious, balanced state, you have more potential to heal yourself.

Bodywork helps you heal yourself

It is good to remember that Reiki practitioners, like many other alternative practitioners, are not healers. The recipient is empowered and accelerated in their own self-healing by the energy, so it is, in fact, the recipient themselves that is the healer.

Reiki practitioners are simply channels for the energy, offering their compassion and support in a time of imbalance.

No medical or diagnostic education is required to practice Reiki because we never diagnose. We channel the energy and allow it to flow through without directing it, simply trusting that it will flow where it is needed.

Reiki (or any other alternative treatment) is not a substitute for conventional medical treatment. Bodywork of any kind is a wonderful supplement to scientifically-based medicine and can be used together with any kind of conventional treatments to boost your own capacity for healing and recovery.

You should always consult an understanding and caring physician when you’re ill and in need of help.

Is it worth giving a try?

Most of us walk around in our heads, with our to-do lists and what we have to do, and the experience of being in our bodies, and integrated with our bodies, is not something a lot of us experience all day, every day.

– Gwyneth Paltrow

As you move towards being more integrated and more whole you can begin to be with the parts of yourself that are hard to be with. So, when you feel the parts of you that are sad, helpless, scared, lonely or feel like you’re not enough, you’ll start to feel those emotions, and be able to be with them and be fully accepting of them.

Like cats purring to calm and heal themselves, we can access those naturally restorative resources within ourselves through practice. We do so naturally every night when we allow our brains to access the restorative state of sleep.

The key during waking hours is to tap into the flow state that allows you to influence your brain activity. When we’re stressed and anxious, we lose access to the part of ourselves that has the power to correct imbalances.

A state of deep relaxation, meditation or flow is how we can connect to what’s going on in us. Regularly directing your focus and engaging in practices that increase your mindfulness will help you to be calmer and more centred, reducing stress and anxiety in your life.

Once you achieve that calm and learn how to find your way back to it, you’ll stop being so triggered by hurtful things when you’re out in the world. You will be able to be more present for the whole range of human experience and emotion without getting triggered.


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