by Fred Macnicol
My connection with biodynamic massage developed out of pure self-interest. As a client receiving this kind of massage my experiences felt rich and rewarding. On a physical level, for example, one session led to the unfreezing of my right shoulder which had had limited movement for over a month; at the end of a session I have often felt that I could float off the table and down the street, or that I could jump up completely energised. During another massage where my therapist was working mainly in my aura, a striking image suddenly flashed up: I was sitting on a high ledge overlooking a vast expanse of calm water with some hills vaguely in the distance; across the water a line of 5 or 6 black horses seemed to be flying in enormous strides. My therapist helped me to focus more fully on this image and we explored its connections with my life.
I was learning through experience that biodynamic massage is a holistic therapy that enables you to make connections between your body and your emotions and your imagination. It can reach you at a very deep level of your being - or your therapist may approach you on a lighter level or in a more matter of fact way to achieve different purposes. Working in this way with your body can bring images, feelings, thoughts, memories to your attention which you might not otherwise become aware of. It generates a flow of information about yourself which gives you a chance to change or grow. Biodynamic massage can bring you to a deeper sense of your connectedness and uniqueness, a richer sense of pleasure in being alive, a sense of power and celebration.
In developing biodynamic massage, Gerda Boyesen brought several influences and disciplines into a coherent dialogue with each other. Her training in psychology, physiotherapy and character analysis allowed an innovative, subtle and articulate way of working with the whole person to emerge. Other individuals and institutions - such as The Chiron Centre - have further developed biodynamic massage as a truly holistic way of working with the bodymind.
Psychoanalysts had already developed a curiosity about the connections between body, mind and emotions - notably leading Wilhelm Reich eventually to offer the concept of muscle armour: summarily expressed, contracted muscles hold unexpressed feelings - nowadays a widely recognised concept.
At first glance, there appear to be similarities between biodynamic massage and some other kinds of bodywork. It uses an understanding of anatomy and physiology and of the autonomic nervous system and of energy concepts. It can unblock energy (bio means life, dynamic means movement, thus biodynamic massage seeks out how the persons life-force or energy flows and/or is blocked); it can restore equilibrium and foster deep relaxation. It can address physical symptoms, from migraine to back pain to severe symptoms like torticollis. It has a set of techniques related to its intentions. It considers contraindications etc.
The principle of holism is fundamental to biodynamic massage. It is possible to work holistically in various ways. At one end of the spectrum, the therapist works on the clients body and believes implicitly that this work will have an effect on the clients mind, feelings, energy. There may be few or no verbal exchanges. The client may relax deeply, nourished by the pleasure of fuller contact with his/her own body.
On the other hand working with the body may lead the therapist to work quite explicitly and directly with the clients emotions, images and energy. Here the therapist brings a developed awareness of his/her own body, mind, feelings, energy. This is already complex. At The Chiron Centre I believe we have further developed biodynamic massage to work explicitly with the therapist-client relationship: the whole therapist and the whole of the client affect each other; exploring that explicitly is a further way of serving the client well.
I imagine that in the most typical biodynamic massage therapy the emphasis would be on entering an ongoing massage process (over 6 months or more) without necessarily spilling over into psychotherapy. Using biodynamic massage to work more explicitly with the clients feelings and images and the therapist-client relationship could well be part of a psychotherapy process. The biodynamic massage therapist must develop the ability to distinguish between a holistic massage process and massage used within psychotherapy.
To do justice to the complexity of the situation, biodynamic massage has developed a wide range of techniques to suit a clearly articulated range of intentions. We distinguish, for example, between relaxing, emptying, containing, cleansing, distributing, harmonising, expanding, grounding, vitalising, stimulating, provoking, etc. Intention and technique can also be used to address different layers of the body - bone, muscle, connective tissue, skin, aura. A further dimension of intention and technique is found in how they are related to a detailed perception of the clients autonomic nervous system (see Vasomotoric Cycle below).
To work explicitly with the whole person (body, mind, feelings and energy), biodynamic massage therapists develop not only the relevant massage skills but other skills such as energetic perception, an embodied awareness of grounding and boundary issues, understanding of psychological dynamics, verbal skills. Just as importantly, they need, over time, to develop their own therapeutic presence - authenticity, awareness of their own personal process, the elements and styles of their own holistic functioning, etc.
Apart from drawing various threads together, Boyesens specific structural contribution to working holistically - i.e. taking body, mind, feelings and energy as various aspects of the same catalogue of events - I would summarise as (1) psychoperistalsis; (2) tissue armour; (3) the vasomotoric cycle.
Through her experience of working with touch on psychiatric patients, Boyesen collected empirical evidence of a connection between touch, peristaltic sounds and the digestion of feelings. Biodynamic massage includes a psychological vocabulary for understanding the sounds and connecting them to your understanding of the client as a whole (their energy state, current issues, attitudes, emotions, etc.). Biodynamic massage therapists usually use a stethoscope to follow the clients peristalsis - if they use an electronic one, the client can also hear the sounds. Many clients seek out biodynamic massage simply because they have heard of its use of a stethoscope and want to experience this!
Over time, Gerda Boyesen recognised that emotional charge could be held not only in muscles but in connective tissue. When tissue becomes overloaded with hormonal/chemical residue from long-term stress and unexpressed emotions, it takes on a particular consistency which can be recognised and worked on.
Boyesen adopted a way of seeing the workings of the autonomic nervous system, with its sympathetic and parasympathetic branches, in terms of a cycle. The cycle describes how our emotions/needs move through us from beginning (stimulus), through building up a charge and discharging it, winding down into relaxation and balance before the next stimulus begins a new cycle.
This, of course, is a representation of the ideal. Problems arise not because any stage in the cycle is a problem in itself but because the natural process of the cycle gets interrupted. Interruptions can happen at any point in the cycle - and each of us tends to develop our own individual pattern of interrupting the cycle. For example, some people can generally build up a charge but prevent expression from happening; others can generally move through expression but prevent the relaxation that would naturally follow it.
Why and how we develop patterned ways of interrupting our natural cycles is clearly as much a psychological and emotional matter as it is physical.
In biodynamic massage you can use the cycle as a framework to guide you:
(a) right now, where is this client on the cycle? ... and/or
(b) generally, where does this client get stuck on the cycle?
In a biodynamic massage session, one of your aims may be to help the client move further round the cycle, often (but not necessarily always and not necessarily immediately) into the parasympathetic.
The biodynamic massage therapist is aware that, through the massage, uncompleted cycles from the past may well be evoked. The areas of the body where the energy is held, and the feelings involved in the uncompleted cycles, can become mobile again, move towards discharge and then into relaxation.
The Chiron Centre (registered with the British Massage Council) provides fully certificated training in biodynamic massage. Introductory weekends and open mornings are also offered on a regular basis. For further information, or if you are interested in experiencing biodynamic massage with one of our fully qualified therapists, please contact us on 020-8997-5219.
The Association of Holistic Biodynamic Massage Therapists holds a register of biodynamic massage therapists. They can be contacted on 01223-240-815 or at www.ahbmt.org.