I’ve been thinking about Jane Goodall this weekend. As a young woman, Goodall began studying chimpanzee behavior in West Africa. A woman scientist, working without direct local supervision, Goodall broke a cardinal rule in the scientific practice of her profession, thereby expanding what scientists could see and know about animals. She made the type of breakthrough that needs to happen in the touch and movement professions now.
Objectivist “animal behavior” research methods were, and in many cases still are, premised on the anti-scientific and empirically false assumption that humans are not animals. With their metaphoric fingers over their eyes, researchers learned to describe animal behavior mechanistically, without having to quantify messy things like intention, emotion, spirit, or personality. Researchers failed thereby to attend to and describe the lion’s share of animal behavior, including things that are immediately obvious, e.g., to anybody who’s ever had a pet.
Naming her research subjects, Goodall accorded to each their uniqueness and subjectivity. Goodall described her innovation in terms of the balance between objectivity and empathy. Looking through the lens of empathy, experiencing her subjects as sentient choicemakers like herself, Goodall was able to register and record new findings about how chimpanzees experience and interact with each other and their environment, and what motivates them. Doesn’t her way of approaching her subjects remind you of the way you approach your clients? Can you see how a scientific model doesn’t account for most of what you are approaching when you approach a client?
In our education as in the world, what is the objective “foundation” that defines what body-based practitioners are approaching, what they do and how they do it? Anatomy, of course. And it’s usually taught right at the beginning in almost all touch and movement trainings, as if one couldn’t possibly help another person with touch unless a template of muscles, ligaments, nerves and bones were installed in their mind first.
Anatomy, applied to body-based work, has, of course, the same history and the same failings as “objectivist” animal research and intervention. Using a dead body as a stand-in for a person, scientists could name and organize its parts and guess at their function. They were able to develop an anatomy of the human that leaves out the self, and to create a worldview in which the self is an object.
Science is one of the religions of our culture, a reflexive and generally unquestioned “truth” about reality that underlies and supersedes any other way of knowing or interacting with the world. The general agreement to accept scientific information as truth, truer than anything else a person may perceive, has an enormous impact that is positive and negative. It affects the way we treat animals, and so, of course, it affects the way we treat the human animal.
Goodall generated a revolution in science. Body-centered practitioners need our own revolution – not to replace Western anatomy, but to transcend it as the only way of knowing and to learn a broader language for understanding and describing what they perceive in multiple dimensions.
Western Anatomy is instrumental in my work and my teaching. But I also recognize that the person I’m working with isn’t a machine; e.g., their quadratus lumborum isn’t separable from any other part of their body or dimension of their being, and there are things I assess and know that don’t correspond with any anatomical reality I know of. When you touch and observe and respond to people, you’re doing so on many levels, not just at their concrete structure. And the plot thickens even more, because simultaneously, they are doing the same to you. As Irene Dowd said: “When you touch someone, they are always touching you back.” That interchange of subjects is the centerpiece of your effectiveness as a therapist/teacher.
Perception happens in the self who is perceiving – that’s obvious. But touch is a relationship. Perceptions and responses are going back and forth between you and your client all the time, maybe hundreds of times in a moment. The relationship, and not the “things you do to them”, is what makes the client feel better. Remember that the only way muscle fibers relax is if the client stops using energy and directing the muscle cell to release. That means that in your whole career, you have never once released a muscle. For that matter, remember that science tells us everybody generates an electromagnetic field. A lot of what heals your client is spending intentional time sharing electromagnetic fields with you.
For the next year I am teaching a series of courses on the parts of the body, layering many anatomies over one another and clarifying our language to include but transcend neuromusculoskeletal anatomy. Click here to learn more and register. Click here to sign up for The Spirit of Anatomy, Part II: Standing Posture, The Hips and Pelvis, and The Second Chakra