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Finding Your Comfort Zone

Ortho-Bionomy® is a therapy that gently affects healing and reminds the body of its balance.

“That’s amazing! The pain is gone and it seems like all you did was hold my body!”

I have heard this many times from clients who have just received a session of Ortho-Bionomy, a gentle and non-invasive form of bodywork therapy. Developed by British osteopath Dr Arthur Lincoln Pauls, this system of bodywork supports healing, structural balance and optimal functioning through gentle movement, positioning of the body, and overall support of the physical and energetic components of the body.
Ortho-Bionomy is a gentle, noninvasive system of healing which addresses many physical and emotional conditions. Ortho-Bionomy supports the self-correcting capacity of the person through the use of gentle movement and positioning of the body, as well as light compression into the joints in order to facilitate the flow of energy and deeper relaxation. This work stimulates long-lasting changes by reeducating the client’s body so that it can effectively maintain balance and optimal function on its own.

Conditions Which Ortho-Bionomy Can Help
Because of the non-invasive nature of the work, an Ortho-Bionomy practitioner can work with many different problems and conditions such as muscle or joint pain, injuries, chronic pain conditions, structural imbalances, autoimmune disturbances, and general stress conditions.
The focus of Ortho-Bionomy sessions is to facilitate the body’s natural self-healing and self-regulating responses. The practitioner works with the body instead of on it. To elicit these responses the practitioner takes care to support the comfort and ease of movement within the client, thereby making the work very safe, even for those people who are highly sensitive or have limitations due to age or illness.

Common conditions with Ortho-Bionomy can work with include: joint injuries and dysfunction, muscle pain, whiplash, repetitive strain injuries, chronic neck and back pain, frozen shoulder, migraines, arthritis, post-surgery rehabilitation, scoliosis and kyphosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, trauma, and physical conditions associated with emotional imbalances.

How Does Ortho-Bionomy Work?
By positioning the body in such a way that the stress around a joint is eased, neurological signals are communicated through the body which release the holding patterns leading to the structural imbalance.
For example, if there is a twist in the vertebrae of the spine resulting in pain or restriction in the related joints, the practitioner will move the body into a position which slightly exaggerates that spinal twist. By gently holding the body in this exaggerated position the nervous system registers that the tension has been taken away (the practitioner is in fact the one holding the joint in that position so that the body doesn’t need to do it).
Within a very short period of time (often less than a minute) the body resets the messages from the joint resulting in ease of movement when the practitioner allows the body to come back to a neutral position.
The practitioner uses a wide variety of techniques and approaches which facilitate these self-balancing mechanisms. The range of these techniques includes positioning of the body, movement, isometric exercises, postural balancing and reeducation, myofascial unwinding, stimulating and balancing neurolymphatic reflexes, and interaction with the body’s subtle energy systems. In addition to the work in the session, the practitioner identifies self-care exercises for the client to use after the session to integrate the work and to continue to support the rebalancing processes.

The Origins of Ortho-Bionomy
While Dr Pauls was studying to become an osteopath he became interested in finding ways to work with the body that didn’t use force in order to correct structural imbalances. Building on the work of earlier osteopaths who discovered the ability to correct imbalances through holding positions which spontaneously released them, Dr Paulls began to experiment with these positions to see just how little movement was necessary to affect a change the body. What eh uncovered was a set of phenomena which he termed “reflexes”. These reflexes seemed to be present throughout the body and led to the body’s self correction. He went further to say that since these are reflexes, the body will self correct when given the right neurological information and structural and energetic support.
Dr Pauls names the techniques use to work with these reflexes Ortho-Bionomy: “ortho” meaning “correct or straight”, “bio” meaning “life”, and “onomy” meaning “the study of or laws of”. For him the term Ortho-Bionomy meant “corrective application of the natural laws of life”. He saw that healing and balance is always trying to occur, and that the purpose of the work is to allow that self-healing capacity to reassert itself.

Change Is Based Upon The Body’s Ability To Find Balance
Ortho-Bionomy views healing as a process rather than an event, that is, healing is about the body being able to recognise an imbalance and seek to find ways to recreate the balance necessary for optimal functioning. If the body has experienced some sort of trauma or accident (event) then the body will begin the process of figuring out what happened and how to correct whatever was thrown off balance.
The techniques of Ortho-Bionomy are designed to allow the client’s body to make the changes itself. We follow the unwinding and balancing patterns of the body, trusting that it knows what it needs to do to self correct. And because the client has made the changes him or herself, these changes tend to be deeply effective and long lasting. By following the body’s natural ability to find balance we are supporting the inherent wisdom of the body.

Focusing On The Experience Of Comfort Rather Than Pain
One of the systems that Ortho-Bionomy techniques utilises is the activity of the proprioceptive nervous system. This is the aspect of the nervous system which gives the brain feedback about what is happening in the tissues (where there is stretch, relaxation, movement and non-movement) and where and how our bodies and limbs are positioned. By actively interfacing with this aspect of the nervous system the practitioner helps the body “see” what it is doing more clearly by slightly exaggerating the positions of comfort. When we give the body an experience of comfort the nervous system identifies that experience as desirable and will do what it can to create more of it. In this way we are able to release pain patterns without causing pain.
We use comfort as feedback from the body that its patterns and preferences are being acknowledged. When the body has an experience of pain or discomfort, a reflexive response is to either move in a way that recreates comfort or that will dissipate the feeling of pain. For example, we are constantly adjusting ourselves throughout the day, whether we are standing, sitting or lying down, in order to feel more at ease. If something hurts, we immediately try to move away from the source of pain and may try to ease it by rubbing or holding the affected area.
By finding the patterns in which the body is holding the practitioner strives to match and amplify the body’s messages which indicate how it is trying to heal itself. The movements and positions used in a session to amplify these patterns may be large or they could be quite subtle, all depending upon how the body is best able to respond to the work. The practitioner focuses on doing the least that is necessary to allow the body to do its own correcting.

Stepping Out Of The Way To Allow Healing And Balance To Occur
It is important to remember that balance is a dynamic state. It is not possible to first attain a completely balanced state and then stay in that state never to be out of balance again. In fact, the opposite is true – we spend more time out of balance than in balance and visit these states of balance only briefly. Why is this so?
In order to move in any way, we play the edge between balance and imbalance relative to gravity in order to carry out our activities with the least amount of effort. Walking is an example of a very complex pattern of maintaining just enough “off-balanced-ness” to move forward without falling. Therefore, those movements of balance constitute moments of recognition of how we are faring structurally to support ourselves in the midst of a dynamic existence.
One key principle of Ortho-Bionomy is “non-attachment to outcome.” This has to do with staying open and inquisitive about what is going on in our bodies and not approaching the problem with the idea that there is one specific technique or position that has to be “the” one position for every person. Rathers, the practitioner is “listening” to the body to identify what unique position or application of the techniques is appropriate for the situation in that moment. This means that all of the work is tailored specifically to the unique needs and situation of the client. By allowing for the unexpected and noticing how our bodies respond, we are able to explore positions or movements which might help us even though the variation in movement or positioning might not have initially occurred to us as being possible.
In addition, if we come from the mentality of trying to “fix” the problem we can actually create more pain or stress since we may be “imposing” a technique rather than responding to the needs of the body. Emphasizing the importance of relaxation for healing and that time is a significant factor in the healing process also creates greater ease with the healing process. The body has a tremendous self-healing and self-correcting capacity and it needs the opportunity to allow these mechanisms to work.

Bruce Stark, Natural Life Review 9

Bruce Stark is a Senior Practitioner and Instructor of Ortho-Bionomy and trains practitioners throughout Australia, New Zealand and the US. He can be reached on 0417 477 686 or via email: brucecstark@usa.net

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