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Mysticism, Hoo-Ha, and Woo | Boddicker Performance

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Mysticism, Hoo-Ha, and Woo

by on Feb 10th, 2011

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Massage and soft tissue work is something that is extremely important to me just as solid, well grounded training is important to me. Likewise I value statements that are, if nothing else, scientifically defensible.

Having spent the last several months in massage school so close to Sedona, it will not surprise any of you all that I’ve been exposed to a smorgasbord of various “healing” techniques ranging from the more traditional Swedish to Shiatsu to Aryuvedic to Polarity and Reflexology.  Being a man who attempts to hold himself to science-based practice and reasoning, as you can imagine, it has been an interesting ride to hear much of the ballyhoo associated with these modalities.

Now before you think I’m going to insult your favorite spa treatment, please note that I will do no such thing and I will not ever argue that most of the modalities are extremely relaxing and feel great. In this, I do believe they offer a very unique outcome that can be advantageous.  What I am simply asking for is for you to critically consider the statements that are made and the mechanisms of action for most of these treatments.

Take Reflexology for example.  According to the Reflexology principles, each person has areas of the feet, hands, and ears that correspond to various “reflexes” of organs, tissues, and functions throughout the body. The medial and plantar surface of the foot is the map that represents the spine, so if in back pain, you can treat the entire spine without even going to the spine. The staunch advocates of regional interdependence would be proud, but they wouldn’t like the explanation.

Or take Aryuveda, which was based on excellent observation skills that were the state of the art, but unfortunately ignores thousands of years of advancement since in many cases.  For example, a primary tenant of this thought process is much akin to the elemental components of the Eastern Medicine approach. Water Moves Except at Absolute ZeroThe Air element is the only property capable of motion, which using basic bodily observation skills makes sense, but we now realize that all particles are in motion. Likewise, Aryuvedic treatments rely heavily on herbalism to help restore an energetic balance of your entire system. While I appreciate the effort at holism, I cannot appreciate the pseudoquackery.

Even the ontogeny of chiropractic, an industry that I find to be extremely valuable, is a bit hard to swallow. Rumor has it that D.D. Palmer, the father of chiropractic, got the field off the ground after hitting a deaf man (of over a decade) in the back with a book, hearing cavitation, and seeing the man’s hearing immediately restored. While it sounds nice, flash, and catchy, looking at it in terms of neuroscience, does it stack up? I would imagine that a decade of deafness would allow significant invasion of the auditory cortex by sensory organs that still are processing the environment making immediate restoration doubtful.

Even soft-tissue work with a more sciencey undertone is not free of its fair share of mysticism, hoo-ha, or woo. One of my favorites is that massage of all kinds results in detoxification and just making sure that you drink plenty of water will help you “flush” the system. While it may seem logical, I’m not sure we can make this statement defensible, at least not yet.

I do not believe any of this devalues any particular modality, in fact, I think powerful arguments can be made for nearly any treatment style, but what I cannot support is the explanation of the mechanism. If we are to truly become integrated in the allied health care field, we certainly cannot hold fast to so much mysticism, hoo-ha, and woo.

Carson Boddicker

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  • Justin Rippy February 10, 2011

    Nice post! As a fellow performance coach and massage therapist, I too am constantly learning how and where massage fits into elite performance. My personal experience has led me into studying principals of structural integration and rolfing, which I believe may prove to be beneficial in creating a sound base for an athlete to build upon. Massage is just another tool in the toolbox to get the job done. Keep the great posts coming!

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