Ortho-Bionomy

   I have had more training in Ortho-Bionomy (OB) than any other bodywork form except various types of massage. It is an incredibly effective way to relieve pain and relieve long-held positions of discomfort, especially because the technique is so gentle and subtle that you, during an O-B session, may just wonder if anything was happening! The primary tenet of OB is that we tend to hold our bodies in positions that aren't comfortable; indeed, they're often quite painful, but our bodies have forgotten what "normal" is, and the propioceptive nerves - those nerve cells which tell us what position and/or condition a limb, a vital organ, a muscle, etc. are in - have "gone to sleep." The OB practitioner, usually with the client's help, identifies the often-elusive positions of comfort, and then holds the limb/body part in a position of maximum comfort. If the correct position has been identified, the client nearly always gives a sigh of relief.

    Ortho-Bionomy was developed by a British osteopath named Dr. Arthur Lincoln Pauls, who wanted to find a bodywork method that utilizes and honors the body's inherent healing wisdom. He discovered that by exaggerating positions of comfort in the body, and accentuating the effect by gently compressing the joint proximal to the area being manipulated, the body would spontaneously release its often long-held position of discomfort, reverting to its natural position of complete comfort. As is stated on the Society of Ortho-Bionomy website, "Ortho-Bionomy stimulates the body's self-correcting and self-balancing reflexes by way of the proprioceptive reflexes located in our joints and muscles." In fact, the technique has been referred to as the "homeopathy of bodywork". Dr. Pauls began teaching his new method around the world in 1976.

    O-B, perhaps more than any other bodywork modality, requires a firm grounding in human anatomy; a lot of physiology knowledge is extremely helpful as well. This is because there are really just a handful of basic principles to follow when doing OB, and if you can visualize the muscle or muscle group you're dealing with, the work is much more effective; it's also invaluable when you move from the purely physical into the more energetic phases of the work. In fact, if you are sensitive to energy and/or are very perceptive to subtle motion or movement, you'll probably find O-B to be very natural and straightforward.

    The correct positioning of the body, and holding it in the position of comfort for several seconds while gently compressing into the proximal joint, is the heart of the therapy; thus, sessions take place with the client fully clothed. This is useful if someone is unusually cold- or draft-sensitive, or if they are extremely body-shy such that being undressed causes them unusual anxiety or embarrassment.

    In a typical OB session, the practitioner will ask the client about any specific problem areas, and then will do a "once over", looking/feeling for any areas of unusual stress or high energy. Typically, they will start with large muscles that are commonly misaligned in clients, such as the psoas (depicted in the illustration to the left), rectus abdominus, and the large muscles of the back. Misalignment of the pelvis, which manifests as rotation and is easily gauged by observing the relative positions of the posterior superior illiac spines (PSIS), is nearly always observed as well. In men, this is often caused by carrying a wallet in a rear pocket.

    At this point, the practitioner typically goes over the client's body, palpating the various muscles, especially those that are often problematical; these include the first rib, most of the neck muscles, several intercostals, the feet, and various "hotspots" along the long muscles of all four limbs. When an unusually hard or "tough" spot is discerned, the client will be asked if the area is indeed tender; if it is, the OB practitioner will probably try placing the surrounding parts of the body into several positions of potential comfort. A common technique is to fold the body or body part around the sensitive area (depending on the location, this is often more of a virtual than literal movement). If the practitioner's corrective motion is on the mark, the sensitive spot will immediately soften to the touch, and will lose its painful sensitivity for the client. Once the motion is ceased and the client is allowed to move the limb around to "integrate" the correction, the sensitive spot is again palpated; in an ideal situation, the area will no longer be painful.

    An aspect of Ortho-Bionomy which can take some adjusting to is the degree of participation asked of the client. It's quite common for a client to be asked if "position A or position B" (for instance) is more comfortable, especially for practitioners who have less experience than, say, five or six years. After gaining additional experience, the practitioner usually has developed sufficiently subtle perception that they can tell which position is lower energy, and thus obviously feels better to the client. Still, most practitioners still occasionally will ask for the client's participation, just to verify that their perceptions are correct; a fringe benefit is that the client feels much more like a participating partner in the healing than just a passive patient to whom things are being done with no concern for his/her state of comfort.

    Ortho-Bionomy is done on several levels of increasing complexity, beginning, interestingly, with Phase IV. The first three phases evidently were employed by the developer of O-B, Dr. Arthur Pauls, as he progressed to the point where the modality was ready to be shared with other bodyworkers. Phase IV is concerned with the manipulation of bones and muscles, searching for "hot points" that were uncomfortable for the client so they could be released.

    Phase V introduces the use of the body energies of both client and practitioner to find the areas of high tension in the client. As the practitioner holds the clients arm, legs, etc. in a position of comfort, doing the gentle compression, s/he can feel the point of high tension, or energy, slowly move in the general area where it began. The practitioner follows this energy until it is clear that the position of the limb is absolutely perfect; this is corroborated by the hot spot becoming extremely soft, losing all painful character, and by the client nearly always taking a long, deep, relaxed breath of total comfort. It is truly revvwarding!

    In Phase VI, the perception of tense points in need of release moves completely into the energetic realm, such that physical contact with the client's body is not really necessary, although most practitioners continue to touch the client's body as s/he searches for tight points. This provides further perception of the points, and is comforting to the client since to be examined without being touched seems rather strange to most people. However, the energetic technique is absolutely real and very effective, and is particularly valuable for clients who are in severe pain, for whom being touched even lightly is impossible, or for very overweight people, whose muscles and tendons can be difficult to perceive by completely tactile means.

    Each practitioner's experience in using energetic means to perceive areas of stress is unique and individual, although some generalizations do exist. My own perceptions are that as my hands move over and just above the client's skin, areas of increased tension induce additional tension in my hands' muscles. As the point of tension gets closer, my hands become warmer, and when I am directly over the point, I can feel a slight repellent force; I believe this to be the escape of qi from the point of injury, since it feels so much like qi I have felt in other contexts. When the point is successfully released, all of these clues disappear.

    When I first started taking classes in O-B, I was honestly quite skeptical that it could perform as my friends who'd been doing it for years claimed it could - especially that energy-based stuff! I am trained as a scientist, with a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry, and I taught at the university level for 21+ years before retiring early a couple of years ago. I definitely worshipped at the altar of "if it can't be seen and measured, it doesn't exist!". Fortunately, I've also always been open-minded enough to believe anything I can see, and when I not only experienced energy work myself, but even learned to do it myself, I was sold! Ortho-Bionomy is one of the most effective bodywork modalities I've ever experienced and/or learned, and anyone who says it can't do what we all say it can either hasn't ever experienced it, or is one of those people who are so closed-minded that if clear, reproducible evidence clashes with their preconceptions about the way the universe should work, they simply disbelieve their own senses!

    This reminds me of the story of when Galileo dropped two metal balls of different sizes off the Leaning Tower, and they hit the ground at exactly the same time, the church-controlled government, rather than be amazed at the new evidence that their previous notions of gravity were wrong, they threw Galileo in jail!!

    Give Ortho-Bionomy a try! I guarantee you'll be pleasantly amazed at what it can accomplish, when it seems at the time that little, if anything, is going on!

Society of Ortho-Bionomy International®