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The Self-Healing Method - A Physiotherapy for the 21st Century

by Maggie Lyons(more info)

listed in physiotherapy, originally published in issue 16 - December 1996

Self-Healing – a unique therapy combining massage, movement, and natural vision training – is steadily gaining recognition here in the U.K. as one of the most innovative and powerful forms of bodywork. Physical and emotional stress, injury and poor posture have a freezing, numbing effect and cause us to limit movement and lose flexibility, often without being aware of it. As stiff postural patterns get locked in, tissues lose elasticity and circulation becomes sluggish. Every system in the body can be affected, until 'suddenly' there is chronic pain or a degenerative illness. Our bodies have forgotten what they most need – movement. Self-Healing is a gentle yet dynamic method dedicated to reversing this trend.

What is Self-Healing?

Self-Healing offers a practical approach to understanding and taking care of our bodies and is invaluable for anyone interested in developing self management skills in order to take more responsibility for their health. Self-Healing educates us all about the incredible physical and psychological resources for recovery and regeneration we have in our bodies and minds – resources which when mobilised can improve our health and vitality, whatever our condition.

A Self-Healing practitioner is primarily an educator who teaches the subtle art of listening to the body. It has been estimated that 85% of all current disease is lifestyle related, so in many cases these diseases respond well to changes in lifestyle and health habits. Illness often begins with a small, seemingly trivial problem – chronic eyestrain from working at a computer screen all day may result in impaired vision; neck tension may lead to migraines. If we learn to listen to our body and interpret its clear early warning signals, we can remedy the situation before it becomes more serious.

The key to this art of listening and the main focus of Self-Healing is kinaesthetic awareness, a deep sense of movement from within – breath felt throughout the body, joints finding their full range, muscles becoming supple, strong and balanced. As this awareness develops you will feel more and more of what happens with your body, both internally and externally. When you find the movements that are right for you and begin to invent your own forms of movement and include them in a regular practice, the effects will gradually carry over into your daily activity, until Self-Healing becomes a way of life and a state of mind. Eventually you will be able to recognise immediately what is good for your health and what is not.

Self-Healing uses a dynamic combination of massage, movement, breathwork, visualisation, muscle group isolation exercises, relaxation techniques and natural vision improvement to get you back in touch with your physical self. It reminds us to use what we've got before we lose it – because we will – and then most likely attribute it to ageing!

The aim of Self-Healing is to encourage movement, the very essence of life and one of the most versatile tools the body has to heal itself. Self-Healing is an ongoing process which takes time and patience, but it gives back greater self knowledge and insight, a revitalised enjoyment of your body and a whole new way to relax, move, see and be in your daily life.

Origins of self-healing

The inter-relationship between our health and the way we live our lives has been recognised for thousands of years. The exploding choice of alternative approaches to health care reflects to some degree our dissatisfaction with the quick-fix, disease-centred viewpoint of mainstream medicine and invites us to question our choices and our attitudes about who is responsible for our state of health.

Meir Schneider developed the Self-Healing method over twenty years ago as a gentle, client-centred approach that relies on the body's natural propensity for movement to, in effect, heal itself. Meir was certified blind as a child but today sees sufficiently well to hold an unrestricted driving licence in California where he lives and works. The method developed out of his lifelong experience of discovering his body's inner resources and learning to create the right conditions for his own self-healing. His vision is that this unique approach will continue to inspire more and more people to take responsibility for their own health and healing.

Meir says about his work: "I'm a researcher. I teach others to research with me. Every exercise and massage technique is derived from engagement with the client". Training based on the method and developed at The Center for Conscious Vision and The Center for Self-Healing in San Francisco is now available in the U.K. and there are a growing number of practitioners offering private and group work here.

Applications

In individual sessions, Self-Healing treats people for conditions ranging from arthritis, back pain, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons to eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts. Beyond its therapeutic applications lie its profound strength as a way of self-healing for all. Most of us overuse some parts of our bodies and underuse others – we strengthen what is already strong and neglect what is weak, creating more and more imbalance. A long established pattern of underuse in time resembles paralysis and may, in fact, lead to anything from breathing difficulties to heart attack or stroke.

Self-Healing is for everyone who is prepared to trust their intuition, develop new awareness about their body; and learn new ways to move, breathe and live. It teaches people to use muscles they have rarely used, to strengthen what is weak in them, to release what is held and contracted. It encourages people to choose to feel, even though that may initially mean feeling pain rather than settling for numbness. It helps people to reduce their level of pain and gain movement they never thought possible. Self-Healing also has enormous contributions to offer the field of rehabilitative medicine.

Everyone can benefit by using Self-Healing preventatively, putting aside time daily for moving, for getting in touch with their body. Unfortunately, most people wait until they are unwell before they are motivated to prioritise some time for their well-being. What they need is support and encouragement; and Self-Healing workshops offer just that, along with information on the principles of the method, practical instruction in the basic massage techniques and gentle exercises for specific conditions. The workshops have particular themes, such as, 'Yoga for the Eyes', 'Movement for the Family' and 'Repetitive Strain Injury and How to Avoid It'. The latter addresses work related stresses and strains, including the sometimes overlooked needs of bodywork therapists! In the long run, Self-Healing could contribute greatly to the establishment of a more community based healthcare in which people set up a network of support groups dedicated to sharing the benefits of this work in their daily lives.

Self-Healing is taking its place as a leader in the ever expanding field of complementary therapies. It is often compared to other modalities and has areas of synchronicity with the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and many other methods. Most often it is compared to physiotherapy to which it is likely to contribute a great deal in the coming years.

What to expect in a session

Whatever the client's condition the same principles of Self-Healing apply – developing kinaesthetic awareness, encouraging movement, relaxation, improved circulation, deeper breathing, greater flexibility. Every Self-Healing session begins with postural analysis, taking time to assess the pattern of tension and weakness in the body. Just as no two people are the same, neither is one person the same from week to week, so each treatment must take a fresh account of this dynamic.

How we sit, stand and walk is the net result of the way our brain 'thinks' about us. For instance, it may perceive that we have less support in our legs than we should – due to using our flexors more than our extensors, abductors or adductors. An example of this, is that most of us have a gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior imbalance. The result is stiff ankles, knees and hips – a 'domino effect'. The imbalance may work up the body into the lower back and eventually the breathing may be affected. The shoulders may become tight and the neck tense trying to compensate for the lack of flexibility and support of the lower limbs. Thus it is vital to develop the 'base'. The more the body feels supported on a strong base, the less it will need to 'hold on'. The more kinaesthetic sense is developed the more we are able to sense our patterns of tension.

Massage provides the initial step along the path to awareness. Initially this may be an uncomfortable awareness but there is no doubt that through it the client gets to know their body – its weakness and its strengths – more and more deeply. Massage reeducates the brain via the body. From the slow gentle regenerative massage used for muscular dystrophy to the rhythmic tapping which restimulates bones in osteoarthritis, all contribute, in time, to the development of a new kinaesthetic awareness.

The next essential step in this development is movement – gentle movement which supports and develops the benefits of the massage. Initially, passive movement is employed to give the body the experience of the full range of motion which is possible, something which our habitual patterns of movement often prohibit. In cases of muscular atrophy or dystrophy this may be the only movement used, until the muscle is strengthened sufficiently through massage to a point where active movement is beneficial rather than harmful. Initially in these cases, active movement may be limited to exercises in the water where muscles are relieved from having to work against gravity.

Passive movement also contributes to identifying the muscles which are restricting mobility. Through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises the mind is quietly concentrated and the body is encouraged to let go of some of its tension. As the therapeutic partnership develops over a course of treatments the responses will be more rapid as the body regains its innate healing abilities. As the practitioner attunes to the client and finds exactly what movements are right for them, it is essential to pay full attention to how the exercises are performed. Mindless repetition and poor execution will only result in old habits being reinforced. A beneficial movement needs to be repeated many times, but in a relaxed manner.

The acquiring of new movement skills can be enhanced by visualisation which stimulates essential links between thought and activity – the mind and body. Our mind truly creates our structure, so that when we visualise ourselves functioning differently, then our structure actually is changing. The ease with which the body becomes more mobile depends on the brain's capacity to isolate muscle groups.

Our tendency as we lose flexibility is to use excess effort, and to engage more parts of the body than required for the activity undertaken. For example, to pick up a cup we may tense our whole back and even our thighs. Is it any wonder our joints are moving with a fifth of the mobility they could have? As the client learns this isolation in activity, the joints regain access to the full range of motion they are intended to have. New movements give us more 'space', encourage us to breathe and open more, give us more sense of ease and encourage us to use muscles we never used before. (We have more than 600 of them, so it should take us quite a while before we get bored!) So if you take up Self-Healing you may find yourself walking backwards, running backwards, running sideways – effortlessly! Each client has an individual program developed for them with the percentage of massage and exercise in the program depending on the person and their condition.

In time, as our feeling sense develops, we learn to release the tension ourselves, and develop the right movements instinctively. Rather than moving mechanically, we become proactive in our own healing process. Through breaking immobilising patterns one is enabled to move more freely with a balanced and relaxed use of the body. An example of a treatment process is a muscular dystrophy client in whom the dystrophic muscles are working extra hard trying unsuccessfully to pump out waste material. The first stage is a very gentle massage which helps create more circulation and helps muscles to detoxify. The treatment proceeds with a combination of passive movements, water and land exercises which are specific for the person. With this method of treatment, the speed of progression of the illness is reduced and some of the losses reversed by fostering regeneration.

Vision work

Like the rest of our bodies our eyes are subject to a variety of stressors, and provided we don't overload them they have the flexibility to accommodate these. We rely heavily on our vision for everything we do – and usually with time it begins to deteriorate. Immediately, we reach for glasses, because we have all been trained to believe that our eyes can only change for the worse.

Self-Healing vision improvement offers an alternative to glasses by addressing visual problems at their source. If the eyes are used only for close work, the capacity for distant vision will tend to atrophy. Many of us strain to see, needing to learn to look with a softer, more relaxed eye. Vision problems are frequently accompanied by specific patterns of muscle tension and weakness. We also tend to overuse our central vision at the expense of our periphery. Peripheral vision, when one regains it, gives a startling sense of security in space, better posture, and more relaxed movement. So, working on our eyes can bring unexpected gains to the rest of our body. By means of simple vision exercises and the development of good visual habits, it is possible to change poor vision into better vision and reverse the effects of physical and emotional stress, overuse and other factors which contribute to poor eyesight. Through Self-Healing we learn to see vision in a completely different way.

A work for life

Self-Healing works only if we work – and it's a work for life – for a better quality of life, with less and less tension, pain, numbness and disease – and more and more ease, choice and a sense of power in our lives.

A full practitioner training programme in Self-Healing bodywork is run in this country every year which entails an intensive Part I & II, followed by an apprenticeship programme in which students work directly under the supervision of Meir Schneider.

Part I – 160 hours of general principles
Part II – 100 hours clinical learning supervised by Meir.

Apprenticeship – 500 hours, students work directly with Meir in his clinics, as assistants.

For further details contact either Marie or Maggie at the numbers below.

For private appointments, workshops, training etc please contact: Marie Askin tel: 020-7603 8103 or Maggie Lyons tel: 020-7370 7393 who run a joint practice in west London.


An Extract

Mr Shadmi is typical of modern people. We work ourselves literally to death. In the military Shadmi had worked 18 hours a day; as head of an electrical company he now worked 13. He would not take time off from work to devote to his health, much less for enjoyment. The pressure was always on.
The irony is that if a person will take the time to work on himself, the tensions of pressures of life and work become much easier to deal with. They do not go away, but the person brings much more to his activities if he is relaxed and feeling strong and capable. Usually he can accomplish more, and more successfully. However, it is difficult to impress this upon people like Shadmi, who give their lives to their work, their family and friends, their country, but cannot find an hour a day for themselves.

It is this mentality which has separated us as individuals from the deep source of life. This is a great paradox; we sacrifice our lives in order to sustain them. We become enslaved by our ceaseless round of activities. Is this really living? We need to take the time to find and develop our inner resources, and then bring these resources to our work and our interaction with other people. Everything we do should be a part of our development and a step on our journey of self- discovery. Then nothing is done mechanically, but with new meaning.

I think the body is the best place to start, for the body is a central part of each person's identity. If the body is regarded with reverence and care, this attitude can be extended to the whole self. We need to learn that we are more important than our work, and caring for our bodies can train us in this attitude. Nothing should be allowed to tense our muscles or distort our spines, restrict our breathing or abuse our eyes. And we should learn to value ourselves at a very early age, for it is difficult for an adult to change the habits of a lifetime.

Isn't the quality of life as important as life itself?

From Self-Healing: My life and vision by Meir Schneider. 1989 Arkana.



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