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The Use of Touch as a Therapeutic Tool

For yoga therapists, the use of touch can be a powerful treatment and assessment modality to add to their skills and treatment options.

For yoga therapists, the use of touch can be a powerful treatment and assessment modality to add to their skills and treatment options. Yoga therapists who wish to work with touch can start by becoming more attuned to their own sense of internal touch, and become more sensitive to the subtle information conveyed by the use of touch.

When your own sense of touch is well developed you can:

  • Use appropriate touch as a form of assessment to enhance your yoga therapy observations skills.
  • Provide hands on intervention such as cellular touch or fascial unwinding.
  • Teach clients more about their own senses of internal response to guide safe movement.
  • Coach clients how to access fascial unwinding independently of a practitioner.

Fascia expert Thomas Myers reminds us that touch is not just one generalised thing. It is a complex set of different sensing skills that includes:

  • interoception (the sense of our internal body), 
  • proprioception (the sense of the joints in space), 
  • graviception (what is up and what is down), 
  • kinesthesia (our sense of how we are moving) and 
  • somesthesia (contact, vibration, pressure and heat).

What does Fascia have to do with Touch?

Fascia is a giant connective skin for our muscles, organs, arteries, veins and nerves. It essentially holds everything together and creates our shape.  

According to Myers, “Fascia is the body’s richest sense organ, with a tremendous number of nerve endings imbedded into it – there are nine or ten times the sensory nerve endings in fascia for every one sensory nerve ending in a muscle.”  This makes fascia tremendously sensitive to touch. 

Myers believes that in the future, fascia will become the main tissue that hands-on treatment methods will address.  He advises practitioners to cultivate the sense of their own fascial network. Learn how to cultivate the use of touch to sense the different qualities and conditions of the fascial layers. This is just below the surface of their client’s skin.

As our understandings increase, it is clear that fascia cannot be separated from muscles and the other soft tissues it surrounds, nor can it be separated from touch and movement.

How does Movement fit in?

Body workers and movement practitioners have been exploring the role of fascia in movement mobility and fluidity.  

According to Bonnie Bainbridge:

“Touch and movement are the earliest senses to appear and help set the foundation for the development of the other senses, and for our perception and awareness.  Touch is the other side of movement. Movement is the other side of touch. They are the shadow of each other, and are doorways into the exploration of consciousness.”

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, founder of the Body-Mind Centering®

Fascial Unwinding

A study entitled Understanding the Process of Fascial Unwinding describes the process of fascial or myofascial unwinding in which a client undergoes a spontaneous reaction in response to the therapist’s touch. This reaction can be induced by using specific techniques that encourage a client’s body to move into what looks like a spontaneous expression of movement. The phenomenon of unwinding, in which parts of the body move spontaneously and involuntarily, can appear mystical. Yet the therapeutic effects are known both anecdotally and clinically. 

Somatic awareness and practices are becoming more widely recognised and used as a focal point for guiding a person through yoga asana. Working somatically links movement to the internal senses of touch found in proprioception and kinesthesia. It is an area that is expanding rapidly and offers yoga teachers and therapists tremendous therapeutic potential.

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