Why Massage is Like Chicken Sexing

A day-old chick
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I’ve written before on this blog about how manual therapists can develop some very questionable ideas about exactly how they are helping their clients. Like thinking they can manipulate energy fields, chakras, chi or cerebral spinal fluid patterns. Interestingly, my own observation is that many therapists who believe the craziest things actually get some pretty good results! How could this happen? How could they get good results without knowing how they do it?

There are probably very many good explanations. I thought of a new one while reading an excellent book called Incognito, by neuroscientist David Eagleman.

The theme of the book is that most of the activity of the brain is completely inaccessible to our consciousness. The brain is thinking and solving problems all the time, and our conscious selves basically have no control over these processes or even knowledge of them. We become aware of answers to problems long after our subconscious brain has been working them out.

The conscious brain is like a CEO who is handed a final product that has been slaved over by thousands of workers for years. The CEO might have provided some general guidance for the basic process (and might even take all the credit afterwards) but he or she knew nothing about 99% of the actual work that went into making the product.

So when problems are being solved and things are being figured out, the conscious brain is often the last to know. Which brings me to the topic of chicken sexing.

Chicken Sexing

When chicks are born, farmers often want to figure out which ones will be someday be laying eggs and which should be fattened for meat. Deciding whether a chick is male or female is much harder to do than you might imagine, because chicks are more androgenous than a 1980s pop star. So farmers hire special employees called chicken sexers to determine who’s a boy and who’s a girl.

The interesting thing is that many of the world’s best chicken sexers seem to have no real idea at all how they make the call. They just pick up a chick, look at its butt, then decide that it’s either male or female. When its time to train a new chicken sexer, they don’t give the trainee a procedure to follow or a set of criteria. They just tell the trainee to look at the chick’s butt, ask them to make the call, and then tell them if they are right or wrong. Sooner or later the trainee learns to make reliable decisions, but never develops any conscious understanding of how they do it.

Card Picking

Similar principles can be seen in a more controlled and scientific environment. In one interesting study, volunteers were asked to pick a card from one of two decks. Some cards were “good” and provided monetary rewards while others were “bad” and caused losses. Further, one deck contained more bad cards then the other. The question for researchers was: when would the players learn which deck to pick from?

It took players about twenty five draws before they stated a preference for one deck over the other. But their unconscious brains figured things out much quicker. How do we know? Because the researchers monitored physiological data from the players’ skin to determine the state of their autonomic nervous systems (the “fight or flight” system.) After as few as thirteen picks, players were showing some anticipatory fear prior to choosing a card from the bad deck. In other words, they were already getting an accurate idea about which deck was bad, before they had any conscious awareness of having that knowledge.

Back Rubbing

I think that many massage therapists are kind of like chicken sexers. Their unconscious brains figure out what makes clients feel better without ever gaining any conscious awareness of how they do it.

A massage therapist needs to make many decisions every minute. Where do you push, how hard, at what angle, at what frequency, for how long, and with what part of your body? Many therapists will deny that they have any specific criteria for answering these questions, or even that they consciously consider them at all. They just start working and their hands seem to have a mind of their own.

And if you ask them what they are doing, they might not be able to give any kind of specific explanation. Whenever I asked my Rolfing teachers what they were doing when they were giving a demonstration, they usually said something like: “I’m having a conversation with the shoulder”; or “I’m listening to the hip” or something similarly ambiguous. They really didn’t know exactly what they were doing or why. But they were definitely doing something right, because when they put their hands on you, you knew right away they were experts.

Conscious Incompetence

The lack of conscious awareness over the actual methods used in a massage session might have some advantages. When you are learning a new skill, you need some level of conscious attention to perform the skill. But once you get good at it, the unconscious takes control, and at this point, too much conscious involvement can hurt performance. This is why you can sabotage your skills with too much self conscious analysis. Imagine trying to hit a pressure putt in golf while thinking about whether you breathe out at the point of contact.

This reminds me that Ida Rolf (the creator of Rolfing) and Moshe Feldenkrais, (the creator of the Feldenkrais method) each recommended that their students avoid an analytical mindset during sessions. Rolf sometimes admonished students that they were too “in their head.” Feldenkrais stated that in order to be optimally effective during a session, he had to think as much as possible in terms of creative imagery as opposed to formal logic. Even though both Rolf and Feldenkrais were trained scientists, and each proposed scientific explanations for why their methods worked, each wanted to get as far as possible from their scientific and analytical minds during a session.

I think part of what they were doing was making sure that their unconscious brains were in charge of the session, because most of the knowledge of “what works” was stored there, inaccessible to the conscious brain. They didn’t want their conscious minds to interfere with the process.

I think this goes along way towards explaining why many therapists seem to have no idea why their therapy works, why they are attracted to explanations which are magical as opposed to scientific, and why some are even hostile to very idea of applying science to massage at all.

To put it another way, I think that it is in the large gap between knowledge and awareness that magical thinking creeps in.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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39 Responses to Why Massage is Like Chicken Sexing

  1. I have been working as a Clinical Myofascial Therapist for 15 years, full time. I can’t tell you how many times a client has gotten on my table with a new complaint, not told me, but I start working on that area right from the get go. They always say, “How did you know that is what was bugging me?” I just reply, ” I can see it.” That is not to far from the truth. I have always been convinced that I see what is going on by the way the light falls on the body and the subtle shadows on the skin. I also think that I subconsciously watch how the patient moves before getting on the table. When you add the information that the patient gives you, things fall into place. Lastly, I don’t ‘rub’ anything without awareness. I would like to say I am in a zone, much like a good athlete or artist. The unconscious and conscious become one putting me in a state, a zone. My eyes are closed. I really am not listening. I am sensing the world through my fingers, through touch. That is why I tell my students, it is not about how long you have been a therapist, it is all about contact hours. Is it possible to have a wonderful healing touch without any training or conscious awareness? Watch a new mother with her new born baby. You tell me.

  2. Ross,

    Great comments, very interesting. There is certainly a lot to be said about the mindset that allows you to be in the zone. Part of it seems to involve the proper division of labor between the conscious and unconscious minds. Thanks for sharing your version of it.

  3. Excellent writing Todd. You know of my fascination with the unconscious and my careful reading of Eagleman’s book. I know you’re right about what we see and don’t consciously realize that helps our patients as well.

    The question remains; How can we amplify our patient’s unconscious expression?

  4. Thanks Barrett,

    I think I first heard about the book from you, and then it got a good review from Sam Harris so I was sold. I haven’t finished it yet but have already got my money’ worth in interesting insights.

    My answer to your question: provide the social and physical context that gives permission for expression. And your answer?

  5. Absolutely. A critical part of my routine is five or ten minutes vanilla mindfulness meditation, right before I start, to try to clear away some of the cognitive cruft that I know will just clog up my perceptions and interfere with my responsiveness to the real body that’s right here right now. There’s nothing even slightly woo about that: I just know that the part of my brain that does massage works better with minimal interference from the part of my brain that makes up blog posts about it :-)

  6. Todd, you’ve got a great way with words.

    I’ve often wondered why I’ve “known” to do some of the things I do. It is a commonplace occurrence for MTs to have this happen and it’s easy to see why they’d succumb to magical thinking. Long ago, I decided that my hands responded to subtle changes in tissue texture that seemed to slip right under the radar of my conscious mind.

    I once analyzed, from hindsight, why it was I’d nailed it when I felt something in a dancer’s hamstrings that I thought felt like an old injury. He told me that he’d pulled it two years before and it still bothered him. I thought carefully about exactly what I’d felt that made me think “old injury.” After palpating thousands of bodies thousands of times, I realized that there are differences in the feel of the tissue when an injury is fresh, or sub-acute, or old, and my hands had learned to distinguish without my conscious knowledge of it.

    Most MTs don’t take the time to think about why the “know” something, they just accept it as part of the experience. I think I’m a bit unusual in that respect.

    I hope I am not undermining myself by not believing in crazy things! I think not. Although I “know” a lot and continue to study, when I am working, I am not necessarily so analytical but feeling a lot with my hands. I also don’t worry about “daydreaming” any more, either, since sometimes I’ve gotten the best comments from clients after sessions when my mind has been somewhere else! My hands often seem to “know” what to do on their own and if they need for me to pay attention, they pull me back in.

    Anyway, thanks for articulating this so well, Todd. I’m with you wholeheartedly.

  7. Hi Todd,

    Thank you for this. I have often compared the mark of a good massage therapist to a musician who can play Jazz. Most of the greatest Jazz players have extensive knowledge of music, an understanding of what lies beneath it so to speak and this allows them, for the most part, to be able to do what they can do : throw away all that they ”know”, out the window and improvise.

    I’ve spent a lot of time with musicians and believe this is what has made me capable of ”getting” ideomotion. ( It’s pretty fascinating to see two guys engaged in a conversation about where you can eat the best damn Crême brulée in Montéal, while playing ” On the street where you you live” and not missing the sax player’s half tone modulation. 😉

    So how does this transfer to the clinic? Well, I’m trying to understand and learn as much as I can about the ”music” ( neuro anatomy) in order to ”jam” (interact) as best I can with my client’s nervous system. But I keep in mind that I’ll probably never ”play” the same thing twice and keep, at all times, my ”ears” (hands, clinical reasoning ) wide open, for any possible modulation that my client will throw its way.

    I mean, we have to be in the ”same key” ( in constant communication) or else things will get dissonant…

    • Carol,

      Thanks for the great comment. I really like the analogy to jazz and improv. The hard thing in massage is that it’s harder to get feedback on your mistakes – in music, if you play a wrong note you know it. In massage, you might practice the wrong way for quite a while and not get enough feedback to know you are making mistakes. Also, in jazz, you can practice templates, scales, set pieces ans other forms that we KNOW make sense. The science of massage hasn’t come that far yet, so we don’t really know what we should be practicing. But I think you are right that best place to start is with the little that we do know from neuroscience, etc.

      Thanks again for the comment.

  8. One of the things I enjoy about working with others through bodywork & movement is this exact wonder you’ve brought to light. It seems by letting our hands “have a mind of their own” allows for greater creativity and discovery of possibilities that I may not be open to when being more analytical.

    I agree that when you do massage (or any activity) for a significant amount of time, you don’t have to think as much while doing it, and things can get habitual. So as much as I do enjoy letting my unconscious go, I think it’s important to revisit conscious awareness of my intentions, ie. increasing fascial glide, down-regulating unconscious reflexes, moving lymph/ blood, & frequently ask myself questions like “How can I work more effectively?” “How can I be more efficient?” “What can we improve upon?” etc.

    By doing so, do you think there’s a quality to the “unconscious” that we can affect & develop? For an extreme example, if one person did a “cookie cutter” type of massage and never thought too much about the anatomy & physiology happening within the body compared to someone who did, could the latter have developed a “higher quality unconscious”?

    The client’s history, the physical/ visual/ palpatory assessment, and whatever scientific understanding one may have does act as an important guide to our work and I think this coupled with a “refined unconscious” is a powerful combination.

    • Angelo,

      Thanks for the observations. I think the major limiting factor in developing skills in massage is getting feedback. When we play sports or musical instruments, we get immediate feedback as whether we hit the target or the right note. In massage it’s not so simple ….

  9. You can never know exactly what it is like to experience your own massage. The closest you can come to that is getting massages from someone else whose approach is similar to your own and getting feedback from people. I do a lot of self-massage, too, so I get a little experience that way, too.

    Todd, this is a great addition to the conversation about “energy work” that goes on in the MT community. While not exactly the same subject, it helps explain some of the experience we have that contributes to magical thinking. I should share it on my blog.

  10. Yes I really wish I could feel what my clients are feeling (within limits of course.) It would make things easier.

    And thanks for the support Alice, I appreciate it. I think that if we skeptical minded therapists acknowledge that energetically oriented therapists can be successful, it might make it easier for them to accept criticisms of the explanation for why their methods work. Or maybe not.

  11. Stephen,

    Thanks for the link. I haven’t watched it yet, but I am guessing from your lead in that it will show that many chicken sexers claim to know how they are making the call. But this is not contrary to my post, which states only that many don’t. See here or example: http://cogprints.org/3255/

    • Todd,

      I watched the video. I have heard before the idea you put forth, which is that chicken sexers have no method. In the video, however, one gentleman says that there are four methods. Only two are presented, and I did another search and only found two: vent sexing and feather sexing. Both involve looking for something which, supposedly, can be described, pointed out and identified.
      btw, these guys are handling thousands of chicks daily, and those who use the vent method squeeze the poop out of the chick before examing the vent, which is really disgusting– and they are not wearing gloves!!

      I think it’s relevant to ask about the accuracy of chick sexing. What we’re told is that professionals manage 95% accuracy or better, which is amazing considering how fast they work.
      However, ordinary people who are trained by professional sexers only do 60-70%, better than chance but not that good, and need years of experience to get really good at it.
      That suggest to me that the “methods” don’t really work very well, and the meme of “no method” method may be veridical. I haven’t researched it enough to be sure, and it may be that no one has. Notice that the method method and the no-method method BOTH work, and the professionals use, and believe in, a method but apparently, or possibly, also use intuitive skills that they can’t communicate, in conjunction with the describable methods.

      Seems to me a computer program could do better. Isn’t there an app for that?

      There are a lot of things that everyone knows–ostriches bury their heads in the sand, women living together synchronize their periods, lemming commit mass suicide, etc.– that turn out not to be true, or not to mean what they appear to mean. (The one about the menstrual cycles was actually described in research papers, and most scientists still believe it’s true, so it’s a scientific urban myth; but later research disproved it. The thing is, if you have cycles going on, they will at some point overlap and appear to be synchronous, but then they don’t stay synchronized. For example, a four-horse carriage team, each horse clip-clopping along at its own rate, at some point will fall into synchronicity, so they’re all clip-clopping in unison like marching soldiers, but then the synchronicity will fall apart again).

      Anyway, whether the meme, or urban legend, myth or whatever you want to call it of the no-method chick sexing is true or not, doesn’t really matter. We can understand the concept, when you apply it to massage. However, there are also methods in massage and body work, which are taught in the schools.
      I think it’s clear that the “here, let me explain” method, and the “can’t ‘splain it” method both apply in almost any field of human endeavor. Furthermore, the explanations can be helpful in a stage of learning, even if the explanation is not what’s really going on!

  12. Interesting article. I’ve been a massage therapist for over 21 years so I was curious about what you had to say. One of the most common comments I get is that I know just how much pressure they need and everyone is so different. I just “feel it”. Although I am very systematic about going throughout the whole body I hone in on areas of “need”. I started out in sports massage and trigger point therapy, then to thai massage and now I’m working towards Ortho Bionomy. I’ve been poking and proding and stretching by working against a tension pattern where OB goes with the tension pattern. Fantastic results. I’m searching the web for movement therapy for after the OB treatment to retrain the muscle into a better and natural pattern. Enjoy your day Barb

    • Barb,

      I know what you mean. I go to certain areas, not exactly sure why. I hope there is a good unconscious reason in there somewhere!

  13. Great article. there are so many therapists and therapies out there that do an amazing amount of good for the people treated but the mumbo jumbo that goes along with most just doesn’t stack up. Apparently I have numerous rhythms, cycles and energies running around inside me that only those specifically trained can manipulate. Sometimes I bubbling over with stuff that needs balancing by someone else. but you know what mostly it doesn’t matter what therapy a practitioner is trained in it is how they touch that matters most.
    Thank you for another great read.

    • Thanks Trevor. I like this line: “it doesn’t matter what therapy a practitioner is trained in it is how they touch that matters most.” My wife is a psychotherapist and she will say the same thing about her line of work. (Except the touching part.)

  14. In teaching people to surf and learning myself start with one small part, do it over and over when your ready for the next step it will show itself. I don’t think of it as magical but more that my conscious mind becomes attached to the analytical, your subconscious wants to flow. Same as when learning new moves watch someone who excels, your mind will learn and start trying to perform the moves if you let it.
    What I find really amazing are people who explore and push the limits performing new moves.

  15. My PT is an excellent body worker. I use the expression “She has eyes in her hands” to describe the skill that not all body workers seem to naturally have.

    Thanks for the good writing.

  16. Wow, I was led to this post through Alice Sanvito, who linked to it in a massage forum. It so happens that I am reading the book Incognito right now. Fortuitous timing! Love the book and yes, I agree that the best massages are when we know enough cognitively that it is ingrained into our subconscious and we can let the CEO rest while trusting the subconscious.
    I’ve been trying to put a personal experience into this concept. I often get various “emotional or visionary kickbacks” while giving a massage. I also “listen to the tissues” and don’t really know why I know things, but it very often correlates positively for the client.I’m now thinking that this is a way that my subconscious is encoding information. I’ve also learned Subtle Muscle Testing where a light brush or tap of touch can detect a weak muscle section. Heck, I can look at people and “see” where they are weak. I’m wondering if functional gait and postural analysis can have aspects of this “chicken sexing” too. People can learn to be chicken sexers by having someone confirm or deny their determinations for some time; after a while, they absorb how to do it. For me, learning to subtle muscle test and do functional gait analysis has components of that. With practice and confirmations, I learned what to look for and how to see 3 dimensional movement and muscular weakness.

  17. I’m a personal fitness trainer, but I’ve been practicing a technique called Fascial Stretch Therapy for about a year now. I can definitely vouch for allowing intuition or unconscious skill to take over in terms of getting the best result. When I started, putting my hands on somebody to assess and correct postural issues was totally foreign to me and created a good bit of anxiety at first. I was learning the technique AND how to body read manually all at once. Kinda overwhelming to be honest. Once I got comfortable with having my hands on a client and began to become more familiar with the technique, I was able to “let go” of my conscious involvement and just go with my feeling when working on somebody. Feedback from clients verifies that I’m actually better when I’m not forcing my thoughts into the movements, and instead just going with the flow so to speak. Awesome posts (everything I’ve read so far) by the way, Todd!

  18. Dead right Todd. I ran aN NHS back pain clinic in the UK for 2 years before I retired. Although set up as an acute clinic most of the referrals were chronic, entailing a steep learning curve on neurophysiology via the pain clinics and national centres of excellence.

    One of the main parts of the job was de-mystifying and correlating the various completely conflicting “magic” explanations previously given to patients not only by lay practitioners but by different specialists like orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists, physiotherapists, etc – plus of course neighbours who know everything.

    Trying to correct misapprehensions without rubbishing the helpful treatment they’d had was a sensitive skill to learn, but important because, in the end, false theories always tend towards harmful outcomes, whether surgery, chronic disability or whatever.

    A good website by the way. Pain science is ignored in the US as much as in Britain, it seems.

    • Thanks Jon,

      “Trying to correct misapprehensions without rubbishing the helpful treatment they’d had was a sensitive skill to learn, but important because, in the end, false theories always tend towards harmful outcomes, whether surgery, chronic disability or whatever.” Great line!

  19. Another good Book along this line is “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, fantastic good read. The gist of this book is that many experienced experts judgements are correct however they still fail to be able to explain exactly why.
    I feel practitioners often give strange poorly understood explanantions of what their therapy is doing due to the real or perceived pressure they feel from patient’s to have a reason. As mentioned above this sometimes can do more harm in the long run, but short term it seems to add to a placebo effect.

  20. I believe it takes years of mindful practice. Being open at what you are feeling and listening to what the patient feels.
    To get to the point of mastery, or detecting what is the area to focus , how much pressure, for how long, etc…you need failures, feedback from patients, more data, continuos education, cause effect feedback from hundreds of patients and the therapist feeling it.
    Some people says it takes 10 years , or 10000 hours of mindful,practice.
    Cheers Luis

  21. I saw the title about chicken sexing and got my back up. But as I read, could not but agree. I know what I know, but once I begin to touch and move over a body, I’m somewhat lead. Of course knowing what the issue is, knowing what a body’s day is like, etc., I am going to gravitate to areas that most effected by certain movements. In the end it is instinctual. The bodies notice my movements and where I put attention. They acknowledge their own awe of it all. I too, am awed.

  22. What I have to say may have been covered in the comments; I haven’t read them. I haven’t even read the whole article yet. I just want to correct one thing. I agree you with that a lot of bodyworkers believe a lot of very questionable stuff, and not only think they can manipulate ethereal energies, but that they can do things with the spine that it doesn’t do, cure diseases and deafness, etc.

    However, the craniosacral pulse is a real thing, and you absolutely CAN manipulate it. I took a weekend workshop once in craniosacral therapy, and the first thing they did was have half the class lie down on tables, and the other half worked their way down, feeling the CSP on each person, then the two groups reversed roles. In an hour or so, we got to feel the CSP on a dozen or so people, and then we learned to feel it on ourselves. It’s absolutely a real thing. You have to tune out breathing, cardiac pulse, and whatever else is going on in the body and focus in on this very low-amplitude, low-frequency movement; you can feel it on yourself if you know how. You want to start by feeling it on someone else’s head, but once you get that down, you can feel it in any part of the body.
    You may not believe me, but that’s why they set the workshop up like that, to let people experience it for themselves. It’s real it’s physical, and I can offer a physiological explanation. I’ll leave that to the end.

    Then we learned to do things with it: to stop it, for example. It’s actually a wonderful feeling to have it stopped. It comes back in its own in a little while; I don’t recall how long, maybe 45 seconds or a couple of minutes. You can also reverse it one side of the head, so that the two sides are out of phase, which is a VERY strange, but not unpleasant, sensation.

    Now I can’t prove that manipulating the CSP has any therapeutic value; I don’t even have an opinion about it (and anyone who knows me will tell you that I usually have an opinion on everything :-)
    I’m just saying, it’s a real, physical thing, it can be felt, it could be measured, it can be manipulated, and it doesn’t belong in the same category with chi, chakras, etc., which cannot be proved or disproved.

    To explain my theory of the physiology of the CSP, I’ll start by explaining phonation (voice production). You might have to read this a few times, think about it, look something up, before it becomes clear.

    The way the vocal folds vibrate is not like the way a string or rubber band vibrates.
    Instead, what happens is that they are brought together by muscular action, so that they close off the glottis. More muscular action, and elastic rebound pf the lungs and intercostal muscles, cause air pressure to build up in the lungs and trachea. When the pressure is high enough, it blows the vocal folds open. The Bernoulli Effect, q.v., causes the pressure to drop; a physicist named Bernoulli discovered that when you have a gas flowing in one direction, the pressure it exerts in other directions drops.

    So when the air pressure drops, elastic forces and the continuing muscle tonus cause the folds to close again, and the pressure starts building up again, till it blows the folds open, and so on in a cycle. You get a series of pulses, or puffs, of air. That’s how the vocal folds vibrate.

    Now, there is a system of ventricles, connected to the spinal canal, filled with CSF. CSF is generated in the ventricles. There are two lateral ventricles, the most rostral ones, where the CSF originates–it’s basically just blood plasma, so it’s easily generated, never in short supply, and it flows from the rostral regions of the brain caudally to the spinal cord. As CSF is generated in the lateral ventricles, it creates a high pressure region there resulting in a flow caudally (down toward the spinal cord, or you can say toward the sacrum; hence, cranio-sacral).

    Someplace in that system, I’m guessing probably the aqueduct (the passage from the fourth ventricle to the spinal cord), there is a place that gets closed off, presumably by elastic forces and ICP (intracranial pressure), and then, when the CSF pressure in the upper ventricles builds up sufficiently, it blows the passage open again, allowing a pulse of CSF, just as you get puffs of air in phonation.

    We’re dealing here much flabbier tissues, and with a liquid that’s basically water, rather than with air, so the frequency is much less–one every few seconds, say 1/4 Hz as opposed to several hundred Hz in phonation, but it’s the same principle. I am not aware of any research on this, but it seems like a logical and straightforward explanation, which could be tested experimentally, for the existence of the craniosacral pulse.

  23. I worked as an LMT and bodyworker for 7 years, and I agree with the ideas presented here’s. One of the things that made me a pretty good therapist was that most of the time my hands just “know” what to do in a given situation for a given client. All the formal training and
    clinic worse was a fine addition to that basic talent, because it gave me new ideas and concepts to try on various people and problems…but it always came down to the hands and the instincts in the end.

  24. There is a phenomina I have noticed when do a particular type of Functional Integration lesson. I focus on the client description at the beginning a pain or other complaint of tightness. I start intuitively somewhere. Then defocus. I notice a tightness in the system. After a while if no progress is made, I focus again on that recognition and defocus and intuitively choose a new place to connect. More often than not, before a session is done, the whole body will soften, as if a switch was turned and a set of muscles relaxed (and they were on a table austensibly relaxed to start). I mentioned this to Michael Hamm during a break at a workshop he was giving and he experiences similar things and he is not a Feldenkrais person.

    What is this? Don’t know, but willing to specualte:
    – Feldenkrais had and idea of paraysitic movement. Musculature that was turned on and was not needed for the function. So when I start a table lesson, the person is in the function of rest. And the sub-title of Moshe’s first book “A Study of Anxiety, Sex Gravitation and Learning” gives me context to find the parasysitic movement, find a way to create an environment that the client’s system (brain/muscles) can turn off the muscles it no longer needs when at rest. That is a how. For the why, I speculate that all human beings have an amazing capacity to help each other survive. Clearly we know that we do much learning from mirror neurons, and also mind map from a persons facial expressions, body shape and what they say (both hearing and shape of mouth). We use that information to project many things that impact our relationships. I would assert, that at a deeper level we can see when someone is not right (not just visually, but as we gain skill and experience in FI) all those senses. From that our brain can determine what the other person needs on an intuive level in defocused learning. When we focus our awareness we collect information. We do that thour working memory and build memory chunks around the items we focus on. Then when we defocus, our mind is free to find new patterns, and solve the mystery of parasytic movement. This is further than I have taken this idea, so feel free to shoot the straw man, I hope to learn where to take or drop this.

  25. I am a Massage Therapist and a Certified Kundalini Reiki Master – energy worker. I can not help but find this article somewhat offensive. As an MT, you should be supporting what others in your field are practicing. The practice is offered because it works- it guarantees stress reduction. The human energy field IS real, and there is scientific proof to support it.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I think my ethical obligation as a writer on the science related to manual therapy is not to “support what others are doing” but to question whether what others are doing is supported by evidence. My view on Reiki is that its practitioners are well-meaning and sincere people who sometimes help others, but that Reiki itself is a form of pseudoscience that has no effect beyond placebo. This is in fact the broad scientific consensus on Reiki, as shown here:


      I am sure you honestly want to help people, and that you are a source of stress reduction for your clients. But I think its very important that we understand the mechanisms for why our treatments work.

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