Massage & Bodywork

JANUARY | FEBRUARY 2021

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86 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k j a n u a r y/ fe b r u a r y 2 0 2 1 The Eyes Have It The Therapeutic Value of Eye Gazing BY ERIK DALTON, PHD "EASY 8" EYE-CONTACT EXERCISES Bodywork assessment and treatment calls for sustained and concentrated observation, which can be enhanced through the conscious use of eye contact. Here are some practical eye-gazing tips I call the "Easy 8," which I picked up in psychology training. These confidence- boosting exercises have really helped me with my client communication skills. 1. Establish eye contact right away. Before you begin talking, focus on the client's eyes. Avoid looking down or glancing at something before you begin speaking. 2. Break eye contact every 4–5 seconds. After a few seconds, slowly glance to the side, then establish eye contact again. This prevents staring and avoids discomfort. During a history intake, do you look into your client's eyes when they're trying to tell you something? Or are you so busy writing down what they're saying that you give the impression you're not really listening? Maintaining eye contact displays interest and tells the client, "You are important, and I am actively listening." Implementing eye-contact techniques like eye gazing within your practice is one of the best investments you will ever make. In this column, I'll discuss the science behind the art of eye gazing and offer practical tips to enhance your hands-on work. When performed in a safe and trusting environment, eye gazing creates a "neural duet" between the client's brain and the therapist's brain, due to reciprocal firing of social networking areas (Image 1). Sadly, eye contact appears to be falling by the wayside these days, both in our bodywork practices and in society in general. Technology may be bringing immeasurable benefits to humanity, but there are downsides as well, and reduced eye contact is one of them. William Shakespeare wrote "The eyes are the windows to the soul" and, indeed, modern neuroscience seems to support his claim. This is because our brains contain "mirror neurons" that are very sensitive to facial expressions and eye contact in particular. When a client is feeling an emotion, the same neurons that shine in their brain light up in our brain as we observe them. For example, when we see someone smile, our mirror neurons for smiling also fire, creating a sensation in our own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. technique | MYOSKELETAL ALIGNMENT TECHNIQUES Eye gazing creates a "neural duet" between the client's and therapist's brains. 1 During a mirroring exchange, chemicals such as oxytocin and vasopressin are released, which help lower the physiologic stress response and even aid in wound healing. 1 In a bodywork practice, this kind of client-therapist interaction can generate a positive feedback loop, where increased levels of oxytocin trigger an even greater desire for eye gazing. Over time, this leads to increased levels of empathy and trust. Moreover, this positive feedback loop stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, causing it to decrease the client's perception of pain by reducing the release of stress-producing chemicals such as cortisol, and also quiets the brain's fear- centered amygdala, allowing the person to better deal with real and perceived threats. The scientific word for this is progressive desensitization.

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