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88 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k s e p te m b e r/o c to b e r 2 0 2 3 essential skills | BACK TO BASICS Guiding Client Awareness to a Brain-Body Connection By Cindy Williams Every time we touch a client, we become a stimulus the nervous system responds to. All forms of bodywork have this in common. The more you are aware of this phenomenon with your role in this communication, the more intentional and effective you can be in your work. While recognizing the signs that the brain is responding to your touch is paramount to supporting health, it doesn't stop there. "Outside-in" stimulus only goes so far. To stimulate lasting change through new learning in any body, awareness must also come from the inside. BASIC BRAIN-BODY COMMUNICATION Let's begin with a basic physiology review since simplicity is all that is necessary to begin leading and educating the body toward a new way of being. As we learn in school, the brain operates via stimulus and response—a stimulus is communicated to the brain and the brain responds with an action. We learn that we are a stimulus, so it makes sense to observe the response. What we observe informs our choice of the next stimulus we apply. Often, because we are touch practitioners (be that through physical touch or energetic directive), we focus solely on our input. Do we consequently discount the client as a source of stimulus in this limited approach? Neuroscience research on how the brain learns indicates that the more pathways we create toward a learning goal, the more likely it is the brain will adopt the learning. What we do when we work with the body is teach it a new way of being. So why not increase those pathways to the end goal? Learning involves attention, thought, emotion, and repetition. If we look beyond ourselves as a stimulus and incorporate a client's attention, thought, and emotion, then invite repetition through client self-care, positive results increase exponentially. So, what does this look like on the treatment table? RECOGNIZING NERVOUS SYSTEM COMMUNICATION How often have you noticed a muscle pushing back at you while you are pressing on it in a resting state? How often has the client said, "Go deeper," while the body communicated, "That's enough," through tension or withdrawal? How often has a client resisted passive movement even though they appear completely relaxed on the table? These are common, unconscious physiological responses. But, when made conscious, the effects can be positively powerful. At least once a week (and, some weeks, in every single session) I hear the client say, "You found sore spots I didn't even know were there!" Additionally, as a practitioner becomes more experienced and can identify postural patterns that illuminate root causes rather than just pain responses, simple client education can assist them in identifying what daily habits contribute to their physical experiences. From there, attention can be more accurately directed and change can ensue. These are examples of the unconscious being made conscious. TEACHING THE SYSTEM A NEW WAY As previously mentioned, when we aim to create change, we are ultimately teaching and guiding the body to a new way of being. The most effective ways the brain learns (especially long-term memory that sticks) are through attention, thought, emotion, and repetition. Let's look at how to employ each of these within the session.

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