HOW DOES IT WORK?
As a Responsive Body Practitioner, Nick’s bodywork is heavily influenced by Responsive Body. This approach to bodywork takes into consideration not only your physical experiences but also your emotional and social ones. After all, they are felt in your body. By integrating all types of experiences, we're able to be present with phenomena that truly feel holistic, of the whole self.
But what does this mean, why does it work, and how does it apply to you?
It works through and on your musculoskeletal, fascial, physiological, and neurological systems to provide a holistic experience with biomechanics, kinetic fluids, and internal and external perceiving. By studying embryology, anthropology, and ecology with an understanding of quantum concepts like complimentarity and recursion, we’re able to draw genuine relationships of cause and effect both within the body and in how that body interacts with society and culture that would otherwise seem elusive. It’s just a different aproach that attempts to take a look at everything from all 360° at once.
A great way to begin approaching an understanding of how this all works together is to examine the three holistic systems in the body: fascial system (connective tissue) like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage; circulatory system including the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries; and the neurological system including your brain, plexuses, and afferent and efferent neurons. When these systems are isolated from the rest of the body, we can still clearly see the shape of the body in great detail. This is what makes these systems holistic, they encompass the whole body.
Human circulatory system.
Andreas Vesalius, 1543.
Fascia. What is it?
Fascia (rhymes with "mash a" potato) is the connective tissue that links bones to muscles, muscles to skin, and muscles to one another through structures like tendons, ligaments, and the extracellular matrix. It looks like a beautiful three dimensional spiderweb of spindles and sails. You can think of the entire fascial system as the body with pockets for muscles, bones, and organs. A great analogy is to imagine an orange. We have the skin, the rind (fascia), and the fruit (muscle). When we peel the skin, we notice the rind is thick and a layer is left on the fruit. When we separate the slices of the orange, we also notice a rind-like membrane separating the slices. When we bite into the slice, we can again notice even thinner membranes separating little pockets of the fruit. This models how fascia is organized in our bodies.
Tension is distributed responsively – think about when you bend down to pick something up with two hands. Your hands and chest will contract to secure the object, causing your shoulders and spine to stabilize, so then your spine, glutes, and hamstrings can lift your upper body to standing. This demonstrates a fantastic example of tensegrity structures, structures designed to improve their structural integrity by generating and maintaining tension between compression points (bones). Think of a star: there is a nuanced balance between the energy it produces and the gravitational pull of its own mass. Bones are like the energy the star produces, without them, everything would explode. Fascia is the gravitational pull toward the center and, without it, everything would implode. This relationship is sometimes why we find that releasing tension at one site of the body actually relieves tension elsewhere. It is a dynamic system where a change in one location has a ripple effect across the whole.
Tension & Tensegrity
Tensegrity bridge concept by architect Sabah Shawkat, 2017.
While muscles are elastic (they stretch and rebound to their original shape like a rubber band), fascia is plastic. Similar to a plastic bag, it can stretch slowly and retain its shape. But if it’s stretched too quickly with too much force, it will tear. There is also a liquid crystalline nature to fascia that is similar to ketchup in a bottle. When liquified, it will move slowly and change shape. When it is met with impact or force, the matrix solidifies in response. When we work with the fascia, we are working with a tissue that is both liquid and crystallized, is responsive to the whole system, and can change shape over time. That means that you can change shape over time.
Photograph of hydrated fascia.
Pre-stress is required for the fascial system to crystalize and stiffen which can happen through two proven methods. First, neuromuscular activity creates a contraction that stiffens the fascia, such as during unpredictable or low impact movement requiring dexterity, like catching your pen. The other being through repetitive stress patterns to where the extracellular matrix has reorganized itself around over time, with bodybuilders being an extreme real world example. We have incredible control over releasing neuromuscular activity because when we don’t, we have a muscle cramp. The reorganization of the extracellular matrix around repetitive stress patterns is what shapes the body and therefore its biomechanical advantages and disadvantages. Everyday, through intentional and unintentional repetitive movements, we are shaping this matrix.
Photograph of a sheet of thickened fascia.
This bodywork recognizes the function and intelligence of fascia, and aims to free the old or habitual patterns that no longer serve you and activate other patterns that will support you now. I am regularly moving fascia in both myself and my clients to help reorganize and reshape it into something that will work for and with you, not against you. Just as it was designed. And we know this works because you’ll be able to actually see the difference in the mirror.
Our second holistic system, the circulatory system, is one we are all aware of, but maybe not in terms of physiology. We all know the relationship of the heart and lungs to oxygenate our blood, and of the arteries that bring that blood to our cells and the veins that bring it back to the lungs. But oxygen is not the only transport. Our circulatory system reflects so much about what is happening physiologically.
Along with oxygen, most understand the concept of blood sugar and transportation of energy to the cells for action. We can also attribute this fantastic transportation system to movement of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and cellular waste products (such as lactic acid). If we start to notice a constriction of fluids at any location, we can infer there is congestion along the transport pathways through the arteries and veins – there isn’t proper drainage or feeding. Think of a bustling city where all of the roads are gridlocked with traffic; there isn’t any way that city would be able to function properly in those conditions and would eventually crumble. Now, imagine a bustling city where all of the roads flowed; people could get to food and their jobs, emergency services would be able to mobilize, and waste cleanup would be functioning. This is what we want to ensure with your body, the freedom for your fluids to be kinetic so you have a functioning and healthy city.
Comparison of two fists where the left one has edema.
Another angle to affect your circulatory system is to through your metabolism. When self regulating, metabolic processes occur when exertion (physical, mental, and emotional) is met with appetite (physical, mental, and emotional). After someone plays a soccer game, they’re ready for a meal. After someone learns a large amount of new information, they’re ready for sleep. After someone goes through a major emotional event, recovery can look like a temporary dissociative state. By accessing the neurological and fascial systems, we’re able to accelerate or unloop certain metabolic processes so the rest/digest part of your nervous system (more on that later) can activate and then facilitate physiological regulation through an open circulatory system. Essentially, your body knows how to regulate itself. We work to provide the conditions for it to succeed.
Photo of a capillary so narrow, red blood cells must move in single file.
Endocrinology is also an aspect that is in consideration to the work, especially when concerned with metabolism. Predominantly, we examine the effects of the fight/flight/freeze response found in all people and animals. This was one of the primal survival instincts developed and is therefore deeply entrenched in our nervous systems and physiology. These adrenal responses are familiar in extreme circumstances, let’s say involving a bear: a parent fights one off that is approaching their child, another person runs zig zag until they can get somewhere safe, and another play dead. These are all valid survival skills that kick into gear and turn off the rest of what the body deems unnecessary for this moment. Success through the survival moment doesn’t require you to grow your hair, or digest your food, or sleep. Historically, these survival moments have been temporary, just as they still are in the wild, because fight, flight, or freeze can be enacted and fully metabolized. We can start to notice when people have a tendency to activate any of these in everyday encounters: someone may be unjustly agitated at the barista during a busy rush, someone else might disappear from an event only to find out they went home, and others may freeze and not know what to say or how or where to stand. All of these are moments when they body activated a survival response but it wasn’t able to be enacted and is therefore unresolved. Your body still thinks the event is happening. When identified, we help your body enact and complete the survival moment so it can come out of it and you can begin to grow your hair, digest your food, and sleep better.
Fight, Flight, & Freeze
Both the lion and the buffalo are passing through freeze as they oscillate between fight and flight during this standoff.
We don’t work directly on your circulatory system, we work around it from multiple angles so it has capacity to flow into better health.
The final holistic system is the nervous system, our information highway and the mechanism by which we evaluate, make, and enact choices. If the fasical system is mechanical and the circulatory system fluid, then the nervous system is electrical.
There are constant feedback loops at play through afferent and efferent neurons. Afferent neurons bring sensory information, like temperature, texture, and pressure, into the brain for processing while efferent neurons are motor neurons. As well as with muscles, the term “use it or lose it” also applies to neurons. “Fit” neurons will have enhanced myelination (conducive fatty materials) that helps the electrical signals move more quickly and without resistance. We have all experienced efferent myelination, or at the very least seen babies and toddlers go through this process. At first, the action is uncoordinated and awkward. As they practice, you start to notice they are able to accurately and consistently complete the action with mastery. The myelination for that neurological pathway was great so the impulse was able to find the path and fire along it easily. Conversely with afferent neurons, we can myelinate them by searching for incredibly nuanced internal sensation. I am able to feel nuanced changes in others’ bodies and we can work together to myelinate your afferent neurons so you can be in a finely tuned relationship with your body and sensations.
Afferent & Efferent Neurons
Illustration of healthy (left) and damaged (right) myelin sheaths.
Along with myelination, neurogenesis is an important factor of neurological health. Throughout our lifetime, neurons are forming and dying at different rates and for different actions. Babies and young children have highly active neurogenesis processes which is why they are so adept at picking up new skills and intaking information. Neurogenesis occurs in adults as well at a much lower rate, but research is starting to identify that it happens more than we previously thought. The process begins with neurons in areas that are associated with reward and motor processing migrate to the olfactory bulb (responsible for processing smell), differentiate, and become dormant. With the right stimuli, some of those differentiated neurons will awaken and proliferate C cells, which produce neuroblasts, which then develop into neurons. This bodywork has neurogenetic affects on the body through this stimuli and it helps to open perception internally and externally. A greater range of perception keeps you in touch with what is actually happening around you.
Neuron growth occurring in the green, dendrites are in purple, and the nucleus is in blue.
Within the central nervous system, we can differentiate between our sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic (rest/digest) nervous systems. Each one is an antagonist to the other, so as one is active the other is dormant. Above, we discovered why it is important to enact and complete the survival moment. When stuck in the survival moment, the sympathetic nervous system is active and ready to fight/flight/freeze. The sympathetic nervous systems can also be activated through social stressors at home, at work, or in public. In high stress social situations, we can see this in the physiology; their palms sweat, face flushes, gut tightens, they’re figgity or restless. Even when the sympathetic response is mild, the parasympathetic nervous system is dormant. Through regulation of the vagus nerve, we are targeting the parasympathetic nervous system and coaxing it toward activation. Conversely, parasympathetic activation will cause the sympathetic system to go dormant. In bodies that retain stress, parasympathetic regulation is transformative.
Illustration of the brain and vagus nerve. Note how the shape mirrors that of the lungs and digestive organs.
Above, we’ve discussed adrenal endocrinology, but there are other hormones that are at play in the body that connect us to anthropology. As social beings, humans are wired toward survival in groups and communities, eventually leading to cultures. Demonstrated in other social animals, there are reward and punishment systems built into the community that are reflective of hormonal shifts. We see examples of this in training of both dogs and children. Positive reinforcement will help facilitate a sense of accomplishment among the individual and the group and cement the physiological response as reward whenever that behavior is repeated. Negative reinforcement generates fear and stress, especially of the unknown, and is a deterrent of destructive or poisonous behavior. Over the years, research has shown that positive reinforcement is by far the most effective. Yet, we still experience and witness so much negative reinforcement since that is egoically the easier tool to enact change and is therefore habitual. I use systems of social reward in my bodywork to promote more potent transformation, sense of self within community, and biological optimism.
Anthropological lenses are particularly useful in coaching sessions, but it also permeates the bodywork. There is an inherent bias toward community and away from isolation in a regulated nervous system due to the survival mentality of tribes and packs. We also all have different attachment styles, archetypal behavior patterns, and defensive/survival strategies. When these move out of sync and compete with each other as well as with ambitions, relationships, and pursuit of joy, it’s usually time to evaluate them. This is all worked into the bodywork through how I bring my presence to yours with absolute authenticity. These elements are also reflected in the body physically, physiologically, and neurologically which can be an access point for us. Working in this way is so potent, I’m confident you’ll feel it shifting behind the scenes even after it’s been explained here.
Bodywork of Behavior
Nick and friends around a campfire.
Wondering how this applies to you specifically?