Zen and the art of human maintenance

Kitty Terwolbeck | https://flic.kr/p/nJ3oH4

Kitty Terwolbeck
| https://flic.kr/p/nJ3oH4

Zen and the art of human maintenance is not a spiritual blog but rather a practical one that considers a way of approaching hands on treatment–this is whether you are a massage therapist, a physiotherapist, an osteopath or any other clinician who uses their hands for examination and treatment. Equally it could apply to a person comforting a loved one.

How you bring yourself to the act has a huge impact upon the act itself. Setting the scene both in terms of the environment and the focus of your intention will play out through the treatment in subtle ways that effect the overall experience. A moment’s preparation in that vain allows the therapist to focus and be present meaning that the full experience is had, allowing for a sensitivity (via the therapist’s hands yet experienced through their whole person) that enables gentle responsiveness to adapt the treatment to the recipient’s needs. A classic example is being aware of how the muscles react to different levels of touch. Being aware means that you can detect even gentle guarding that indicates protection and need for both nourishment (improved blood flow and oxygen delivery to over-working muscles that are being told to tighten in an attempt to protect–yet this comes at a cost, both of energy and a build up of acids) and a sense of safety so that the systems that are protecting the body can ease up.

Take a moment: before you begin the treatment, 3 easy breaths to become aware of what is happening now, how you are feeling, what you are thinking; continue to maintain awareness of the present moment, letting go of distracting thoughts that interfere with your focus.

Zen is a sense of oneness with the present experience, what is happening right now, free from distractions and letting life flow. There are many situations when this state of simply being is very useful–before exams, interviews, when negotiating, discussions with your employer, before performing etc. However, cultivating this skill on a moment to moment basis is hugely beneficial as it allows you to see and think clearly, even when thinking about the past or future, which can cloud what is really happening now. These are all just thoughts, but when we become embroiled, the body reacts and responds because we are our body as much as we are our mind, and all that this means. So, just thinking about being in an argument or giving a speech creates similar responses in the body as if you are there; but you are not.

In giving treatment to another person, being fully present means that you fully experience the moment. You will be completely engaged in all that is happening ‘now’, creating a potency that cannot be otherwise reached with a wandering mind that has no connection with the treatment. This is undoubtedly a practical skill that can be developed, some calling it ‘focused attention training’ and others ‘mindfulness’. Everyone has the ability to focus, even for short periods, and to enhance the skill with practice. There would be some benefit of simply taking a few breaths as described above, yet there is even greater advantages to be had from further practice with 5-10 minutes of mindful breathing each day; more if you are so inclined.

Not only does being present whilst treating enhance the treatment through a more responsive selection of pressures and movements, the clinician also benefits from the calm created, and the clarity of thoguht offered by being present and aware. In effect, the whole experiecne means that while you are treating, you are being treated. A good way to measure this is by noting how you feel at the end of the day. A mindful day will end with energy, and non-mindful day with fatigue. I know which I prefer.

* These are skills to be learned and developed in the Pain Coach Mentoring Programme for clinicians | call 07518 445493 for details

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