It’s not that there are too many same days, it’s that they are all very different and incomprehensibly complex.
So I’ve decided to have a place for my thoughts and ruminations and educate the world about my existence.
I’m a first year student doing a degree in Osteopathy. That is not quite right, I’m beginning to get absorbed into this not by degrees at all, I am getting sucked into the current and it’s exciting (sometimes) and frustrating (often).
It was only yesterday that I got the double whammy of failing both my first practical exam and an essay that I had thought of as acceptable. It turns out that it is, certainly as an essay, but that it didn’t answer the question. I’m going to stick it on here because I like it and I think it’s a shame it’s going to waste.
It will probably, crucially, also ensure that no one will ever finish reading my first post.
Vitality in Relation to Littlejohn’s Ten Principles
Vitality is described in many cultures and across many centuries. It is part of understanding illness conceptually as a convergence of biological, psychological and social factors. Depending on the underlying theoretical structures, illness can thus be described from without the patient and it can also be described from within them. Illness can then also be reduced to measurable vital signs, ensuring that relevant debates over abortion and life support measures are firmly being kept within the boundaries of science rather than spirit. So what is vitality?
Hechmati () delivers a short history of vitality. She poses concepts of vitality in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Ayurvedic Medicine and in homeopathy. This is helpful when contemplating similarities in describing and understanding life across cultural and chronological divides. Hufeland (1798) was one of the first doctors in western medicine to describe vitality. He approaches vitality and medicine with gentleness and writes about prolonging human life.
He identifies 11 aspects that compare vitality to light, magnetism, fire and electricity. He also believes that vitality provides each organism with personality and a unique way of perceiving the world. Vitality will sustain life and fight malicious influences. In the event of a loss of vitality, the body will become subject to decay again and death will give way to rebirth. Vitality can also be affected through shock, emotional or physiological, as well as restored through rest. Warmth, light and air aid vitality. Life force is expressed as growth in the body. When the body has reached perfection, vitality will express as continuous renewal.
The 21st century describes many of these as chemical reactions or the organism struggling to maintain independence from its surroundings i.e. homoeostasis. Much of the effort of describing vitality is spent fending off the aforementioned reductionism. Hufeland’s writing had a direct influence on the development on alternative medicine. Perhaps vitality is best dealt with on a more spiritual and metaphorical plane; much like breath has been used to harness ‘inspiration’ in our understanding. Vitality is a quality in a living being that is undeniable and yet indescribable.
Gerber (2001) discusses the relation of the chakras to their location in the body. He is interested in emotional learning in relation to the body: “Depending upon the specific impediment to perception, disease will manifest in the organ system that most closely resonates with the chakra ruling the particular difficult lesson. […] When the difficult lesson being learned by the personality involves being able to love others and feel love for oneself, blockages of energy flow through the hear chakra can manifest as physical afflictions of the heart, thymus gland, bronchial tubes, and lungs.” Chakras are found at the junction of the metaphorical and literal, describing locations along the spine and emotional and visceral centres alongside them. One can thus access chakras through meditation and exercise. In this way they symbolise and connect the body to different planes of awareness and also describe enlightenment as a physical journey.
The spine can be described as “axis-mundi” – with the umbilicus providing the world’s navel, everything in the body representing a mythical journey: “In the normal course of a well-favored human lifetime the unfolding of the body’s vital energy transpires through marked stages of transformation which in the pictographic lexicon of India’s yogic schools are represented as controlled from separate spinal centres known as cakras […]. These are pictured and experienced as ranged in ascending order along an invisible spinal nerve” (Campbell, 1986) Perhaps Campbell, with the help of chakras and kundalini yoga, describes vitality best: ”For every sound heard by the physical ear is of things rubbing or striking together. […] The one sound not so made is the great tone, or hum (sabda), of the creative energy […] of which things are the manifestations, or epiphanies. And the intuitive recognition of this creative tone within a phenomenal form is what opens the heart to love. What before had been an “it” becomes then a “thou”, alive with the tone of creation.”
In other words, life force is the natural sound of the universe.
When attempting to link life force to manual medicine, Lindlahr (1975) insists that it is impossible to replenish life force through quantity. It can be stimulated but not replaced. He understands manipulative therapies to “endeavour to facilitate the distribution of vital energy through the system by correcting mechanical lesions in the bony structures, ligaments, muscles and connective tissues.” He also compares the restorative and stimulating function of the nervous system. This is especially interesting with regard to osteopathic body adjustment. Body adjustment is carried out with the patient at rest, passively active, which means they have to be at ease to receive it. This means the organism is at rest, restoring vitality. This also touches on his discussion of insomniacs: “most people who have insomnia can overcome it by learning to relax instead of trying to go to sleep.” Body adjustment can be of service by providing a space of conscious, passive relaxation, helping to integrate the passive and the active, thus making it for the patient to be an active participant in replenishing their vital energies whilst being at rest.
Body Adjustment is a way of mobilising the whole of the spine by putting the joints of the appendicular skeleton as well as the spine through movement. This is done with the help of long levers that can increase and deepen the movement to address the whole body. The spine connects the systems and forms a central canal of data transfer through the nervous system. Motor and sensory information travels up and down to be processed and learned from.
Throughout treatment the practitioner will assess articulation in hips, shoulders and spine, and palpate diagnostically for irregularities and stiffness. The joint will be moved within its range rather than taken out of its range so that treatment does not cause trauma. Seeing as the treatment is carried out whilst the patient is awake means they have an opportunity to learn consciously and subconsciously about movement and being moved.
Wernham (1990) sums it up:
“In the work of adjustment in osteopathic therapeutics we include
the contraction of relaxed tissues and the relaxation of contracted soft tissues:
the adjustment of the osseus, ligamentous, cartilaginous and muscular structures, especially in their inter-relation, to establish interarticular mobility:
the soothing of irritated or over-active tissue conditions by inhibition applied to, or through, the nerve centres:
the arousing of torpid, or inactive tissues by stimulation of the acceleration type applied to, or through the nerve centres:
the establishment of free and uninterrupted currents of vitality, that is vital force, by adjusting the entire organism to itself, and its parts, as well as adapting the body to its environment of diet, air, climate, sanitation, sociology, etc.:
the elimination of all toxic and waste elements, so that the nutritive elements may be absolutely free from toxic vitiation, especially in respect of the cells.” [additional formatting by the author]
Littlejohn described ten principles to be applied to body adjustment, nine of which will be discussed here in terms of their influence on vitality. They are routine, rhythm, rotation, mobility, motility, articular integrity, coordination, correlation, and stabilisation.
They are all related to one another but individually can form stronger bonds. Coordination and correlation are a good basis for stabilisation. Perhaps balance is also a good synonym for stabilisation. If the state of a body’s tissues is stable, their arterial and nervous supply a given, they are also in balance with their surroundings. Articular integrity is a reflection on mobility. It appears that the body is stimulated during treatment to activate self-healing but also to process the data it is being provided with. It also means that during treatment the practitioner can interpret and translate the results of their diagnostic exploration and palpation into more specific and targeted treatment. The global diagnostic assessment and articulation becomes a continuous The information they receive through attuning themselves to the patient and the state of their tissue is vital to proceed further. General osteopathic treatment can be repeated at every session to allow for relaxation and repetition, which addresses routine and rhythm amongst the principles.
No aspect of general osteopathic treatment can be isolated from the whole. In presenting a complete set of treatment that involves many aspects of movement, it becomes possible to approach integrity within a person’s body and mind, to reach for the normalisation of “both function and tissue tone. In addition it acts as a stimulus to the re-attainment of a normal state, both concerning the musculo-skeletal tissues which are themselves being actually treated, as well as exerting a distant and reflex effect elsewhere within the totality.” (Dummer, 1988)
It is one of the chief aims of osteopathic treatment to restore the patient to a healthy relationship with themselves and their life. Body adjustment provides an opportunity for removal of the obstacles standing between health and dysfunction. Structural change provides a restoration of function and vice versa. It is the role of the osteopath to maintain health and well-being through compassionate understanding of the elements that govern the patient’s life and learning, and to assist them in their journey towards healing.
Campbell, J. (1986) The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. New York, A. van der Marck 35/36
Dummer, T. (1988) Tibetan Medicine and Other Holistic Health-Care Systems. London, Routledge 186
Gerber, R. (2001) Vibrational Medicine 3rd Edition. Rochester, Bear and Company 399
Hechmati, N. () What is Vitality? Undergraduate Research Project, European School of Osteopathy, Maidstone.
Hufeland, C. W. von (1798) Die Kunst, das menschliche Leben zu verlängern. Wien, Franz Haas 30-45
Lindlahr, H. (1975) Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics. London, Vermilion 222-225
Wernham j 1990 Lectures on Osteopathy. Maidstone, Maidstone College of Osteopathy 79
So, yeah, if you are a first year student struggling with vitality and its relation to Body Adjustment (should this be capitalised?), don’t quote this essay!
I think my main problem is that I still fail to grasp what exactly vitality is supposed to be. Life force, I hear you say? Sure. But what is life force? I sort of see a difference between the living and the dead, I do, but how can this be discussed? The people I read and quoted, had numerous ideas, but what do they mean? What does it mean to speak about life force, is it not something that can only be felt?
I am obsessed with the real and the subjective, I want to understand and delve into the substance of what life is, but what the hell is life?
It is always easier to discuss the measurable and to frame experience into the visible. It is easier to understand life as a series of events, as a longitudinal experience, a string of situations. But it’s also the only thing we have that is total.
I spoke to my osteopath about vitality and promptly confused it with resilience. We are amazingly resilient creatures, we are endlessly fascinating in our inventiveness as people, in our ways to avoid, to confront and to integrate experience and learning into ourselves (our lives?), but is that life force? Survival is not the same as life, and I get cross with people when they elevate survival to existence.
So – evidently I haven’t solved this particular problem yet.
I consider myself to be an existentialist, so existence, the state of being thrown into the world, interpretation of its randomness, is my chief business.