My Path to Osteopathy, Part 2
“Andrew Taylor Still also believed that the body can heal itself. He was convinced that a doctor needs to create optimal conditions to support the bodies' self healing capacity. Osteopathy is doing just that by strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system and bringing the body into a state of rest. The body can only heal in a state of rest”
What a revolutionary thought. Was the reason for slow recovery and frequent relapses that we didn't give our injured athletes in the clinic enough rest? Did we push them too hard?
“Dr. Still also taught that form and function are dependent. How your body performs, depends on how it is built. If your lower back vertebra are not moving properly against each other, arthritis can develop. The opposite is also true. How your body is built, depends on how it performs. If arthritis is detectable in your lower back vertebra, the movements of those vertebra are restricted.”
Does that mean I can prevent arthritis by mobilizing my body and maintaining its natural range of motion? Does it maybe go further and I can stop or even reverse degenerative conditions by bringing back optimal range of motion? A thousand questions circled around my head. Those ideas were mind boggling. How could I not have heard about this at physical therapy school?
But now I wanted to know more. “What are you actually doing? Are you using machines? Exercises? Supplements?” My colleague shook her head. “Nothing like this”, she said. “I am only using my hands. The hands of a manual osteopath are trained to detect the finest motions in the body. During the five years of osteopathic training osteopath are constantly improving their sensitivity in their hands to detect ever so gentle restrictions and pathological movements in the joints, the muscles, the fascia and the inner organs.” “The inner organs?”, I exclaimed. “I never have treated the inner organs before.” “ You treat the mobility of the organ. You treat the fascia around the organ and lose restrictions. Since form influences function, the better mobility (form) hopefully results in better organ function. Better organ function improves the detoxifying processes in the body and better detoxification improves overall health. The groundwork for the body's' self healing capacity to work is given.” “Are you saying that you are only using your hands to treat the body? That sounds like chiropractic.” “Yes and no”, she replied. “ Like a chiropractor we are aligning the vertebra. In some cases manipulations (“cracking”) is necessary (please note that manual osteopathic practitioners in the US are not allowed to perform high velocity manipulations; manual osteopath practicing in Germany are). In my experience, however, this is the case in rare cases. Most of the time we use gentle mobilization techniques to bring the vertebra back into its right position. In addition to aligning the vertebra, we are also treating tense muscles, making sure that the fascia of inner organs is not influencing the restricted area and looking if other areas in the body are affecting and aggravating the pain. Most of the techniques are very gentle and the patient can relax. Remember, the body can only heal if it is in a relaxed state of rest. So, we don't want the patient to be tense, worried or his pain to be aggravated by our treatment.”
I was fascinated by what I heard. I really liked the idea that an osteopath looked at the patient as a whole person and no matter what problem, the whole body would be taken into consideration. There was no “one size fits it all” prescription. As an osteopath, you determine an individualized treatment plan for every client.
Those ideas made so much sense to me, that I signed up for a six year part time training, specifically designed for people with medical knowledge, to become an osteopath. The training was held in Munich, Germany. It was a rigorous training and I not just once wanted to give up. But my satisfied clients kept me going. They realized very quickly that I did something different and that that something different worked. Not only did their pain get better, but their overall health improved as well. Patients reported being less anxious, catching fever colds and feeling more balanced in everyday life.
I finally graduated from COE, European College for Osteopathy. During my time of being a student I had opened my own practice and was treating a lot of patients. My schedule filled up quickly and it looked as if I had everything I needed. But I still had this feeling I needed to do something more to be really happy.
To the agony of my parents and patients, I decided, after five years in private business, to sell my practice and travel through India. I always had a deep longing to get to know this country and its people. Finally it was the time. In India I learned about yoga and spirituality, I met a lot of inspiring people and most importantly, I met my future husband. During my two years of travel, I satisfied the part in me which wanted adventure and excitement. But I also satisfied the part in me which was looking for spiritual nourishment. I connected to nature more than I ever had and found deep solace in chanting and meditation.
As you can guess, my husband and I decided to get married and settle in California. During my years of travel, osteopathy supported me very well. People are in pain all over the world and the simplicity of osteopathy allowed me to treat anywhere at any time. After all, all I needed was my hands. By now, I was combining osteopathy with meditation and mindfulness. The combination of the two allowed clients to be in charge of their health.
The osteopathic treatment depends on the practitioner. In a way, the client surrenders; mindfulness gives the client a sense of control over their healing journey. Mindfulness also brings the mind into a state of rest. Our thoughts are calming down and our body is able to heal.
After my husband and I settled in California. I was convinced that it would be easy to find clients and start working as an osteopath again. However, this proved wrong (please watch for a future post about details on this nightmare). I had to learn the hard way, that the educational system in the USA is very different from the European one, especially in the field of osteopathy. In the USA, osteopaths are doctors and they call themselves DO, Doctor of Osteopathy. I wasn't a doctor. I wasn't allowed to prescribe drugs and perform surgery even in my own country and neither did I want to. What could I do? My credits were not accepted in the USA and nobody seemed interested anyway. I fell into a state of depression. Didn't I had so much to give and had helped so many people already?
To console myself, I decided that osteopathy wasn't was I supposed to do and signed up for a Waldorf Teacher Training course. I graduated from the course and taught German at a Waldorf School for five years. This was a time of intense learning. Teaching didn't come to me naturally as osteopathy did. Whilst studying and practicing osteopathy I always felt that I knew what people were talking about and new ideas, new techniques made sense right away. With teaching, I had to work hard to develop skills in classroom management, how to talk to children between 6 and 14 and how to teach. For the first time in life, I realized how blessed I had been. Everything regards osteopathy just fell into my lap. Maybe, after all, osteopathy was my life calling? I decided to stay at the school until I felt I had mastered the basic skills of teaching and wouldn't be scared to enter a classroom of 20 children any more. I wanted to stay until I was comfortable teaching. For some reason, I thought, I would run away from a challenge if I didn't persist.
After four long years, I finally had the feeling of being on top of the situation. I learned how to talk to young children in an engaging way. I learned about child development and how to support children in their growth instead of suppressing their innate curiosity. I learned how to talk to colleagues in challenging situations. I learned about the American culture and how to talk to people without offending them with my German attitude. I learned to be self-compassionate while making a lot of mistakes. I learned to handle difficult situations without giving up and without getting too upset about it (okay, not getting too upset is most likely a point my husband wouldn't agree upon). I grew as a person.