The 'River Dance' of nervous systems
"Our only security is our ability to change." - John Lilly
As a chiropractic somatic educator, I'm grounded in an appreciation of the central importance of the brain and nervous system. The very intelligence of Life flows through it and, as a chiropractor, part of my job is to locate and correct interferences to the expression of this intelligence.
While I naturally pay a lot of attention to the spine and cranium, this spinal focus isn't unique to the chiropractic profession. It's been seen for millennia in yoga, tai chi, Chi gong and other ancient martial arts. In the last century, we've witnessed this therapeutic orientation to the midline structures of the body and their function, in osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, Rolfing and its attention to the "Rolf line," as well as a host of other forms of bodywork and movement therapy.
For many years, medicine believed the brain and nervous system we were born with would pretty much be with us our entire lives. Today, we know differently. We know that the brain possesses a "neural plasticity," an endless ability to heal and transform itself. It's an organ designed to change in response to its experiences and training..
Before I go any further, let me mention there's no typographical error in the title of this month's column. I'm referencing the relationship of movement to the nervous system, but not only to the classical nervous system of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves but also the larger and even older nervous system comprised of our connective tissues and the fluids they contain. Everything about our body is fluidic. Ever-changing, in either a positive or negative direction, it more closely resembles a river of aliveness than a frozen sculpture of ice. Our muscles aren't mere "meat," but possess consciousness and the ability to remain supple throughout a long lifetime.
In chiropractic college, our studies focused heavily on the field of neurology. We learned that to be a chiropractor is, truly, to be a doctor of the nervous system. Yet, it was through such somatic pioneers as Emilie Conrad and Thomas Hanna, and the writings of Moshe Bar that my understanding of what's now known as neural plasticity developed.
Recent years have seen a flood of information on the brain's ability to heal itself. Books such as "The Brain That Changes Itself,” by Dr. Norman Doidge, and the many books of Dr. Daniel Amen have done much to change the way we view the brain.
Simply put, neural plasticity explains how our brains are malleable and, based on our experience - especially the experience of movement - continue to change throughout our lifetimes. While it may seem like common sense, it's just been very recently that the medical establishment validated this aspect of the brain's potential. Revolutionary in scope, the information is now transforming the fields of neurology, psychiatry, psychology, and childhood education. Hopefully, it will transform your relationship to your own body and to how you continue to develop and unfold as you age.
The beneficial effect of movement on the brain and nervous system is facilitated by all systems of bodywork and movement therapy, particularly those that focus on improving ranges of motion and utilize slow, mindful movement. This is also especially true of chiropractic, which works directly with the structures that wrap themselves around and protect the very tissues which make life possible. In fact, a chiropractic adjustment acts as a stimulus to affect the neurology of the body and the neural plasticity of the brain. Over the years, I've witnessed the effectiveness of this form of therapeutic interaction, as people who felt old before their time rediscovered "youthfulness" in their muscles and joints; stroke patients quickly regained the use of their arms and legs, along with their cognitive skills; clients connected with, and learned to engage, a tangible sense of health within.
Twenty-five years ago, when I was new in practice, I had a patient who suffered a severe closed-head injury in an auto accident, altering his cognitive abilities and causing him, understandably, to suffer from acute depression. He was especially despondent as he was told by his medical physician that, in spite of the aggressive occupational and physical therapy he was pursuing, he'd have to learn to live with a brain that had been changed for the worse.
Fortunately, I was aware of a leading-edge neurologist in my area who was familiar with the earliest research on the brain's neural plasticity. After six months of chiropractic sessions, which focused heavily on somatic movement lessons, this patient's cognitive functioning had returned to normal and his depression had left him. Most likely, with the help of new and better quality brain stimulation, his brain had rewired itself by forming a new circuit.
Today, especially with the aid of mindful stress reduction techniques, bodywork, and slow, purposeful movement reeducation, such "miracles" are commonplace. From patients who've suffered spinal-cord injuries or the neurological effects of a severe whiplash, to amputees experiencing the torments of phantom limb pain, the brain - when engaged in the right manner - reorganizes its damaged circuits and pain and limitation of movement often vanishes.
(Dr. Jeff Rockwell, a 1986 graduate of Life University, is a practicing DC in California and a long-time teacher of chiropractic philosophy and technique. A life-long student of vitalism, naturalism, and holism, he's known for his seamless weaving together of science and philosophy to holistically empower chiropractors and students alike. Dr. Rockwell taught philosophy, technique, and the chiropractic sciences at Parker College from 1992-2002. He now resides in Santa Cruz, where he enjoys hiking in the redwoods, walking along the ocean, being of service to his clients, and writing about the philosophy of aliveness and well-being.)
© 2012 The Chiropractic Journal Website maintained by