Using trigger points, gentle joint movement, and integration of internal energy systems, Ortho-Bionomy works to restore the body’s self-correcting reflexes. The treatment approach is based in the philosophy that fears and habits may prompt the body to misinterpret or misunderstand situations or stimuli. A physiological response that is grounded in fear may be inappropriate to the situation and can lead to health issues, disease, or injury.
The body may respond to a traumatic incident such as a car accident in an unnatural way that alters natural patterns of motion or energy flow. Ortho-Bionomy is an approach to massage treatment that can help clients release tension, improve range of motion, and heal from both physical and emotional trauma stored in the body’s memory.
Origins of Ortho-Bionomy Therapy
Dr. Arthur Lincoln Pauls, an English osteopath, defined Ortho-Bionomy as the “correct application of the laws of life” based on the translation of each root in the term: ortho, meaning straight or correct; bio, meaning life; and nomy, pertaining to laws. “We show the body, through physical and energetic patterns, how to understand its own functioning,” he wrote.
Pauls was a Judo instructor when he was introduced to osteopathy, first as a patient and later as a student. He began producing materials on Ortho-Bionomy in the 1970s, combining what he knew from Judo about the body’s energy patterns, natural movement, and range of motion with his training in osteopathy and a working knowledge of homeopathy.
Ortho-Bionomy, then, became an exploration of the ways structural imbalance could impact emotion and energy within the body and the consequences this might have for overall health and wellness. “When your structure works right,” he said, “your circulation works better, you feel better, you think better.”
What Happens During an Ortho-Bionomy Session?
Ortho-Bionomy involves little to no massage, though a massage table is used, and clients remain fully clothed. Physically impactful modalities such as deep tissue treatments are not used. Instead, practitioners use gentle movements to ease joints and muscles into their most comfortable position, slightly manipulating the limbs or head to support the client’s comfort and increase range of motion, depending on the area of the body in focus. The contact and pressure will be only deep enough for the therapist to notice changes in the position of the joint when it is released.
Ortho-Bionomy works in part by exaggerating the compression or constriction of muscles. If the muscles in the left side of the neck are tight, perhaps causing the client to compensate by tilting their head to that side to accommodate those muscles, the therapist may even further tilt the client’s head to the left. Like a taut elastic band given more slack, the neck muscles then have more room to move, and the surrounding muscles can adjust to a greater range of motion in the loosened joint or muscle.
An Ortho-Bionomy practitioner looks to create this looseness, which is also called the release position. Some indications the release has taken place include:
- Dissolving knots in the tissue
- Greater client comfort
- Changes in skin color
- An exhalation, sigh, or other changes in the client’s breathing
- A pulse under the tissue, in the indicator point
- A change in body or skin temperature
- Overall softening of the surrounding tissue
Because Ortho-Bionomy is meant to incorporate the energy systems in the body, other techniques used by a practitioner may be subtle or imperceptible to the client during the session. If you’re seeking an Ortho-Bionomy session, consider asking your chosen practitioner what specific approach, if any, they take to this energy work.
Benefits of Receiving Ortho-Bionomy Treatment
While the body has its standard way of functioning and maintaining health, things can happen to disrupt that regularity. Ortho-Bionomy helps reintroduce the body’s natural function or performance, especially when habitual movements or postures have altered or endangered it. The gentle techniques of treatment are one way of moving areas of the body into and through the trauma and fear held in those places to allow physical and emotional pain to be released.
Someone who experiences Ortho-Bionomy may experience more thorough relaxation, increased circulation, greater range of motion, release of muscular tension, and a sense of mental safety and peace. It’s possible to undo decades of poor posture, or even complications from injuries sustained many years previous.
Contraindications of Ortho-Bionomy Therapy
Ortho-Bionomy is such a low-impact approach to massage that few (if any) health conditions would prohibit its use. However, much remains to be learned about this relatively new type of treatment, and more research would better confirm its effectiveness for various specific pathologies.
As with any type of bodywork, it is important to find a qualified professional to perform this treatment. The practitioner should hold not only a massage therapy license, but also appropriate credentials for practicing Ortho-Bionomy. Communicate your needs and comfort level clearly when arranging a session, and continue to collaborate with your provider throughout treatment.
- Beck, M. F. (2011). Theory & practice of therapeutic massage (5th ed.), 573-574. Clifton Park, NY: Milady.
- Kain, K. L. (1997). Ortho-bionomy: A practical manual, 3, 5-15. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.