Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Scientific Skepticism and the Christian Massage Therapist

It is a very interesting time to be a Christian Massage Therapist.  There are very few resources for a Christian who is also a Massage Therapist to utilize that are specific to my discipline.  The only one I am aware of is a small Christian Massage Therapists group on Facebook that I am a part of.  Aside from that we have to depend on resources that are not specifically dealing with the issues we face. 

One of the newer things we are facing is the emergence of science based massage therapists who consider themselves to be Scientific Skeptics.  They even have their own group on Facebook but a number of them are active in other groups as well.  Many of them are very articulate and appear well educated. 

I often appreciate the contributions they make in threads.  They frequently deal with massage related issues using the tools of logic and the scientific method.  They frequently post or at least mention specific articles and research.  I think we need more of that in our profession.

As Christians, we too appreciate logic and science – or at least we should.  The problem is that we place a different value on these tools and we use them differently.  Let me explain.

A Christian worldview entails that we believe what the scriptures teach.  We accept that on the authority of God’s word revealed in the Bible.  It gives us an interpretive grid.  Our goal is to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Let me try to explain.

If you were to enter my house from any of its 3 doors you would see certain indications of where you are at.  If you come through my basement door immediately on your left would be an old VCR tape of my wedding.  A little farther is a case with medals I earned in my time in the Army Reserve.  Surrounding  you would be bookcases on 3 of the walls with my name on the inside of many of those books.  If you entered by the garage door you would find a number of filing cabinets with my files inside and yes…another couple of bookcases.  Coming through the front door you will pass a mailbox with my name on the mail.  Immediately coming through the door you would find my computer with my documents and a few more bookcases – again- with my name on the inside covers. 

You could try coming in by landing on the roof and rappelling in through the windows.  If you come in through the bathroom window my name is on my toothbrush and on the prescriptions in the medicine cabinet.  It would be similar coming in by the other windows.  There are marks of my ownership everywhere from the name on my diplomas and my recently earned degree to the message on my phone.

It would be incredibly difficult to come into my home and to think it was anything other than my home.  You could not pretend otherwise and be believable.  It simply is not sensible to think anything else.  It is that way with the world we live in and how we know of God.  Psalm 19:1-6 tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of  God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The very heavens declare God’s glory – they testify of him.  The passage tells us that this information is inescapable.  It is everywhere we turn to look.  A similar passage appears in Romans 1:18-32 (I won’t quote the entire passage):

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened…..(there is a long list of sins here)…who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This passage goes even farther and tells us that all men everywhere know 4 things:
o   God exists
o   He is powerful
o   He has a law
o   They deserve to be punished for breaking that law

This knowledge is a guilty knowledge because they hold down or suppress this truth – in unrighteousness.  Verse 28 is particularly telling, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” I mention this in regard to scientific skepticism because the Bible teaches that they are deliberately holding down the truth in unrighteousness and denying the first principles that should inform life in this world.  Yet they are walking around in God’s world with all of the evidences of his ownership and creation and they pretend that He does not exist.

The tenants of scientific skepticism include atheism and a belief that only the material world actually exists.  This is no worldview for a Christian – and it is a worldview.  People accept a worldview at face value.  It is a foundation that all of their thought rests upon so they do not question it. 

This is where we must part company.  We know from scripture as well as from creation that The God of the Bible created all things and that all 3 members of the Trinity were active in it.  Rather than holding down the truth in unrighteousness – we acknowledge that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…(Prov. 1:7)” The entirety of our worldview arises from God’s revelation of himself to us.

This God has created a world that makes sense.  It is a cause and effect place.  It is a reflection of him and as such it manifests order and we can make sense of it by applying the laws of logic that arise from his character and apply the scientific method to understand his creation.  Creation is his house and the facts are not there for just any interpretation.  Much like you can’t come into my house and deny it belongs to me and give a history of my possessions that has no basis in reality – so the Skeptic has no business falsely interpreting God’s creation.

The Skeptic believes that they can use the scientific method to understand reality.  As Christians we would agree because we ground this understanding in the fact that God has created a cause and effect world and it is understandable.  The Skeptic can’t justify his use of the scientific method.  The method requires that we live in a cause and effect world.  They have nothing to base this on – it is an assumption.  They do not know if they will run into a new fact that will disprove what they are saying. 

If reality is only physical we have no grounding or foundation for the laws of logic.  The law of contradiction – A is not non A - is the foundation of logic.  It is only possible to ground this concept in the character of God himself.  It is not physical and can not be subject to the scientific method.  It simply has no reason for existence.

We know from God’s revelation of Himself in his creation and in his word that there is non-physical existence.  The laws that govern our thought are revelatory of his character.  We use them regularly as he expects us to.

What does this have to do with massage therapy?  It has a good deal to do with what we think about the person on our treatment table.  I can look at them as a unique creation of God that I have an opportunity to help.  I believe that my actions during that time have significance and will have predictable results.  If the Skeptic is right that person has no more significance beyond any other thing that happens to exist.  They are just there and meaning is an illusion. 

At the end of the day we have to ask ourselves – can I live according to what I believe?  As a believer that is an easy answer.  God has created me and I have a purpose.  Skeptics can only deal with physical existence.  At the end of the day they want to believe they have meaning and purpose.  Their worldview does not allow that.  Jesus does.  He died for sinners and paid the price for unbelief.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pain: How do we understand it - Tom Myers presentation critiqued by Jason Erickson,NCTMB, CMT, ACE-CPT, CES, CAIST, BBA, BA, AA

The following video of Tom Myers was the subject a Facebook thread I participated in.  The information presented was not in any way, shape, or form in accordance with current science based understanding of this issue.  Jason Erickson, NCTMB, CMT, ACE-CPT, CES, CAIST, BBA, BA, AA  gave the response below.  I consider it to be a very thorough refutation of Myers position.  

Myers is not being attacked - but his ideas are.  This is as it should be.  Mr Erickson posted this to YouTube and it was removed.  I consider his response to be of sufficient magnitude that I would like it preserved here for future reference.  I received specific permission from Jason to publish this here.  It is my hope that it will be read and introduce many to real pain science and give a foundation for further learning.

Tom Myers - Why Does Massage Hurt

This video really disappointed me. A while back, I invited Tom Myers to participate in discussions of pain science with people that have serious credentials and expertise in pain science. He didn't participate for long. It now appears that he never did learn anything from the resources made available to him.

He has a personal definition of pain, and it's not accurate because there can be pain without "a motor intention to withdraw". The best current definition of pain used around the world is from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) taxonomy:

An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage."

I am glad that he acknowledges the presence and role of the free nerve endings in nociception, but he seems to think that nociception and pain are the same thing, as if they are strictly a biological phenomenon. This is also not true.

From the IASP taxonomy:

The neural process of encoding noxious stimuli.

Note: Consequences of encoding may be autonomic (e. g. elevated blood pressure) or behavioral (motor withdrawal reflex or more complex nocifensive behavior). Pain sensation is not necessarily implied."

Nociception is unfiltered, raw data. It is not a sensation. Some reflexive responses can be triggered locally or at the nerve root, but there is no sensation until the brain interprets the incoming data. Whether or not nociception is transmitted to the brain is mediated at the spinal cord level, and the significance of what the brain receives is mediated by many different parts of the brain associated with memory, cognition, emotions, learning, sensation, motor control, etcetera. If something else demands higher brain priority due to psychosocial contexts, the brain may "ignore" that nociception altogether.

That contextual interpretation of the raw sensory input is a critical part of whether or not the brain generates the sensation of pain. In this video, Tom refers to yoga practitioners experiencing strong sensations that could be uncomfortable/intense but not painful. He also states that those who are "reaching their physiological limits" may experience pain.

Those new to yoga, who have not yet become comfortable with the poses and practices, often lack the contextual learning that would facilitate performing yoga without pain. The practice of yoga (or other strenuous physical disciplines) trains the nervous system to interpret sensory data with a greater discrimination between what represents threat and what does not.

Like Tom, I do not believe in the "No pain, no gain," approach to bodywork. I'm more of a "No pain, more gain," therapist.

I strongly disagree with Tom's unfounded assertion that there are "three types of pain": "pain coming into the body", "pain stored in the body", and "pain leaving the body". He's just stating his personal philosophy and metaphors/analogies/stories... let's look at each one:

1) "Pain coming into the body": Here, Tom seems to think that pain is something that is inevitable from the moment our tissues are affected in some way. No. We have known since the 1960s that pain is not an input, and that the nervous system modulates whether or not we feel pain, and to what extent - that is what precipitated the publication of the Gate Control model of pain. However, even then the authors knew it was flawed and limited, and did not explain many known pain conditions. It is true that nociception can be very important in the processes that result in the sensation of pain, and the term "nociceptive pain" would seem to cover what Tom is talking about here.

From the IASP taxonomy:
"Nociceptive pain*
Pain that arises from actual or threatened damage to non-neural tissue and is due to the activation of nociceptors.

Note: This term is designed to contrast with neuropathic pain. The term is used to describe pain occurring with a normally functioning somatosensory nervous system to contrast with the abnormal function seen in neuropathic pain."

Note the mention of neuropathic pain. Nothing is "entering the body", it's already part of the body. There is much more to be said about it, but I'll leave it at that.

2) "Pain stored in the body": Tom basically says this is experienced as fatigue, malaise, and postural changes... but not as pain. Here he is misinterpreting changes in posture/movement as pain instead of as non-painful co-occurring symptoms. As an analogy, it makes a crude kind of sense, but if we're going to think clearly about our terminology and the underlying processes of pain and altered motor control, then we need to avoid this sort of thing.

A body under stress with a nervous system that is constantly/chronically interpreting threat(s) from incoming somatosensory input will normally make adaptive changes including autonomic physiological responses (altered, often increased sensitivity to sensory inputs, altered hormone levels, circulatory changes, breathing habits, etcetera). These have enormous impacts on how we experience the world. Our postures, habitual movements, gaiting, balance, coordination, etcetera may be impacted as well.

I do tend to agree with Tom that the body often attempts to arrange itself so that it feels less threatened. (He says "pain" but I think I understand what he's trying to say.) These changes in physical arrangement are not always associated with pain, however, and may not be subject to a physical "release". There are psychosocial dimensions that Tom is not addressing here that are at least as important as anything that can be done manually.

3) "Pain leaving the body": This is the least clear portion of Tom's talk. My interpretation is that he is primarily referring to mental/emotional experiences that are uncomfortable, and that he seems to think it's important for a person to have some sort of "remembering" of prior trauma (either as physical sensation, emotions, or whatever) during their treatment(s).

I am very concerned about this part, because he says he believes that people can't be treated for pain without them having some sort of intense physical/mental/emotional re-experiencing of the prior trauma. In my experience, that's patently NOT TRUE, and I would NEVER, EVER plant that idea in a client's head. Doing so may actually make it more difficult to help them, and possibly even make their pain worse by creating a false expectation that might never be fulfilled... and then the client may never recover fully.

Also, massage therapists/bodyworkers should never have the intention of inducing such a mental/emotional response in a client. In doing so, we may actually re-traumatize them. That could make their issue(s) much, much worse. Besides, it is outside of our scope(s) of practice. We are not mental health professionals, and should never seek to pretend otherwise.

Instead, it would be better to never mention this idea to a client, and just work with them. If they have such an experience, just be a caring professional and give them a safe space for it as appropriate. If they have questions about such things, just let them know it happens now and then. Sometimes it's minor, but for some people it can be pretty intense. Keep some tissues handy just in case. Don't make it a big deal. It's their experience, so let them decide how significant it is in their recovery process.

Tom also seems to think that we are walking around holding the collective traumas of all of our ancestors as "stored pain"... but then he veers into historical contexts that are effectively social contributions to how we think, feel, and move... and ends by saying that he thinks personal trainers should help "get the pain out" through exercise. As a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist who has helped many training clients get through their rehab process, I agree that movement and training can be very effective ways of reducing/overcoming pain.

In some ways, parts of Tom's descriptions of his "three types of pain" correlate with different aspects of the biopsychosocial notion of pain that is rapidly becoming the dominant model for understanding how pain works and how to treat those who have pain. The Neuromatrix Model of Pain, authored by Dr. Ronald Melzack (who also coauthored the Gate Control Model), lays out a rough blueprint for understanding how biological, psychological, and social factors all contribute to how/whether we experience discomfort, and why.

There is a link to a paper "Pain" about pain and the historical development of pain science (also authored by Ronald Melzack, with Joel Katz), in the comments pinned to the top of this page (That was in the original FB post - here is that link:  Pain Article by Melzack & Katz. It's an excellent read, and if you've read this long post, you'll be just fine with that paper.

Though my personal interactions with Tom have been positive, I think there is more value in studying the actual pain science than there is in listening to him talk about pain. I like some of the hands-on methods he teaches, but I think the reasoning demonstrated in this video is severely flawed by lack of modern medical knowledge about pain, what it is, how it works, and why.

This is to Jasons Page Jason Erickson

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Pain No Gain?

A very frequent thing that I hear as a massage therapist is that people really believe that unless it hurts – massage is not going to help.  The message is delivered to me in many ways.  Some people come in and ask for “deep tissue massage.” Others tell me to press as hard as I can – they can handle it.  Many relate positive results of previous treatments with other therapists.

There are many reasons for these requests.  Many believe that their posture needs to be improved and that the only way to do this is to have someone use a good deal of pressure to put things “back in place.” Others believe that their muscles are so tight that only tenderizing them like a piece of meat will work.

My preference in these situations is to ask why they are coming to me in the first place.  They usually mention some type of pain that they want to go away.  They have been to many other practitioners and now they are in my treatment room.  They often give me an overview of their life and health history.  This is where I get some of my best indicators of what needs to be done.

Almost without exception I learn of multiple stresses in their life.  We all know and have lived the litany of problems at home and work, health issues, and whatever maelstrom they happen to inhabit.  Now they are with me. 

At this point I like to point out that I don’t fix people.  Surgeons do that.  I explain that the skin contains nerves fibers that report to the brain.  There are danger receptors (nociceptors) and receptors that tell the brain where they are in space and what is happening to their skin (mechanoreceptors).  My work currently focuses on activating the second group instead of the first.

Some therapists and those who like to see them prefer techniques that activate the danger receptors.  It feels good and both the therapist and the client can testify to the good results.  It’s hard to argue with results.

So why are painful treatments giving the good results?  Why on earth would anyone argue with such a thing as a good outcome?  If everyone involved is happy – why don’t I do the same thing?

I did do the same thing.  I did it for many years.  I treated a huge number of people.  I believe that I do a much better job now.  To understand what I was doing, let’s take a look at how the nerves in the skin send their information.

The type of pressure that activates the danger receptors is usually perceived as somewhat painful.  This is because it creates a little inflammation.  This is one of the ways to activate the danger receptors.  The brain uses this opportunity to release chemicals (endorphins) to decrease the sensitivity of the spine to input from the danger receptors.  This is sometimes called descending noxious inhibitory control.  Endorphins also affect the brain in a number of ways. 

One of these ways is to create dependence on themselves.  People need more and more of a release from this chemical soup to get the same effect.  The effect is very similar to drug addiction.  This is a way in which deep painful massage can feel good but lead to problems over time.  It is why I do not like to give painful treatment.  This link discusses the brain controlling pain: The Drug Cabinet in the Brain

The other receptors respond to pressure and stretch in a good way.  The brain receives information about where the body is in space and of pleasant pressure.  It then takes that information and along with a good deal of interpretation by various parts of the brain that have to do with it’s history and deeply held beliefs and affections – gets to output relief.  This is the effect of activating our parasympathetic nervous system.  This is what massage is justifiably famous for.  This link will discuss how what we believe affects how our brain interprets information:  Why things hurt - the Brain

This is why my treatment tends to entail more gentle pressure and stretching of the skin.  The light pressure approach can be seen to be effective by the flexibility that usually returns to the muscles and the changes in posture that happen at the end of the treatment.  It is not my goal to change posture or increase flexibility.  It is often how your body chooses to respond in response to gentle non-threatening treatment.  It is the result of “First – do no harm.”  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

God is Dead

The picture above is the newest one on my facebook page.  I have had a number of pictures before that relate to my business.  I decided that it was time to put up a picture that related in a very obvious way to my faith.  There were many that I could have chosen from.  This one replaced a picture of Plato and Socrates.

Soon the inevitable happened.  Somebody wants to know what my picture means and I have nothing written to explain myself.  This is a good time to do just that.  I took a look at the profile of the questioner.  He is from Egypt.  I made the assumption that I was about to answer a Muslim but I used the same response I would have used for anyone.  Here it is:
“People have been living and speaking as if there is no God. Nietzsche even made the pronouncement that God is dead. Nietzsche died in 1900. God continues to now and will live forever. I believe that apart from the assumption that the God of the Bible exists we do not have the preconditions for knowledge in any field. We can ignore or mock him. We can pretend that we do not know of him and what he requires. That is all it is - pretending.”

I wanted to be very clear that I was not talking about just Theism – the idea that there is a God.  I wanted to be clear.  I hold that we must accept Christian Trinitarian Theism.  Anything less would be a denial of my God.  It turned out that the question was from a fellow believer.  It was good to be able to interact with Christians from other lands.  I thought I was about to have the opportunity to witness to a Muslim.  I guess that is for another day. In the meantime I think it is a good thing to have an answer ready.  I would like to do that in the context of chronicling my own experience in hopes that it might be helpful to others.

I grew up going to church – ok – churches, lots of them.  My family moved a good deal and so when I was done with high school I sat down on day and listed all of the schools I could remember.  I came up with 26.  The number of churches was greater because wherever we moved we had to try at least a couple if not a few to find which one my parents wanted to attend.

When you bounce around like I did it is a little bit difficult to learn much about school subjects and I think it was even harder to learn about the Christian faith.
I think what I knew of the faith by about the ninth grade was that there was a God.  I had been taught believers baptism, salvation by grace through faith, and everywhere I went they seemed to be preoccupied with the book of Revelation (the last of the 66 books that make up the Bible).

In the 8th grade I had been discipled (trained in the faith) by a bible college student who taught me to have devotions.  He answered my questions on a regular basis and taught my Sunday School, led a youth bible teaching ministry, and privately taught a group of young boys to have devotions.  I thank God for him and remember him in my prayers.

My family moved from there to Casper, Wyoming.  Here my faith was shaken to the core.  It was not the number of cultists I ran into.  I did run into just about everything from the classic staples of Mormons and JWs to the more esoteric Hara Krishna, Church of the Living Word, and The Way International.  These actually strengthened my faith by forcing me to the Bible to prove what I had been taught.

What really hit me was participating in a play in a literature class.  I was in “Barefoot in Athens”.  I was the second smartest man in town.  Socrates was the smartest.  His nick name for me was stupid.  He insisted on asking me questions.  He kept asking questions until It was shown that I really had no idea what I was talking about.

The technique absolutely fascinated me.  I had to learn it – and I did.  I began to question everything.  I began by questioning others.  It was a real thrill to start an argument and consistently win.  I questioned everyone about everything.  It was not long before I began to question myself.

This self questioning was very disconcerting.  I made a mental wreck of myself.  I soon arrived at the place where I was not sure if there was an up or down, a left or right, or even if I actually existed.  You can imagine the mess that was being made of my world.  The technique brought me to a point of skepticism regarding nearly everything.  Nothing was sacred and all I was using was a simple questioning technique – not much different from a toddler who keeps asking…Why - I was a wreck!

I did not look that way to others.  They thought I was pretty smart.  I was the guy who could tie them in knots.  I even thought myself to be pretty sharp.  Yet I was alone with thoughts of despair.

When a person gets to a place like this they get very close to what the underlying ideas (presuppositions – ideas about the nature of reality that they take for the bedrock of what they believe) of how they view the world are.  I was no exception.

I was going through this crisis of faith as a Christian.  I was still attending church.  Thankfully the Lord sent me David Marlow.  David was a Christian student that I shared a few classes with.  I decided to demonstrate to David that there was no left or right.  He did something every believer should be able to do.  He opened his Bible and read this passage at the end of Stephen’s sermon:
Act 7:54-56  When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

He opened the scriptures and used them to demonstrate that the worldview I was espousing was not in accord with his standard – God’s infallible word.  He presented me with a choice.  I could continue to live with the doubt and skepticism I had been dealing with or I could recognize the truth of God revealed in the Bible.  You see, the passage he showed me demonstrated that there was a right and a left.

From my earliest years I had gone to church and been taught that the scriptures were true.  I had heard this at home.  This was what I believed.  I was a believer.  I had developed a way of thinking that was contrary to my most fundamental belief and David pointed it out.

I had a choice to make.   I could believe in a right and a left because God said so – or I could continue in my skepticism and doubt.   I could not do both.  I chose to believe God.

Now I had some real cognitive dissonance going on.  I still had a questioning spirit but I had learned to not turn it on my faith.  I began reading everything I could get my hands on regarding apologetics – the defense of the faith.  I assembled a good library and I read everything in it.  I began carrying my Bible with me to school and answering the questions of others.

God graciously kept those who had my questions from coming to me.  I really had a fear that they would find me and I would not know how to respond.  Although I had come to a tentative resolution I had no idea of how to present it to others.  I don’t think I could articulate what had actually happened other than to relate the story above.

I went to Western Bible College in 1979.  My theological understanding grew.  The upper classmen spoke often of what they were studying and I ended up buying their textbooks and talking to them.  In this way I was exposed to the writings of Francis Schaeffer.  I worked through his material and came to what was for me a dramatic revelation:  there was no sure foundation for thought unless I assumed the truth of God as explained in scripture.  Every other approach failed to supply the preconditions for knowledge.

This should not have been new to me.  I had read the book of Proverbs in the Bible.  I had read and been taught this before:
Pro 1:1-7  The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion — A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Knowledge of anything actually begins with the fear of the LORD.  I knew this instinctively as a believer but I failed to remember it in daily life.  As I went through my day I would vaguely realize that something I was thinking, doing, or experiencing was contrary to scripture.  I would neglect this thought and make a choice of what to do if what I wanted was contrary.

In doing this I was making whatever I chose to do an idol just as sure as if I bowed down before it and spread out my hands in worship.  I was actively choosing – as a believer- to worship and serve the creation instead of the Creator. 

Now I get it.  True knowledge begins with the God of the Bible.  He has explained what I need to know there.  As I live my life I need to self consciously practice obedience when confronted with the issues that arise in my life. 

How does this relate to massage and pain management?  As a massage therapist I look at the vast array of training and learning that I have available.  Almost all of them are built on foundations that deny the faith.  This can be difficult. 

Imagine going to care givers that do not understand your faith and how it informs every area of your life.  We need to be strong in the LORD.  This happens by drawing near to God in His word the Bible.  It means we pray.  It means we apply God’s precepts to our lives.  No one can do this for us.  We must draw near.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Preaching To Myself

It has been an interesting day.  I am trying to get into more of a habit of “preaching” to myself instead of “listening” to myself.  My pastor said something to that effect and he was quoting someone else.  I have no idea who that was but I am pretty sure they were talking to me.

I think constantly.  My brain is always on the move and I have an opinion about everything.  Just ask me and I will tell you what you should think.  That habit leads to some serious sin issues.  Jesus said:

Mar 7:20-23  And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

 All of these things are in me.  Of course it would be really easy to say that this is what is in other people.  Jesus was talking to a multitude after being spoken to by the scribes and Pharisees.  Then we get to this verse and he was explain to them what he had been saying to the multitude.  Sometimes we just don’t get it.  Look at the Apostle Paul’s comment:

Rom 7:18-24  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.  Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

With all the evil within us we can easily fall into total despair as Paul describes.  We can be horribly torn between what we see as we reflect on Christ and his perfection – realizing that we are called to the same type of life, and what we see in ourselves.  As believers we are just not there.

How do we get there from here.  Paul had pretty much tried it all.  Look at his spiritual pedigree:

Philippians 3:3-6  For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ , and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Yet we still find him in despair.  This is why he needed preaching.  Look at what we are called to as a Church:

Eph 5:18-21  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.

Notice how we are to be communicating with each other.  Our hearts are to be making melody and it is to come out in song together.  These songs are to build us up in the faith by giving thanks.  We learn in chapter 2 that these thanks are for the multitude of spiritual blessings that we are to be thinking about.  Of course if we are not preaching these things to ourselves they can’t possibly come out communally.  That is when we look at Psalm 104.  We see the Psalmist praying about the greatness of the creation.  He must have spent an amazing amount of time meditating on God’s works prior to exploding into this amazing doxology of His work.

Psalm 104 shows that David must have been preaching to himself – meditating on God, as opposed to sitting around moping about what was happening to himself. Fast forward to May of 2010.

It has been an interesting day.  I stayed up late and got up earlier than what I wanted to.  I had to hit the road running – there was so much that needed done.  At a time of a particular time crunch I had to go into a store.  I rushed to get my item and arrived at checkout to see a particularly long line.  The people at the head of the line were in deep conversation with the clerk.  My initial thought was one of some frustration but I almost immediately changed to wondering why they were having a problem.  Now this is really unusual for me.  I want to be at the front of the line and I really want things to be done for me in a speedy, pleasant, and professional manner.

You see the universe is supposed to revolve around me and my petty wants and pleasures.  All stoplights - in a “perfect” world would turn green at my approach.  Checkout lines are empty waiting for me.  Most importantly, Starbucks is always open and affordable.

It is simply an amazing work of grace that I was not totally irritated by this couple in front of me.  But wait, there’s more.  As I am standing in line people come to stand behind me.  It is clear that we will be here for a little while so I turned to the people behind to start a conversation.  We were having a good time discussing the mental status of a generation that would be purchasing the “gummy worms” in the rack beside us.  The lady at the register in front of me turned to us and in a loud ugly tone told us to quit talking about her. 

I smiled and replied that we were discussing the gummy worms and not her.  She informed me that I was talking about her and to stop it.  In that moment another work of grace occurred.  I did not get angry, vent, fight, or anything that would normally be my response.

Today I took my wife out for Mother’s Day.  We came out to our car.  Smoke was pouring out the windows.  Inside I found my wife’s coat burned and smoke coming from a smoke bomb that someone had pushed through the open window.  I opened the door and got the coat and the smoke bomb out.  The seat is now yellow and the inside of the vehicle smells like the 4th of July.  The restaurant manager spoke with 911 (after being put on hold long enough for us to get a message 5 times telling us we were to wait for the operators who were dealing with other emergencies).  He specifically told them that we did not need the fire department, just the police to make a report. 

As soon as the phone call was over the fire alarm sounded.  It took another phone call and a police officer calling to stop the fire engine around the corner from loading up and responding.  We made our report.

In all of this my anger, always just beneath the surface, was not unleashed.  I was thankful that we got to the car, that a fire had not started, and that we had a way to get home.  This is amazing – it is grace.

Contrast this with yesterday morning.  I woke with less sleep than I would have liked.  My daughter rose late and I was going to be late for my appointment with my doctor.  I was pretty much boiling – my cup runneth over in a really bad way.  I dropped my daughter off and realized I had neglected to eat.  I am diabetic so missing meals is not a good idea.  No problem here – I pulled into a gas station for a quick bite.  There it was, a breakfast sandwich.  Now I could finally point to something that was going right.  At least that is what I thought.  I arrived at the cash register to find a person taking forever to buy lottery tickets.  I am from Las Vegas and I really hate gambling.  Here was a gambler making me late.  I left my hot sandwich on the counter and stormed out.  I had no time for a gambler to make me late for my doctor appointment.  I broke speed limits all the way to my appointment.

At the doctor’s office we found that my blood pressure was higher than it has ever been.  The heat readings taken along the spine were worse than my first visit.  My Chiropractor was obviously confused by the results because my reflexes and sensation tests had improved tremendously.  I explained that the fault was not hers.  I was seething with anger. 

The difference between these two days was my actions.  The day when I was full of sinful anger was a day where I had not read scripture, meditated, or sang the songs of Zion.  The second day I prepared for by looking forward to worship.  I had prayed.  I had meditated.  I had even heard a sermon before the smoke bomb.

The difference between the two days was what I had been preaching to myself.  The day of the doctor’s visit I had actively told myself how important it was to me for everything to revolve around me.  The second day I preached to myself how great was the God who had saved me.  My emphasis was on how to best prepare myself for worship.  The difference could not be more glaring or profound. 

How does this relate to massage or pain relief?  My sin of anger intensified the physical body in ways that have a tendency to increase those physiological factors that often lead toward pain.  Prolonged anger is a sin that can well have an effect on a person’s pain.  At the end of the book of Deuteronomy there is a description of what will happen to Israel when she turns from God.  God’s people should turn to Him because of who He is and what he has done for them.  He also exhorts them in this passage to consider what will happen to them if they should fail to serve Him as He commands.  It would do us well to consider this as individuals.

As a massage therapist I work with people in pain.  My job is to deal with physical issues by applying techniques to the soft tissues of the body.  It is not unreasonable to think that if a person continues in a pattern of anger that there will be a significant impediment to the response to treatment.  I may well be treating the symptom.  There is never a solution to any problem in life that does not involve our great God and our relationship to him.  I preach to myself about these things.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Energy Healing and the Christian Part 2

I left people hanging after the last post wondering what the possible reasons exist for the effectiveness or lack thereof for energy based massage and bodywork techniques.  Let’s look at that now.

How Can We Know if Energy Based Techniques are Working?

That is a very good question.  I remember reading an article many years ago[i] where the author claimed there was no way of determining if a person had a good massage.  I remember thinking that to be a rather silly at the time and immediately wrote a rebuttal that no one wanted to publish.  It may be better to change the question and ask if it is possible to demonstrate physically that physical changes have happened following an energy based treatment.

I believe it is possible to document many things before and after any type of treatment and see if there has been any change.  I have been doing this for many years.  Here are a few things that I have measured and that I believe could be applied before and after treatment to see if any change has occurred.  I will limit my comments to things massage therapists can do within their scope of practice.  There are a number of other ways to document.  Here are a few that I use:
  • ROM testing
  • Neurological Testing (reflex, strength, sensation)
  • Neurodynamic Testing
  • Algometer readings
  • Breath Changes
  • Percentage of body surface pain
  • Foot turn out

 These are simple things that any massage therapist can easily learn and incorporate into their practice.  Things used by others that I do not use are visual analog scales, Oswestry tests, and orthopedic tests.  These are just off the top of my head – you may know of others.

The point is that we have ways of measuring if something is changing after using these techniques.  We are not left to the whim of the therapist or the report of the client.  These are not useless by any means.  I just want to point out that we can measure the physical effects of therapy.

It Works – But How?

If we determine by some of the above tests that people are experiencing a change following therapy we then need to ask a really important question. Why?  Why are they getting better?  I can think of a few possible reasons.  There may well be others.

If the practitioner is doing the centering and attunement practices they are plainly doing occult practices.  If the person is doing this (centering and attunement) as a believer they are doing occult things in the name of Christ in a manner similar to the seven sons of Sceva and the others who performed exorcisms in the name of Jesus (Acts 19).  They are like the people say to Jesus in Mt 7:22-23 “Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?  And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” 

There may indeed be changes that may happen after treating with an occult based therapy.  Scripture is certainly full of instances where spiritual activity resulted in changes in the physical realm.  The entrance of sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) introduced such changes (Rom. 8:19-25). 

If someone who practices this way gets results we know that there is a strong likelihood the possibility that the results can be a result of supernatural activity.  We need to stay clear of these activities.

Other people attempt energy types of healing with no discernible link to occult types of activity.  They too claim results.  Are there other reasons that these techniques may work?  I believe that there are and they may fall into at least one and probably more of the following categories:

1)  Placebo is a very good possibility.  Placebo gets a bad name.  It should not.  It simply means that the person is expecting the intervention to work and so their brain believes it and creates the change.  It is important that our medicine be investigated to make sure that it actually does what we think it does.  How does placebo work in normal massage and possibly in energy work also?  If the client expects to get better it is likely that the expectation alone is enough to trigger the body to deal with the problem.

When I walk into a room with confidence and I assure the client that I have helped people with similar issues before there is an immediate expectation of help.  If I actually demonstrate by my demeanor, intonation, and actions that I care, then that expectation is further raised.  If, in addition, my touch communicates a level of confidence I have already won a good deal of the battle.  Now sprinkle in a small amount of a believable explanation and bake till done.  In the end it will not matter much what I have done.  I have done this many times and used different techniques to get great outcomes.

Experiments noted that EP can’t detect an energy field under test conditions.[ii]  Researchers specifically ruled our radiant heat, air movement, noise from clothing, and on some occasions actually miscued the therapist.  This may well relate to the patient as well.  In the presence of these sensory cues coupled with expectation a potent placebo effect is certainly possible.

I do not believe that placebo is a reason to justify utilizing techniques that are indefensible.  We should always have an understanding of what we are doing and why it should work.  We should be able to communicate that.  We should also understand the importance of the placebo effect and realize that pretty much everything in the presentation of the dish called therapy is important and that any element can change the outcome.

2.  Neurology may very well explain aspects of energy based therapy. A good deal of the preceding argument in this as well as in the preceding post, have been in regard to Therapeutic Touch and Reiki.  They have been evaluated on the basis of biblical considerations and in light of the detection of an energy field.  There are a number of other therapies that also claim to work energetically. A number of these approaches incorporate eastern meridian based systems.  These energy based treatment modalities actually touch the body and are performed by massage therapists.

In the massage profession these come in the form of Polarity Therapy, Qua Sha, and Shiatsu to name a few.  Skeptics dismiss these modalities as quackery and assume that they work simply due to placebo.  I have no doubt that placebo is part of the explanation but it is highly likely that there are neurological mechanisms at work here also.  (I critique the theological foundations of these systems in a previous post [iii] regarding the Creator Creature Distinction.)

Meridians are said to be channels where the energy travels through the body.  They are named for organ systems that they are believed to be connected with.  These systems use touch and because of this they must of necessity activate the cutaneous receptors of the nervous system.  The acupuncture points along these meridians are generally located in the intramuscular septums where the peripheral nerves travel.  Activation of the receptors of these nerves make for a much more reasonable explanation for the supposed energetic effects of meridian based therapies.

3.  Ideomotor Activity is movement that is secondary to thought.  When a peripheral nerve is not getting enough blood a sense of discomfort or even pain is felt.  It is natural to move into a position where the blood returns and the discomfort is relieved.  This is an example of ideomotor movement.  A very through explanation is available at:

Myofascial Release[iv] and CranioSacral Therapy[v] are two very prominent systems that purport to be energy based systems.  Network Spinal Analysis[vi]  is yet another.  In the absence of any documentation of a human energy field that can be identified under controlled conditions it is more plausible to view ideomotor activity as the origin of the therapeutic effects of these modalities when they are practiced in the absence of occult ideology.  The problem is that MFR and CST are described by their chief proponents in conjunction with occult practices.  This is aptly demonstrated by the books referenced above. 

I watched a demonstration of Network Spinal Analysis.  I had an immediate sense of evil when I walked into the room.  I had no idea of what I would be experiencing before I arrived.  I am not aware of any preconceptions that I might have had.  There was a brief lecture before the demonstration.

In the first phase the doctor did a neck manipulation.  The 3 models began to twitch on the tiny chiropractic adjusting tables.  The DC explained that they were self adjusting.  I have seen a number of seizures and that was what it looked like to me.  The doctor explained that the patients were in full control and could stop this activity at will, if they so desired.  This continued for 15-20 minutes.

The second phase began with the doctor reaching toward the navel and lifting his hand high.  He then opened his hand and explained that he was lifting the aura.  The patients began moving into spontaneous yoga positions (the doctor said this).  None of them fell off of the table.  This too lasted 15 -20 minutes.

Finally we came to phase 3.  The doctor once again reached down and dramatically lifted the aura.  I could not believe that I was watching what appeared to be an orgasm.  The pelvis began to move and the patients began to moan in apparent ecstasy.  The doctor explained that the patients were having an emotional release.

At the end the 3 patients came before us as a group.  We were allowed to ask questions about what we had seen.  I had none.  I was in a state of shock and in prayer for protection.  One of the participants did explain to us that she was thankful for the doctor.  She usually had to travel to India to see her guru to get this type of help.

I have seen each of these therapies practiced in an occult manner.  I have also seen them practiced apart from these occult foundations.  These other instances appeared to me to be examples of ideomotor activity that resulted in pain relief.  They were given by practitioners who had no occult foundation and do not deserve to be labeled as such.  We need to be very clear that just because a doctor or therapist practices one of these techniques that we do not paint them all with the same brush.  We may be talking about our brother or sister in Christ.  On the other hand, if the practitioner holds to these occult teachings we need to take them at their word.

4.  There is the possibility that there is a possible energy field (EF) that we have as yet been unable to detect with our current science but which our hands can sense and manipulate for purposes of healing.  Given the sophistication of our current science I have my doubts as to this one – but I can’t demonstrate that this is wrong.  I do not have all of the facts and history demonstrates many instances of new information being discovered.  We can’t dismiss this as a possibility.  This is important.  We need to have a creaturely humility here.  If a practice does not fall into an occult category we need to hold open this possibility. 

There is more that could be said.  These 2 posts have dealt with a number of issues that both massage therapists and their clients need to be aware of.  It is of primary importance that we pay attention to what the scriptures teach regarding the reality of the spiritual world. I hope these posts have helped you to evaluate energy medicine in a biblical manner.

[ii] Long et al. Perception of Conventional Sensory Cues as an alternative to the Postulated “Human Energy Field” of Therapeutic Touch.  Review of Alternative Medicine 3, no. 2 (fall/winter) 1999 © Prometheus Books