A fundamental osteopathic principal is that every part of the body is connected to every other part; affecting one part therefore affects all the others as well as the whole. As hands-on practitioners we have a similar role as the farmer preparing the field. We find contracted, insulted, non-integrated tissue, and we prepare it in a skillful and precise manner, knowing this is the foundation of health and well-being.
“The artery rules” is a phrase used often by Dr. A.T. Stills when teaching students at his osteopathic college in Kirksville, Missouri, at the turn of the 20th century. As a lifelong student, practitioner, and teacher of osteopathy and vibrational medicine, I understand this statement from the perspective that the arteries provide a crucial network of transport for life-giving blood.
Each pulse of the heart delivers oxygen, vital nutrients, and other components to the organs, tissues, and cells of the body. This arterial network also constitutes the medium of subtle yet life-organizing wave motions, arising from the vasomotor effect in the vessel walls and from the tidal influences transmuted through them. Dr. Stills, the founder of osteopathy, and his students looked at the human body as an environment, in the same way a farmer would view a field where the productivity and viability of the crop rely as much on proper irrigation and metabolic balance in the soil as on the vitality and viability of the seeds to be planted.
Now an interesting aspect of this analogy is that the “seeds” to be planted in the tissue are actually created by organ systems that exist within the tissue. For example, oxygen (the seed) in the bloodstream is created by respiration in the lungs and then delivered back into the tissue (the field). Similarly, neurochemicals generated within the tissue body are delivered by the arteries back to the tissue, creating a self-referencing and self-nourishing system. So we can begin to understand the importance of the tissue body and the need for clear and uninhibited communication between all parts, analogous to the need for nutrient-rich and well-irrigated soil.
One of the most important osteopathic skills is to differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue and, from that assessment, begin to treat and bring balance to the whole, interconnected field. To my mind, this is the true gift of A.T. Stills and of osteopathy as handed down through the last 165 years. I leave you with words by the good doctor from his 1902 publication, “The Philosophy and Mechanical Principals of Osteopathy”, as follows:
“We recognize the importance of a thorough acquaintance with the large and small fibers, ligaments, muscles, blood, and nerve supply to all the organs, glands, and lymphatics of the fascia and blood circuit in general. We wish you to make yourself so thoroughly acquainted with human anatomy that your hand, eye, and reason will be unfailing guides to all causes and effects.”
Learn more about osteopathy and its connection to North American Bodywork in Joseph Schmidlin’s December 2016 workshop, Body Reading and the Art of Listening.