I find it fascinating and hugely helpful to recognise, how often an injury or pain starts during a stressful event. Frequently, I find that the relief people may get from us can be because of just chatting about the stressful event during a session, as much as the treatment itself may be helpful as well.

This observation, I think, is related to a few things, but one of the main things is that the mind and body are inseparable. There is a long history of these two being considered separate in Western philosophy and science, and there have been a lot of reasons for it (which we won’t get into here). In my opinion, one of the reasons for this separation is that we have 2 separate and distinct words– the mind and the body. Thankfully this has been changing in Western healthcare systems, and it has given rise to things like Mind-Body medicine, where the interplay between mind and body and how they contribute to the well-being of each is taken into account.  

This interplay of mind-body has been recognised many times over in many cultures and times before ours though. One example is right here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the model of Te Whare Tapa Wha outlined by Mason Durie in 1984. This model is based on a wharenui (house), of which the walls and roofs is composed of Taha tinana (Physical), Taha whanau (Family & Social), Taha wairua (Spiritual), and last both not least – Taha hinengaro (Mental & emotional). The house is then sited on Whenua (Land and root). What I love about this model is it gives equal important to each aspect, the walls, roof and the ground, each aspect can affect any other aspect, and it considers far more of what contributes to being human, and human well-being then just the physical aspect. It also give is nice model for where appropriate treatment might be best directed. For more info on this model – check out this site – https://mentalhealth.org.nz/te-whare-tapa-wha.

Another place I’ve found this recognition of the Mind-Body is in Taoist and Buddhist philosophy and in the practice of Tai Chi. There is a saying in Tai Chi– “First the mind in the body, and then the body in the mind”. As an experiment, if you close your eyes, and focus your attention on a part of your body, sensations will spring into your awareness.  You could focus on your breath, and the feeling of the air as it moves in and out of your nose. There will be sensations of air flow, temperature, and smell. All of this happens when you focus your mind into your body with your attention, but by doing this you also find that what you experience of your body occurs in the mind. Again, as a matter of experience it appears to me that Mind-Body are inseparable.

From an osteopathic perspective, we are of course not able to treat these aspects of mental or emotional health directly as it is outside our scope of practice and education, but we can have indirect effects through what we do or recommend. This can be with something simple, like advising on increasing weekly exercise and movement, or to do a body scan meditation, or breathing meditation. Or if there is more input indicated then we can refer to a practitioner with the necessary skills and scope to help with emotional and mental wellbeing such as a counsellor or psychologist.

On that note, this is especially helpful for our young people, for whom there are unfortunately high rates of anxiety and depression. This can often present to us as neck or back pain, or often tummy pain. Thankfully there is a lot more recognition and less stigma for these issues nowadays, and there are organisations actively working to support youth in NZ like Gumboot Friday, which helps support youth by offering free counselling. If you’re interested in supporting them, check out their website here – https://www.gumbootfriday.org.nz/.   

 – André