Just like anything else, notions related to the body bear repeated viewings and engagement from different perspectives. Unthinkingly, we get up in the morning and notice (or not) aches or stiffness. Maybe we feel beautiful, or perhaps we hear a chorus of internal criticisms that stem from messages about weight and age and ability that we imbibe from external sources. As we choose our clothing for the day, as we move throughout our quotidian tasks, when we come to the end of our lifespan, the home within which we live every day is replete with shifting meanings and messages.
What does your body say to you?
Some of the ways in which we conceptualize and perceive our own and others’ bodies come from historical sources; others are inspired by (and inspire) art and fashion. Form follows function and vice-versa; so much of what the body means comes from how it is regulated, seen, utilized, and described. Equally, when we see and touch a body (or have our bodies touched and seen) in the medical or therapeutic setting, this interchange is mediated by not only medical ideas and constructs but also by mechanics: what is the physical structure and how does it respond to intervention?
Three books that I have enjoyed tremendously while studying not only for my tui na practice but also for sheer pleasure, for genuine excitement, and for comparative purposes are Joseph E. Muscolino’s The Muscle and Bone Palpation Manual with Trigger Points, Referral Patterns, and Stretching and Harvard medical and cultural historian Shigehisa Kuriyama’s The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. Because I love art and photography and studied these modes in my previous career, I would also wish to add Edward Weston: Forms of Passion with its collection of essays and artwork curated by Gilles Mora to my resources for investigation into concepts related to the body. Anyone, not just a medical student, could love these books.
The Muscle and Bone Palpation Manual with Trigger Points, Referral Patterns, and Stretching is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about muscles because—for one reason or another—it is important that he or she does so. In sum, anyone from a personal trainer, a yoga instructor, a massage therapist to a medical professional who wants a good reference text will treasure this book. It is thorough and it is written for people who work with muscles and bones. For the same reason, anyone who suffers from intractable pain and who wants to be able to point out things and speak with a doctor could use this book. The pictures and drawings are clear enough that anyone looking at them can understand the basics of muscular function and pain referral. To make this study magical, one might further add to the exploration with a reading of history and cultural analysis. Hence, a person who is genuinely interested in medical concepts of the body would do well to read this book alongside the beautiful, elegant, and thorough Expressiveness of the Body. In so doing, a reader can see how concepts—articulated and reified by the passage of time—began, took root, and flourished. One doesn’t need to be a great fan of Western medicine (I’m not, not really) or a tremendous aficionado of Chinese medicine (and many are not, including a number of my clients) in order to be fascinated by the way Western and Chinese medicine converge and diverge.
And finally, one must ask: what of art? Edward Weston is a canonical figure in American photography and Forms of Passion offers a wide range of his work and a selection of essays to illuminate it. My relation to him is a little prickly. He was a strange man and he treated the women in his life—his wife, and later his lover, Tina Modotti, quite poorly to say the least. It seems to me that Americans (at least) tend to ignore Tina Modotti in favor of Edward Weston when it was she who really was the pivotal and fascinating one in the realm of their Mexican adventures especially (note: Elena Poniatowska‘s fictionalized biography of her is superb). This being said, his photographs—especially of the body—deserve their place in the canon of great photographs. Muscles and bones and what they signify, as we see in the first two books, provide no end to fascination, study, and signification. But the tangible view of the body as an art object is timeless and pivotal.
How do you see your body? How do you see the body of your loved one? What are the messages that you receive about the body—yours and others’—and from where do these messages emanate? Which messages do you believe and why?
Questions, questions, and there are so many potential answers. One way to begin is by reading these books, by taking walks, doing yoga, lifting weights—any forms of exercise, really–, by noticing how you feel when you experience your own body in its states of discomfort (hunger, fatigue, pain) and comfort (intimacy, ease, strength), and by remaining endlessly curious and observant.
What will you do today to be kind to and open towards your body?
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.