Rocks and Stones

Written by consiliumclub on . Posted in A Little Connection, by Jen Richards Little, MSPT, CST

Picking through the pile of rocks and stones in our backyard, I start to assemble the pieces I am going to use to face the fireplace in our outdoor living room.

We saved these flagstones from the old fire place, patio, and walkways when we knocked down our old house, and have been collecting rocks every time we dig a hole.  We have moved this same pile of stones around our yard at least three times, waiting for inspiration on how to recycle them back into our new space.  These stones are heavy and solid.  Each stone has an organic personality formed from its unique shape, colors ranging from gold to grey, and the subtle differences in each grainy rough texture.

As I examine each stone, I ask myself questions, thinking about the function the stones will serve.  Is this piece too thick to put on a wall?  What shape is this piece?  I need to put my foot there, is that pile stable enough?


As the rocks gather in the wagon, I look at the vertical stack.  It looks just like the spinal column, the vertebrae stacked on top of each other.  I have inadvertently stacked the stones by size, the small ones at the top, gradually getting bigger as I went down, with the biggest ones at the bottom.  Now that I see the spine, I add in the triangle bone at the bottom, called the sacrum.  I couldn’t find a small enough rock for the coccyx, the very last bone in the spine, and I can’t quite figure out how to create the many parts needed for an accurate representation of a skull from the rocks I have on the ground, though I did spend way too much time thinking about it.  I can’t help but laugh at my physical therapy geekiness.

The basic function of the bones is to provide stability amongst the mush.    But in addition to the stability they provide, there also needs to be mobility between those bones to make the functional movements fluid.

There is a perceived solidness and weight to bones.  But hidden in the denseness is space, a lot of space.  The individual bones are porous, formed of cross bridges called trebeculae that are created in response to the stresses placed on the bone, reinforcing areas of greater stress.  The centers of the bones are hollow, rich caverns filled with bone marrow that produces blood cells.  It looks just like those hard loofah sponges that used to be popular a few years back.  And this space makes the bones light enough for us to move without needing muscles the size of the Hulk.

The spine itself is organized the same way as the rocks in my wagon, the bones getting progressively bigger from top to bottom.  The cervical spine is at the top (a.k.a. the neck), through the thoracic spine (a.k.a. mid back) to the lumbar spine (lower back).  The spine ends with two triangle bones, the first one is larger, roughly the size of my hand, the sacrum.  The second one is small by comparison, about the size of the end of my thumb from tip to that first knuckle, the coccyx (a.k.a. tailbone).  Each part of the spine has characteristic shapes, so just by looking at a bone you can tell where in the spine it belongs.  All of the bones stack on top of each other and there is a built in cushioning between them known as the disc.  There are also places that each bone connects to the bones above it and below it that allow them to move in limited ways, but when you add all the tiny movements together, there is great flexibility to the spine as a whole unit.  These articulations are called facet joints, and there is one on each side of the bone.  So each bone in the spine has two facet joints and a body cushioned by a disc that attach to the bone above, and two facet joints and a body cushioned by a disc that attach to the bone below.  Then you have all the things that attach to the bones: fascia, tendon, ligament, and lots of things traveling along side the bones: muscles, nerves, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels.

I do have the unique view that the skull should be seen as part of the spine, and to properly treat the spine, you need to include the bones of the skull.  Anatomically, the bone at the base of the skull, the occiput, shares many characteristics with the other cervical bones.  And so does the sphenoid bone in the center of the skull, which also articulates with nearly every other bone in the skull.  Not to get too abstract about it, the sphenoid bone connects the spine to the skull, just as the sacrum connects the spine to the pelvis.  So how can you treat the middle without treating both ends and be effective?  It’s all connected, it all works as a unit, and in my opinion, should be treated as a whole in a bodywork session.

On the yard I have created a template of the fireplace walls, sticks laid out on the ground measuring out how wide and tall the space is so that I can preplan which rocks will go where.  I drag the wagon of stones over to my template.  I start piecing together the picture of stones.  Still asking myself questions:  Should this stone go here?  How does this stone fit in that space, or is it better in that space? What happens to the picture if I move this one here and that one there?  What looks best when I take a step back at look at it as a whole?

Sometimes people come into my office feeling like the pile of jumbled rocks.  Convinced there is no longer any order left in their structure to ever be functional again, they drag their wagon of stones into my office.

I think of my education as my template.  I know what the parts look like, I know how the bones are supposed to move by themselves, in relation to one another, and the relationships they have with the surrounding soft structures.  My education also taught me how all that movement combines to create a function.

So one by one, piece by piece, I sort through the pile of stones with my client, examining each piece.  Asking the questions: Are you supposed to be stable?  How stable are you?  Are you supposed to be mobile?  How mobile are you: by yourself, with the bones above you and below you, and in relation to everything that connects to you?  Just like I am stacking stones in my wagon, I evaluate each part of the client.

Then the work begins to figure out what each part needs to help it move the way it should.  For a lot of my work, I use the bones as handles to stretch deeper tissues, and by stretching the deeper tissues, it frees the bones to move as they should, without me having to work very hard at all.  In my work, I have found that the bones tend to follow the lines of tension in the soft tissues of the body.  The same way a tall building follows the tension placed on it by guide wires pulling on it.  Decrease the tension on the bones, the bones can figure out where they are supposed to be, and then movement becomes easier.  Some practitioners push on the bones and expect the soft tissue will fall into place.  Though sometimes pushing on the bones is helpful and necessary, I find it much easier if I have untangled the soft tissue layers and decreased any swelling in the area first.

Once the structure is stable in its mobility, then we layer on the function. Testing if movement is still painful, figuring out how to hold a posture, or contract a certain muscle.  Function is how we use these bodies we have been given, and decreased function is what brings people into my office, so they should have increased function when they leave.

I look at the fire place wall taking shape in front of me on the ground.  I have found stones to fill in around the fireplace opening that won’t need cutting, and am still playing with the spacing, but for the most part it is starting to look really good.  Organic and restful, I can imagine the flames in the fireplace next to the stones, and I can’t help but breathe a deep relaxing breath.  I am getting excited to put the stones up, to finish this project, so I can relax and watch a real fire.

Sometimes people ask me why I love my job so much.  And besides the pure thrill of the puzzle, this is my answer:

I fundamentally believe that out of the rubble, something can be built that is functional, strong, and beautiful.

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