What is a human being? A human being is a container invented by water so that it can walk around.
–Dean Juhan, Jobs Body
I rather like this little joke about what a human being is. It also applies to our animal friends. Water; it seems likes variety as well.
Consider for a moment what it means to be flesh and bone; regardless of whether you are a horse, dog, human, or a duck. We exist on the same physiology; we all have similar nerve impulses, muscle, and bone elements. These elements make up the whole structure of the container that was invented by water so that it can walk around. The varying architecture, or bone structure that makes up the different species may be arranged for different form and functionality, but the general way that it utilizes food, regenerates itself, and depends upon the muscles and bones to move it from one place to another works the same way.
Lets look a little closer at the components that hold all of this water together into a functional unit we call a living being. The best place to start is with the connective tissue. Connective tissue is the glue that binds a cell into cells, cells into muscles, muscles into tendon, tendons into bones. It is the material of ligaments that wraps and secures bones to bones allowing the structure to have joints and hinges without which we would have neither flexibility nor movement. Without this tough white, stringy, and slippery connective tissue, I am afraid we would be just another puddle of water droplets.
Muscles supply the crucial tension in our tensegrity structure. The skeleton is held erect by the musculature, and not vice versa.
Dean Juhan, Jobs Body
Intertwined within the connective tissue we have the muscles. Each muscle fibril is enclosed in connective tissue that binds them one to the other, then encloses groups of them into bundles. These bundles are then laced together to form muscles such as the hamstrings and quads. Each muscle bundle consists of the belly of the muscle that tapers on either end to the tendon that then attaches it to the bone. Each muscle attaches to one bone and then crosses a joint attaching to another bone enabling mobilization and flexing across the structure. Water is the main element that gives the structure the elasticity and suppleness to bend.
Muscle tissue can do three things, it can shorten which is a pull (called flexion), it can lengthen (called extension) by being pulled or it can go into a lock position (most of the time a very painful and limiting position). As you can see muscles never push us anywhere. It is this flexing and pulling power of the muscle that acts upon the bones as a series of levers, pulleys, hinges and cables in order to suspend the limbs and organs in an erect and weight bearing form. Muscle creates movement through the joints thereby propelling us around in our most fluid and graceful ways.
Muscles as individual compartments do not utilize their full flexing power at any given time. They all work in synchronization to form a full range of motion throughout the entire body. For each action on a joint there is a flexion and an extension, and agonist muscle that creates the action and the antagonist that counterbalances the movement. This is the means that allows the container of water to stand up through the pull of gravity and to walk about.
It is the watery nature of connective and muscle tissues that allow the body to ebb and flow, bend and be bent, shorten and lengthen, harden and soften in a instant with fleeting thought. It is this mutable quality of liquid and the interplay of connective tissue and muscles that make the horse an athlete, a dancer or a runner.
It is also this soft watery substance that tears, spasms, and atrophies when stressed or injured. When muscles suffer emotional or physical trauma they will often times lose vital moisture needed to allow one muscle fiber or compartment to slip unimpeded by another. This loss of fluid causes fibers to stick together, become dry, hardened and immobile, which restricts full range of motion in the area of stress. This is rarely just one particular muscle, but rather an area of muscle power. When movement is compromised in one area the whole structure has to shift in order to compensate for the loss. The muscles then cease their balanced pull on the connective tissues, the connective tissues affect the associated joints and if left unchecked for a long enough period of time the stresses will eventually begin to deform the bone structure.
Trauma does not have to get a tight and unrelenting grip on the equine structure. The more we study the benefits of massage therapy the more we know how it can influence and restore health to the watery nature of soft tissues. Manual therapy restores the free flow of nutrient rich fluids between cells by creating the space for the water to fill and regenerate dry tissues. It is this fluidity that allows muscle, tendon and ligament to be manipulated back into its inherent integrity after being distorted from trauma or injury.
Massage therapists often refer to our profession as bodyworkers. When we contemplate the nature of our work, we manipulate soft body tissue to restore it back to health and functionality. So we bodyworkers are like soft tissue sculptors. The hands of the therapist gently stretch, pull, push and coax the watery tissues to relax, bend, and flow back to its original nature, back to its inherent design allowing the structure supple, harmonious and unencumbered expression to its movement. Joy and grace is expressed through freedom of movement, no matter whether you are human, horse, dog or duck. It is all the same.