We’ve all experienced some form of healing/therapeutic modality. Modalities are essentially any technique or tool that is used to facilitate healing. Examples could include massage/bodywork, NSAIDs/pain relief medication, ultrasound, acupuncture, TENs units, cupping, taping, etc.
These modalities are tools to a larger process of healing. In theory they should be used as a stepping stone to progressive healing and their value resides within the effect they can have on the individual seeking healing or relief.
We can only begin to heal and make changes to our lives when we are no longer in survival mode. Survival mode is defined as the state our nervous system enters when faced with a threat to our survival (perceived or otherwise). It’s an important state of being in the moment of threat, and designed to be temporary. Unfortunately it’s a state that is often perpetuated and chronic for much of our society.
This is where a lot of our chronic issues tend to arise from, on some level. Things like physical tension, sleep disturbances, digestive disturbances, addictions, dietary imbalances, over-exercising, overworking, anxiety/depression and pain all tend to be symptoms related to a nervous system stuck in overdrive. When we are in that stressed survival mode the nervous system essentially diverts its energy away from things like our digestive system and puts a lot more energy into our reactive systems (e.g. heart rate increasing, breath becoming quicker and shallower, blood rushing away from your core and into your extremities in preparation, posture becoming flexed and inwardly curled).
This is valuable strategy if you have an emergency to deal with — but in the long term it sets us up for many issues. If our nervous system is stuck trying to survive by any means possible, something like healing an injury site or feeling our emotions is not going to be a priority.
This is where the value of some of the therapeutic modalities listed comes in. Let’s use hands-on massage work as an example. Massage, like many of the listed modalities, works to flip the switch in our nervous system, taking an area or the whole person out of one state (fight/flight/freeze) and into another (rest/digest/heal).
Whether it’s to a local area or to the whole person — in order to begin the healing process we need to change the perception from one of protectiveness and reactiveness to one of safety. Good rehab should help someone do this without creating a reliance on any one modality.
This is where progressive techniques like body awareness and exercise prescription often come in. Not only can well-designed exercises enhance the effect of another modality (massage to calm an area down and make it feel safe in the short term, stability exercises to reinforce natural safety and security in the long term), it can also boost resilience to stress in the long term.
We cannot make changes while we are in a reactive state. When we are in survival mode, that’s all we can really do — survive. In order to thrive we need to develop an understanding of what is surviving and what is thriving.
On a bigger-picture level the current global pandemic offers great examples of what is survival. The “essentials” are what we are all being asked to step into right now in order to deal with the threat at hand. It’s a relatively short-term reaction strategy so that one day soon we can all begin to bridge back into the more quality-of-life ways of being.
We need our survival mode. We also need the ability to flow between survival and non-reactive states. Modalities teach us that flow when we’ve lost it.