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Massage Today
December, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 12

The Inside-Out Paradigm: Survival vs. Quality of Life Part 2

By Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD

Editor's Note: Part 1 of Survival vs. Quality of Life appeared in the November 2005 issue of Massage Today.

Biology's directive to Build Fat and Preserve Fluids is a major contributor to our culture's current epidemic of obesity and fluid retention ailments, culminating in our high rate of diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and kidney dialysis.

Yet, we wouldn't have gotten here without them, as starvation and fluid loss were common causes of death for prehistoric humanity.

Nature's end game, Living Long Enough to Reproduce, is facilitated by hormones to ensure the perpetuation of the species. Hormones are the pesky accelerators of our physical and reproductive growth. Two key factors need to be remembered. Hormones tend to be "dumped into the system" rather than added in measured doses and their production decreases in a similar fashion during mid-life, thus the tendency for unpredictable, variable and unsettling effects.

During adolescence, the intensity and quantity of hormonal cascades produces accelerated growth such that the bones often grow faster than the soft tissues can match for a smooth transition. This sets the stage for many and varied physiological and musculoskeletal problems later in life. Also, hormonal production decreases dramatically as we reach our middle years of 35 to 60. These are the very demographics of the people most likely to become new massage clients. It's no accident that people are turning toward our profession.

Nature's endowment of Sympathetic Dominance relates to the tendency of human physiology to "get stuck" in the overdrive mode. This selection has obvious survival enhancing qualities, especially to fight, escape or avoid detection from a predator or a perceived lethal enemy. However, activity and rest need to be balanced in order for our internal functioning and our energetic reserves to be maintained and renewed. It's a simple notion historically codified and prescribed by most cultures and religions.

At a more precise level, sympathetic overdrive shunts blood (and thereby oxygen and nutrients) to the musculoskeletal system and starves the visceral organs of their fair share. This involves timing, quantity and quality. The shunting of blood sets the stage for the eventual development of pathology. Degeneration and disease emerge from the deprivation of oxygen and nutrients usually resulting from states of fluid congestion and stasis. Reflect on how often your clients exclaim, "I hurt, I am no longer able to, I have little or no energy." Physiology operates very much like a credit card: one can continue to keep spending, yet the interest quickly builds the debt, and eventually, the debt must be paid. Pain, injury, illness and reduced quality of life are the common forms of paying the debt.

Depending on one's mental strategy for survival, certain parts of our musculoskeletal system get more blood than others. But the real questions are why and what function does this serve? Let's again relate this to nature's endowments. Fight, flight and freeze are our reflexive responses to intense or perceived to be threatening stimuli. Our mental strategies generally reflect a tilt toward one of these three orientations, rather than a balanced blend among them. Thus, our bodies and our physiologies shape themselves to reflect this tilt. In sum, some muscles get more than their fair share while the others become ischemic. All chronic syndromes or conditions reflect this skewed allocation of resources.

In my earlier articles, I have outlined what I have clinically experienced to be the path of discharging the tension which builds within us as human beings in response to stress and trauma. It happens from the inside-out, beginning with the sacs and tubes and suspensory ligaments of the viscera, and eventually spilling over into the intrinsic musculature. Next, as the body endeavors to distribute the strain over as wide an area as possible, one or more dysfunctions of motion is created in the kinetic chain of the joints. Then the extrinsic musculature is stimulated to contract or spasm to maintain the integrity of the involved joint(s). Now to the most important question, where does it all begin? The "meaning we assign" to events is the source of our stress. Change the assigned meaning appropriately and one experiences less stress. Let's consider a continuum between threat and pleasure with a feeling of neutrality somewhere in the middle. What usually grabs our attention? That's right, threat and worry.

The mind commandeers blood flow to support its basic survival strategies. It responds to symbolic stimuli in the same fashion and with the same intensity as it would as if that stimulus truly was life-threatening. Remember, the mind creates models for its survival. This results in the application of its survival strategies to questions of right and wrong. We all have experienced how this orientation to being right and the avoidance of being wrong perpetuates conflict. Repeated countless times, this depletes our energetic reserves and diminishes our quality of life. The mind also tilts our selection of life circumstances subconsciously and, thus, we tend to symbolically re-create the need for the defenses which are central to our individual survival strategies. This especially relates to the types of partners we choose and the repetitive conflicts which emerge in our private, social and work lives.

Many of the healing arts attempt to harness the mechanism of the mind to expand beyond this slavish dedication to survival. All help to some degree, yet the mind cannot expand beyond its own fundamental programming alone. It's unable to solve the conundrum: what's life all about? Accessing one's spirit, heart, instinct and the broader expanse of the psyche through expanded awareness is where actual shifts occur. Touch accesses the central circuitry where the mind's meaning assignments are anchored. Touch enhances healing across the spectrum of one's perceptual matrix, assisting reflexive reactions to become conscious choices again.

Our current world circumstances reflect both the best and worst of nature's survival orientation and its endowments. However, biological survival alone tends to be exclusive and ethnocentric. Presently, there is an obvious need to enhance our ability to make more inclusive choices. Because of our sheer numbers on the planet, our collective survival might now depend on this. Curiosity, cooperation and the exploration of options for the common good are what are needed now.

The massage therapy profession actually has an honored place and crucial role in this evolution of consciousness because we touch people and take time with them. We nourish and assist them to update their models through the experience of touch and the quality of our presence. Let us dedicate ourselves to join with others to develop healing models which might light the way for our clients to improve the quality of their lives through this expansion of human awareness.


  1. Hans Selye M.D., The Stress of Life, McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  2. Lansing Barrett Gresham & Julie J. Nichols, The Body's Map of Consciousness, Volume I: Movement and Ask Your Body Anything, NoneTooSoonPublishing, 2002. (
  3. Thomas Hanna Ph.D., Somatics, Addison-Wesley, 1988 and The Body of Life, Healing Arts Press, 1993.
  4. Dr. John Rothchild M.D., Kidney Specialist, tutorial conversation.
  5. Bill Williams Ph.D. and Ellen Gregory Ph.D., Soma Neuromuscular Integration Training, Gainesville, Fla., 1980.
  6. Dale G. Alexander Ph.D. L.M.T., "Adaptive Mechanisms," American Massage Therapy Journal, 1992.
  7. Dale G. Alexander Ph.D. L.M.T., "Healing From the Core and The Inside-Out Paradigm: Equalizing the Pressure,"Massage Today, 2004 and 2005.

Click here for more information about Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD.


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