Saturday, 22 June 2019

American Indian Bodywork: The Origin of Osteopathy

Manual osteopathy, cranial osteopathy and visceral osteopathy have roots in Indigenous  Bodywork.

Most people might not know, but the origin of manual osteopathy that Dr Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO founded over 140 years ago (in 1874) in the United States is based on traditional American Indian bodywork and healing arts.

Dr Still has commented on the bone-setting manual therapy techniques of the Shawnee tribe as reported by the director of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in a lecture, who added that Dr. Still often used the phrase ‘Taking an Indian look’ at something.

The American Indian Bodywork involves manual therapy techniques such as soft tissue therapy, mobilization and manipulation of the musculoskeletal system, organs and cranial bones mixed with energy and narrative work.

Dr Still lived and worked on Shawnee reservation for many years. He learned Shawnee language and was quite fluent in it.

The cranial osteopathy, founded by Dr William Garner Sutherland, DO in the 1930s is also based on Indigenous Bodywork which works with energy and the breath. American Indian bodyworkers,  similar to craniosacral therapists of today (craniosacral therapy has originated from cranial osteopathy) move cranial bones, seeking the ridges. They however use a bit more force in applying pressure than craniosacral therapists. These practitioners use osteopathic-like soft tissue therapy, osteoarticulary and manipulation techniques on musculoskeletal system, organs and viscera, and joints, as well as acupressure on points and energy channels (that, in fact, correspond to the meridians). They combine all this with gentle oscillatory techniques and narrative healing, both verbal and energetic, using storytelling, and dialogue with the musculoskeletal system and with the patient, and intense breath work to “restore spirit” to all parts of the body, when giving treatments that they commonly refer to as “doctoring.”

The visceral osteopathy that uses manual therapy techniques on organs (mainly abdominal) has its root in American Indian Bodywork as well. Organ (visceral) manipulation was practiced by Native Indians for thousands of years before being presented as a distinct osteopathy technique by French osteopath, Dr Jean Pierre Barral, DO who began teaching visceral manipulation in 1985. 

Most of the bodywork techniques of Native Indians are lost because early Christians missionaries called it devil worship. However there still remains known techniques of Cherokee Bodywork along with Zuni and Navajo tribes bone-setting techniques which are very similar to the Shawnee Bodywork techniques in Virginia as they were neighboring tribes.

Dr Shawn Pourgol, MBA, DC, DO, PhD
Minister of Education for the Southern Cherokee Nation and the Red Fire People
President of National Academy of Osteopathy, National University of Medical Sciences and Osteopathy Chronic Pain Clinics of Canada

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  1. Dr. Pourgol,

    We are very proud that you have been appointed State of SCNRFP Minister of Education. Great Article and Very Important Documented History, Keep them coming.... Nice photo from the Sovereign and Treaty Boundary Lands of the Southern Cherokee Nation and The Red Fire People, State of SCNRFP, an Enclave surrounded by the U.S.

    In a Good Way
    Wado, Chief Usti
    State of SCNRFP

    1. Thank you Honorable Chief Usti. It is an honour to be a member of SCNRFP and I do my best to serve the Nation to the best of my abilities.

    2. What an intriguing reflection on the historical relevance and evolution of osteopathy. It is wonderful to see the early work of these people given just credit. When so much has been lost and maligned, their is remediation and love in exacting the truth.