Let me be direct… or indirect with you

In the world of bodywork, techniques can be separated into direct techniques and indirect techniques. Arguments about which ones you should use are fairly intense. It is like talking about Jesus or Oprah or Abortion, If you’ve got the other opinion, you know that you’re asking for a fight if you start talking about it. I’m going to go out on a limb and post something about this as I can see that I will want to refer to this in other posts.


First, let’s talk about how they are similar. Both of them determine a direction of “ease” and a direction of “bind.” The structure is then taken through a range of motion in one direction or the other until there is a change in the quality/quantity of motion. There are variations on this idea but this is basically it.

This illustration represents a stack of vertebrae. The red one has eased off to the left. It binds when it is moved back to right and into alignment with the other vertebrae. Direct technique would push it to the back toward alignment. Indirect technique would push it away from alignment.

We could take this same concept and apply it to muscles. Strain-counter strain is an indirect technique that takes muscles out of spasm by shortening the muscle for a period until it relaxes so that it can lengthen. Most stretching techniques try to directly lengthen short muscles.

Direct technique

Direct technique is where the practitioner organizes things and corrects form. The practitioner cleans up the mess so the body can get on with orderly function. In other words, it is about removing challenges so that it is easier for the body to function. This is closely associated to structural techniques and the idea that structure dictates function. In this approach, the practitioner fixes the problem directly. You could compare this to taking antibiotics, removing a mole or wearing glasses. This is where the practitioner gives you a supply of delicious ready-to-eat fish because you’re hungry.

Direct technique is seen as: more difficult to release, closely associated to structural technique, modifies the structure to be more organized. It is strongly associated to structural technique.

Indirect technique

Indirect technique is  where the practitioner disorganizes things and gently exaggerates the problem. The practitioner makes the mess a little more challenging so that the body responds by starting its own process to create order. In other words, we want to create a reaction that starts the process and so that the body learns to fix itself. In this approach you start fixing yourself because your system has been gently challenged. You could compare this to vaccinations, homeopathic medicine, or vision therapy. This is where the practitioner points out that you’re really hungry puts you to work so that you can get your own fish.

Indirect technique is seen as: easier to release, modifies the relationships between structures so that they have better coordination, more focused on the quality of movement, balances movement more than expanding it, is safer for acute injuries and is easier for the novice practitioner. It is strongly associated to functional technique.

Structural Technique

This is based on the idea that structure dictates function. For example, when a connective tissue is lengthened, it will allow the joint that it crosses to have a greater range of motion. Direct technique is about changing the shape and/or length of the structure so that new behaviors are possible.

Structural technique is seen as: modifies the shape and length of structures, more focused on quantity of movement, balances movement by expanding the restricted motion, creates new possibilities for movement, creates longer term changes, is more difficult for the practitioner.

Functional Technique

This is based on the physiological principle that form follows function. Functional technique is about In other words, if you use something a certain way it will cause the structure to remodel or adapt. It is about changing the behavior between structures so that function is balanced.

Functional technique is seen as:  modifies the relationships between structures so that they have better neurological coordination, balances movement more than expanding it, breaks up facilitated neurological pathways, is safer in acute injuries and is easier for the novice practitioner


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