What if we looked at cultivating our health differently? What if we were more proactive in cultivating both physical and mental health? It might surprise you how that could change not just you, but your family in the present and the future.
Many patients who have had quality osteopathic treatments, myself included, describe feeling like their body is being unwound. They describe feeling lighter and looser. Movement becomes easier and more efficient. Sometimes patients describe feeling a natural high as endorphins are released. Over time, some patients start to understand and experience how this unwinding has an effect on their health. Even then, there’s often far more happening than they’re aware of.
We have learned from animal studies, famine offspring,[3,4,5,6] and holocaust survivors that traumas can be passed on from one generation to another. This includes trauma from both parents, not just the mother. The effects of the trauma go down to the cytoskeletons and level of the DNA. The DNA itself is not changed, but the phenotype (how the DNA expresses itself) can be altered and passed on. The DNA winds up and tightens as a response to emotional and physical traumatic events.
This is consistent and reflective of how the body responds to trauma on a broader level as experienced by osteopathic physicians and other body workers. Tissue tension is a typical universal response to trauma and dysfunction as described by people who do manual therapy. You never hear about people complaining that their muscles and tissues are too “loose” and “relaxed” after a stressful day.
My mentor used to describe to me how he had observed that strains in tissues could be passed on from parent to child. He did not feel it was necessarily genetic. Genetic changes generally take far longer to change or be changed. He did not feel he could change the DNA itself, but that the way it expressed itself could be influenced with osteopathic treatments.
He felt resolving the strains stopped them from being passed on from generation to generation. This is observation is consistent with the evidence showing trauma can be passed on.
In an in vitro study by Paul Standley, PhD using fibroblast cells on Petri dishes, cell behavior was shown to be influenced by tension in the environment. Fibroblast cells are found in a connective tissue called fascia and are subject to mechanical forces under normal motions and pathologic conditions.
Physical forces in mammalian cells play a role in stem cell differentiation, motility or tumor formation. This does not mean that this is the cause of cancer, but fascial tension as a response to physical and emotional trauma increases the tension in the environment of cells. This tension may go down to the level of DNA.
Fascia is a loose connective tissue in the body. It is like a complex interconnected web that connects everything to everything else. It surrounds every organ, tissue, and even every cell like an elaborate body suit. It helps to form the matrix between cells. Fascia has contractile properties. Because fascia envelops every cell in the body, every tissue and cell can be affected by trauma.
Trauma results in tension and can it be passed on to one’s offspring. Trauma can have both physical and mental aspects that are coupled together. If that’s the case, why aren’t we all wound up balls of tension from the traumas of our previous ancestors? It would make sense that trauma can be accumulated but also undone. Two ways to achieve this can be both with manual therapy and mental/emotional healing. Often these too, tend be coupled together. Emotional releases tied to physical releases do take place and are not uncommon.
Osteopathic treatments use mechanical stimulation to create an environment where healing can occur. By doing that, osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) work to restore normal tension to tissues. D.O.s have argued that the body and tissues respond to mechanical pressure. The amount of pressure to trigger a release is important. Too much or too little pressure will not trigger a healing response in the body. Science is starting to catch up to this.
A Harvard study has shown that mechanical stimulation repairs muscle tissue. “Chemistry tends to dominate the way we think about medicine, but it has become clear that physical and mechanical factors play very critical roles in regulating biology,” said Harvard bioengineer David Mooney, the study’s senior author.
This study is part of an emerging field of study called “mechanotransduction.” Mechanotransduction studies how cells sense and respond to physical forces and translate them into biochemical and biological processes. Studies have begun to understand how chemistry by itself is not always enough to trigger a response. Physical tension of a molecule or a cell is often necessary to trigger it.
Some scientists describe mechanical force as a universal common language for cells to speak to each other. Not just our cells but bacterial cells from our microbiome (the helpful bacteria that are a part of our bodies) can communicate with us as well. This also becomes a way for someone who is properly trained to read and communicate with the body.
As an osteopathic physician, tension is the main language I use to read the health of the tissues I’m evaluating. It also becomes the way I can communicate with and trigger a release response in the body. As a profession as we unwind patient’s bodies, we may be able to undo traumas and prevent them from being passed on.
Theoretically, we may be able to have effects on people’s health down to the level of DNA. But it is not all about physical release, patients may also need to undo emotional trauma including post traumatic stress disorder at the level of the mind. It is not uncommon for patients and those close to them to notice a difference in their mood and behavior as this happens.
The good news to me is that if trauma, hate, and fear can be passed on, it would make sense that so can release, love, and forgiveness. We can help resolve a lot through osteopathic work, but much work can also be done at the level of the mind. Teaching forgiveness in cultures where hate has been a normal way of life for generations can break that pattern for future generations.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean going to those one has “wronged” and asking for it. Forgiveness has many forms and is about changing and letting go of the hate, resentment, fear, and other traumas by replacing them with love, peace, gratitude, and tranquility. This can be done by asking for forgiveness from those that were once wronged, but it can also be done without anyone else ever knowing.
The one who benefits is not necessarily the one being forgiven, but the one who forgives. Holding on to hate and fear affects the physiology of the one who is holding it. Simultaneously, holding on to love and peace affects the physiology of the one who is feeling and expressing it. Again, the experience with mental peace is generally a feeling of lightness. Again, this can have an effect on physiology down to the level of our DNA.
Negative emotions, on the other hand, are experienced as heavy emotions that often take their toll on our bodies. They can be a “weight on one’s shoulders” or “monkey on one’s back.” The problem is that this “emotional baggage” then can also be passed on to our kids where they too then, will have to face and deal with it in some form in the future. Through animal studies, scientists are realizing that kids are not necessarily the “blank slates” we thought they were.
Knowing that, you really have a choice, continue to hold on to hate, fear, and negative emotions and pass that down to your future children, or work to resolve it and pass on loving emotions to them. It’s not always easy to face one’s fears and traumas and may require the help of professionals.
I know which one I would prefer to strive for for me and my family. This kind of healing could certainly go a long way towards changing the world around us. I refuse to be driven by hate, fear, resentment, and other negative emotions regardless of our leaders and the state of the world around us.
“I have never once heard discussed that a lack of forgiveness could pose a threat to humanity.” Robert Enright.
Perhaps it’s time we focus more on forgiveness because a lack of forgiveness gives us justification to hate and destroy other people, cultures, and environments. What is more important than our lives and our children that we must spend our time hating others and refusing to let go? Even if you don’t have children, inner peace that is not dependent on what goes on around us is not a small gift.
I approach my life and every patient with love and gratitude because we could all use more. It’s not always easy and I am not perfect, but that’s what I choose to teach to my children. That’s the gift I want to pass on. Hate does not destroy hate as it will only breed more. Only love can do that.
Osteopathy, body work, meditation, forgiveness, gratitude and a general love can go a long way towards healing not just those around us and our future, but also ourselves. So I challenge you to take care of yourself in whatever way possible as if future generations depend on it because it’s seeming very possible that they do.
Recommended Resources on Forgiveness:
The Disappearance of the Universe
- Yehuda, Rachel et al. Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects on FKBP5 Methylation. Biological Psychiatry , Volume 80 , Issue 5 , 372 – 380
- Brian G Dias & Kerry J Ressler. Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience 17, 89–96 (2014) doi:10.1038/nn.3594
- Bastiaan T. Heijmans, Elmar W. Tobi, Aryeh D. Stein, Hein Putter, Gerard J. Blauw, Ezra S. Susser, P. Eline Slagboom, and L. H. Lumey. Persistent epigenetic differences associated with prenatal exposure to famine in humans. PNAS 2008 105 (44) 17046-17049; published ahead of print October 27, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0806560105
- The Dutch famine birth cohort study. http://www.hongerwinter.nl/item.php?id=32&language=EN. Accessed December 27, 2016.
- de Rooij SR, van Pelt AM, Ozanne SE, Korver CM, van Daalen SK, Painter RC, Schwab M, Viegas M, Roseboom TJ. Prenatal undernutrition and leukocyte telomere length in late adulthood: the Dutch famine cohort study. American journal of clinical nutrition. 2015 Sep; 102(3):655-60
- de Rooij SR. Blunted cardiovascular and cortisol reactivity to acute psychological stress: a summary of results from the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study. Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Oct;90(1):21-7
- Dodd JG, BS; Maze Good M, BS; Nguyen TL, BS; Grigg AI, BS; Batia, LM BS; Standley, PR PhD. In Vitro Biophysical Strain Model for Understanding Mechanisms of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, March 2006, Vol. 106, 157-166.
- Paluch EK, Nelson CM, Biais N, et al. Mechanotransduction: use the force(s). BMC Biology. 2015;13:47. doi:10.1186/s12915-015-0150-4.
- Christine A. Cezar, Ellen T. Roche, Herman H. Vandenburgh, Georg N. Duda, Conor J. Walsh, and David J. Mooney. Biologic-free mechanically induced muscle regeneration. PNAS 2016 113 (6) 1534-1539; published ahead of print January 25, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1517517113.
- Enright, Robert. Psychological Science of Forgiveness: Implications for Psychotherapy and Education. Presented at the Conference, Neuroscience and Moral Action: Neurological Conditions of Affectivity, Decisions, and Virtue. Pontificia Universita della Santa Croce Rome, Italy. February 28, 201. https://couragerc.org/wp-content/uploads/Santa-Croce-paper-PDF-February-28-2011.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2016.
- Harris, A.H, Luskin, F.M.., Benisovich, S.V., Standard, S., Bruning, J., Evans, S. and Thoresen, C. (2006) Effects of a group forgiveness intervention on forgiveness, perceived stress and trait anger: A randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 62(6) 715-733.