Thomas Hanna said that palpation — gathering information by touch — is a lost art among medical professionals, and that we, his students, would become masters of it.
In the process of Hanna somatic education, palpation isn’t just done at the initial functional assessment of a client’s condition, nor is it only an information-gathering action. It’s properly done at every stage of a clinical session of Hanna somatic education to evaluate the results of each pandiculation, and it provides information not only to the practitioner, but also to the client about his or her current condition. How else are we to know whether we are finished with a region and its movements?
In a previous writing, “Precision Positioning for Miraculous Results“, I speak of this last point in some detail.
For now, I want to communicate some things about the art of palpation, itself.
PALPATION IS A FOUR-DIMENSIONAL ACT
Now, before you go bounding off screaming, “another New Age twinko!!!”, I want to clarify. The fourth dimension, time, is not a Twilight Zone alternate reality or a mysterious abstraction (as implied by the term, “time-travel”). It’s motion, itself, in the most ordinary sense.
We measure time by means of devices that move or display regular changes (watches and clocks) and we experience time the same way. The term, “second”, refers to the period of time between two heartbeats, the second heartbeat defining the end of a second. It’s an approximate term, the way the length of a foot is about one foot and the length of the first segment of the thumb is about one inch and one swallow is about once ounce. Time is motion.
In palpation, many people touch surfaces with their fingertips and think they are palpating. When such a technique provides little useful information, they abandon palpation as an investigatory act. It’s not a shortcoming of palpation; it’s a shortcoming of their technique and their understanding.
To do a decent palpation that actually provides useful information, you’ve got to feel, not for a surface, but for a volume — three (3) dimensions. And you don’t go rushing in, do a couple of quick presses, and move out. What you do is soften your hands, reach in, and feel for the first resistance for reaching more deeply; you feel for where soft space becomes firm contact. You go in slowly — both out of respect for your client and for rich information. Then, you wrap your hands around what you feel to discern its shape. If you’re squeamish, palpate in yourself until you learn the lay of the land and what it might feel like to your clients.
If you want to get more out of palpation, trace muscles from origin to insertion; that gives you something on which to anchor your attention and gives your client new sensory information that tells them in which direction, along what lines, to contract in pandiculation.
Once your client has done the pandiculation, or after you have done Kinetic Mirroring, you use palpation and movement to evaluate the completeness of the result. If some sensory-motor amnesia — and muscular contraction — remains, you either repeat the process or have your client adjust positions to reach what’s left. Palpate — Pandiculate — Palpate. Continue until the involuntary tendency to contract is gone or it ceases to decrease, then move on.