Osteopathy, like many other disciplines, is at its best both a Science and an Art.
The Science in Osteopathy is the study and understanding of Human Anatomy (the nuts and bolts of the body), Physiology (how the nuts and bolts work and what they do), and Pathology (what happens when the nuts and bolts don’t do what they are supposed to do). This is based on a western understanding of the body and so looks very similar to what a medical student would be learning. Still within the field of science and rational thinking, Osteopaths look at the intrinsic relationship between the structure of the body (the nuts and bolts), and the function of the body (what the nuts and bolts do); and one of the founding principles in Osteopathy is that Structure governs Function (and vice versa). So when a patient comes in complaining of headaches, and we find that their head and neck are very tight; we get the head and neck to move more freely, which amongst other things has a normalising effect on the blood circulation to and from the head, and the patients headaches improve. This is a rather simplistic understanding of what goes on, but by way of an example I think it works very well.
The Art of Osteopathy comes into play when we put our hands on. A truly great treatment is only possible when the practitioner is able and willing to put all their rational thinking aside and be wholy present and receptive to what is happening there and then, underneath his or her hands. In the same way that a musician cannot play a master piece by sitting there and reading the notes one by one, an Osteopath needs to reach beyond their training and the concepts they have learned in order to truly grasp what is going on in the treatment process and work to get the best results.
So in this way Osteopaths use their rational thinking and training to take a case history, come to some sort of understanding of what is going on with the patient, decide what needs to be done about it, and convey that information to the patient. But what happens when we put our hands on has to go beyond that.
I think the words of T.S. Elliot are here best used to describe the Stillness that can permeate and surround a treatment;
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.”