Friday, March 6, 2015

Magic, or Thai Style Bodywork?

I first met "bodyworker" Daragh Crowley a few weeks back at a workshop for movement professionals. During the lecture, I asked a question about ways to address a particular movement impairment, and Daragh chimed in with a smart-aleck answer about the best way to fix it being to come see him. So I did. (To be precise, he actually came to see me on his way back to Philly from D.C., where he spends every other weekend working.)

Meet Daragh Crowley, Thai Style Bodyworker

Although outwardly, one might think me the epitome of strength and grace (see picture on left), I'm really not as perfect as I look. In fact, due to the congenital absence of my left femur, I engage in some funky compensatory strategies through my pelvis and low back. While I feel great much of the time, these compensations do sometimes manifest as low back pain. Upon meeting me, it was clear that Daragh was intrigued by my unique structure, his wheels spinning over how to address my situation.

Daragh's particular flavor of bodywork is known as "Thai Style." It's a vigorous form of manual therapy that has both practitioner and beneficiary on the floor actively engaging in the treatment (atop a comfy mat with a comfy pillow, of course). Daragh’s extensive background in resistance training and Ashtanga Yoga even further nuance his approach to the body. (Word to the wise: do NOT ask Daragh about traditional yoga certifications unless you're prepared for a 20-minute diatribe.)

I've received treatment from chiropractors and massage therapists before, but from the moment Daragh began working on me, it felt different. And it wasn't just Daragh's elbows and knees digging into my lower leg as he had me bend my foot this way and that. What separates Daragh's practice from many other forms of manual therapy is that he focuses on the fascia, or the connective tissue surrounding the muscle just below the skin.

Although I experience most of my pain at the low back level, as he almost always does, Daragh began at the foot. The foot, he explains, is the interface between the body and the earth -- our primary source of tactile information about the world underneath us. Issues at the foot (like a collapsed arch, for instance) often compound themselves further up the chain. In extreme cases, a bum shoulder can be intimately related to a problem at the foot.

During the assessment process, Daragh pointed out "adhesions" throughout my lower leg. Whereas the muscles, fascia, and skin should move freely and fluidly around each other, the structures surrounding my calf muscles were essentially stuck together. He instructed me to pay close attention to how this rigidity looked and felt. It would be gone when he was through with me.

Of course, he was right. As Daragh worked, I commented that it felt like air was circulating through my foot -- like my foot was breathing for the first time. When he finished and I stood up to test it out, I noticed increased range of motion and sensation throughout my leg. I felt muscles engaging around my ankle and knee that had previously been dormant -- too stuck to the surrounding layers to function independently.

As Daragh explained, freeing up movement at the level of my foot would have tremendous implications for the rest of my body. Prior to our session, when I performed a one-leg squat, my entire leg tracked inward in order to keep my center of gravity atop my foot (see image below). Afterwards, Daragh gave me four cues:

  1. Dig my big toe into the ground
  2. Raise the arch of my foot
  3. Fire both glutes (even on the side of my short leg)
  4. Engage my pelvic floor (muscles located at the base of the abdomen that attach to the pelvis)
After the bodywork, my one-leg squat felt completely different. Muscles were engaging that I previously didn't even know were there. Outwardly, to Daragh's eye, I was no longer contorting my pelvis to make up for my asymmetry. After just a little over an hour of work, I was using both sides of my body equally for the very first time.

That's me before on the left. That's me after on the right.
Notice the incredible transformation.

While self-help massage techniques involving lacrosse balls, voodoo bands, and foam rollers are better than nothing, sometimes our bodies need more. We become so stuck in the ways we move that we need a really big initial push -- bigger than we can provide ourselves -- to break out of that pattern. Daragh's magic hands, elbows, knees and holistic approach to the body provide just that.

I'm especially excited to see how the initial changes I observed play out in my training over the coming days. I will continue to search for my pelvic floor (which according to yoga tradition can lead to enlightenment!), as well as follow the other cues Daragh gave me.

As a personal trainer and biomechanist, I'm typically interested more in what's going on with the big superficial muscles of the body (quads, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, etc.). In just one session with Daragh, he has me considering the complexities of movement on a much deeper, more fundamental level.

Look out for more great content (including video footage) in the coming weeks from Daragh and me as we continue working together. Find out more about Daragh and Thai Style Bodywork at and

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