Visceral Manipulation With Clara Parnell
Clara Parnell has always known what she wanted to do. She’s a licensed massage therapist who has studied visceral manipulation, chi nei tsang, western clinical herbalism, and cranial sacral therapy. Growing up partially deaf, her other senses were amplified and in practice, she uses this ability to perceive what her clients are physically experiencing and intuit what will bring release and change. Today, she’ll be telling us all about visceral manipulation, so let’s dig in.
What made you decide to go into holistic healing / wellness as a career?
I began receiving communications directly from the plant and spirit realm as a child, and the passion to learn everything about health, healing, and wellness became a constant in my life and hasn’t ever really changed. I dreamt continuously as a child of being in the role I am in now, so I can’t say it was ever a new concept in my adult life. For me, it was more work and effort to resist going in the direction of holistic healthcare.
“Visceral manipulation is a kind of massage that focuses on relieving and resolving restrictions to the proper functioning of our organs, whether that restriction is occurring outside or inside the organ itself.”
Can you explain what visceral manipulation is?
Visceral manipulation is a hands-on modality which focuses on the organs in the body, specifically their mobility and motility. Motility refers to movement inside an organ itself, such as the peristalsis (involuntary constriction and relaxation of muscles) of the small intestine, the turning of the stomach to break down foods, and the moving of liquids through the kidneys. Mobility refers to the ability of an organ to slide and glide within the body itself, the abdomen, pelvis, and thorax. When we bend forward or breathe in, our organs need to be able to adjust accordingly. Visceral manipulation is a kind of massage that focuses on relieving and resolving restrictions to the proper functioning of our organs, whether that restriction is occurring outside or inside the organ itself.
What is visceral manipulation like from the patient’s point of view?
The body is resiliency in action. Visceral manipulation is like a nudge or a gentle reminder towards health and wellness. Sometimes we feel pain in an area which is not the root cause, but an experienced and accomplished practitioner can find the source of this tension through hands on listening via palpation and thermal sensation (such as increased heat in the tissues from inflammation, or cold due to hypertonicity causing decreased circulation and lymph flow), in order to effect change to where we feel pain and discomfort, or have an imbalance.
Visceral manipulation is often practiced with the patient standing, sitting, or lying on their side, and uses light pressure techniques to directly alter tensions in or surrounding our organs and their connective tissues.
That said, visceral manipulation isn’t all light touch. A lot of this work focuses on compressing restricted tissues in the direction of ease. By guiding something to where it is trying to go or stay will release the tension and constriction centered in that area. A good analogy is when you try to open a drawer and it gets stuck, so you close it all the way back to get it to fully open on the second try. That’s what we’re doing. If layers of connective tissues are adhered or restricted surrounding the organ or within the organ itself, we hold or recreate that tension in our hands, and it will give up holding that tension itself, releasing the holding pattern causing imbalance.
For example, the uterus has a motility that helps bring the endometrial lining down and out and helps with fertility. If this innate movement gets out of sync, it can impact fertility, conception, menstrual cycles, hormonal balance, and contribute to endometriosis. Listening to the motility of an organ and gently bringing it back into rhythm with itself and the rest of the body can alleviate health imbalances.
What’s truly different about visceral manipulation is that it requires more time for integration. This work is so deep and changes such integral function in the body that many people won’t feel or notice immediate change, and some might even feel worse at first. That’s okay. This practice is not like muscle work, which focuses on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia of the body, and often promotes immediate relief before tension builds back up. Visceral manipulation is slower to integrate and the changes are more permanent.
The body can only integrate so many changes at once, so a practitioner won’t usually work on more than 1-3 organs in a single session. This work can last 30-90 minutes, depending on the case and how slowly a change needs to be fostered. Sessions should only be received at most once every 3 weeks, in order to give the body time to integrate.
“This work is so deep and changes such integral function in the body that many people won’t feel or notice immediate change. It’s slower to integrate and the changes are more permanent.”
What sort of health challenges can visceral manipulation be effective for and why?
Visceral manipulation is great for any chronic pain or health imbalance, frankly. It can be a great source for targeting digestive imbalances and food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances and reproductive health for any gender, psycho-somatic trauma stored in the body, urinary issues such as chronic UTI’s or incontinence, breathing issues, asthma, and heart health.
I am certain we practitioners will have our hands full post COVID19, when it is safe to work again. Releasing fascial adhesions in the thorax and lessening the severity of scar tissue in the lungs of patients who have recovered will make a great impact. I will be focusing on increasing my services and offering sliding scale work specific to these cases.
This week’s story interview is about SIBO. How can Visceral manipulation be helpful for that?
People struggling with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth often benefit from visceral manipulation, as bringing their motility back into balance helps support the body’s innate healing. SIBO is often caused or made worse by inefficient timing in the digestive tract. When food is moving too slowly or too soon, it won’t break down enough, can ferment in the gut, attract an inflammatory response, and clog both the hepatic artery and lymph absorption in the lining of the small intestine, thus diminishing nutrient absorption.
Visceral manipulation helps get the digestive tract back in sync in terms of timing and the release of gastric juices, which leads to less flairs of SIBO symptoms, such as bloating and cramping. This practice can also be used to release more bacteria located deeper in the folds of the intestinal wall so that it can be naturally discarded by the body.
“Getting solid and plentiful sleep, staying hydrated, and minimizing toxic stress are the three easiest and most effective steps we can take to keep our health in our own hands.”
Do you have any universal health and well-being tips that you’d like to share?
Nothing beats the basics. Getting solid and plentiful sleep, staying hydrated, and minimizing toxic stress are the three easiest and most effective steps we can take to keep our health in our own hands. The boring answers are often the best. We don’t need fancy fads or inaccessible products to get us there, and we should be skeptical of marketing that says otherwise.
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about visceral manipulation?
I would say that I understand the skepticism. We are surrounded by spiritual bypassing, toxic positivity, and people pedaling false hope and products in a capitalist world. So, skepticism is healthy. I would also say that a lot of skepticism is based in fear of practices that are outside of societal norms. That said, this work is supported by the science we depend on in our everyday lives. The same science used in allopathic western medicine. This work is also part of a first tier in health screening and preventative medicine. Here’s a few cases that highlight the efficacy of visceral manipulation both for direct improvement and as a tool for health screening:
I had a woman come in who’d developed severe food allergies a few months postpartum. Sensitivities she’d never had previously. Her Doctor told her that she had no other choice but to cut wheat, dairy, and other allergy inducing foods from her diet. This was her second birth, a c-section, which left adhesions in her small intestines to the scar tissue and mesentery. We worked directly on this scar tissue, her mesentery, liver, and all the valves of her digestive tract. After three sessions together, along with taking recommended digestive bitters, she was symptom free and back to being able to enjoy and digest all previous foods.
A woman came to see me with severe abdominal pain. She had seen her doctor multiple times, who diagnosed her with IBS and left it at that. After beginning our work together, I found her intestines were inflamed and that she was unable to receive any touch comfortably, including light palpation. This is a red flag, as our work should never be uncomfortable or painful. After a few attempts at working together, I referred her to seek out a second opinion, possibly from a specialist. She was eventually diagnosed with C-diff (clostridium difficile colitis), a severe infection of the lining in the intestines. Though the hands-on work didn’t alter her situation directly, it led to her getting the adequate care she needed. So much of what manual therapists / massage therapists are able to do is direct first tier screening for wellness, which can be life-saving when issues are caught early on.