By Piotr Ulmer, MSPT
For the past 16 years, my work in Manual Therapy (a more hands-on approach to physical therapy) has taught me that life doesn’t just happen in the physical world. There are other “dimensions” that interact with and influence the physical. In my practice, paying attention to only the physical part leaves out important information needed to help people heal their physical bodies. These other dimensions deal with our emotional/mental state and our spiritual condition. In Manual Therapy, all three dimensions are manifested in the same basic anatomical planes that are used in basic anatomy. Physical problems manifest on the Transverse (horizontal) plane, mentally and emotionally induced tensions manifest on the Coronal (frontal) plane, and spirituality corresponds with the Sagittal (vertical) plane.
Until I began my professional training, I was not aware of just how many physical problems coincide with, and even stem from, emotional injuries. I have been taught to integrate a wide range of diagnostic and treatment technologies in order to recognize the relationship between a patient’s physical and emotional states. For example, from my studies, I observe that oftentimes those who have a hard time quitting smoking also have unresolved experiences of grief. Both the smoke and the emotion become “deposited” in the lungs.
This new awareness about the connections between the physical, emotional and spiritual has caused me to see the upbringing of my own children in a completely different light. I realize that, as a parent, I may unknowingly hurt my children for life by setting too high a bar based on my own ambitions and motivations. I realize how important it is for all children to share in the peace and stability of their parent’s lives, because just witnessing a parent’s turmoil can have a lasting effect on a child. I also have noticed how people, young and old, who earnestly practice prayer become somehow more resilient to the “winds” and pressures of life, both physical and emotional.
The three dimensional philosophy of life has been present in many systems, approaches and schools of thought. Whether it was in church, school, business or a sport, we’ve all heard in some form or another that nurturing the body, mind, and spirit is vital for success.
For example, in 2008 I was invited to a “Cursillo (from Spanish – short course) in Christianity” weekend, where I learned about the Tripod, which became one of my foundational blocks of life. A tripod is a stool with three legs supporting us as we sit on it. All three legs have to be in place, otherwise we fall. Here, the three legs are: 1. Piety, 2. Study, 3. Action. Piety (prayer life) means spirituality, Study is about mental engagement and fitness, and Action manifests physical life effort. In short, body, mind, and spirit. This combo can’t be beat.
Over the years, I’ve learned that our physical and mental performance and health depends on a fulfilled and active spiritual life. An overload in the emotional/mental plane can be successfully dealt with by addressing the other, remaining two planes: physical and spiritual. When applied daily, focusing on all three dimensions can be transformative, and it has a “ripple” effect on our reality, making our lives more alive. This approach is so important to me, that I have introduced the three dimensional approach to my own children. I want them to be more alive from the beginning, and not wait for an “awakening” at the age of forty.
In my experience all three dimensions continuously interact with each other and depend on one another. It means that we all do better and perform better physically when we are in balance with the mental/emotional and spiritual parts of our life. That’s why a football coach wants his players to arrive at least an hour before the game, so they can not only stretch and warm up physically, but also be peaceful, focused and soaked in the spirit of competition, rather than the spirit of rushing in at the last minute, still grieving over an unfinished round of “Age of Empires” on the home computer.
Let’s ask ourselves: do we teach our children life in all three dimensions? Do we approach the joy and duty of preparing our children for life in the big wide world the right way? Do we appreciate how wonderfully we are made? Do we step back to see “the big picture” and realize the complexities our children are facing? If we want to help them to perform better, we need to create a balance between the three dimensions of the world around them. And remember, kids don’t always do what we tell them to do, rather they sometimes imitate our behaviors and actions. It may mean that we ourselves need to rethink and re-prioritize not just our schedules, but our own hearts.
Piotr Ulmer established CTS Physical Therapy in 2001. A native of Warsaw, Poland, he received his Master of Rehabilitation degree from that city’s Academy of Sports in 1991. He formerly served as the director of an outpatient physical therapy clinic in Clarksville, TN and as a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist in Knoxville before starting CTS Physical Therapy.