From Socrates to Bodywork

By Sasha Chaitow, PhD
[Somatic Research]

I have a confession to make. I firmly believe that there is poetry in scientific research. Let me explain.

I’ll never forget the day I walked into a class of modern, wired, moody, and disaffected Greek teenagers and taught them to love poetry. To them, poetry was dry, dusty, difficult, and disconnected from their lives. When I innocently asked about it a few classes before, they were united in their confident hatred of it. So, a few weeks later, I walked into the classroom without speaking, flicked off the lights, and showed them a performance of Antidote (2016), by Greek-Australian performance poet Luka Lesson.1 (Stop what you’re doing and before reading any further, watch the three-minute video: Then, I asked them what they made of it. At no point did I mention the p-word.

They were wild with enthusiasm and curiosity. By the end of the class, they had discovered a freedom of expression they never imagined and found joy in decoding and interpreting the hidden meanings between the lines. As they packed to leave, I told them, “And that, my dears, was poetry!” They spent the lesson thinking it was just an interlude to their normal curriculum. They had no idea that poetry is meant to be spoken, heard, and lived, not dissected to death.

In that class, they ended up writing poetry just for the sheer joy of it—in English, which is what I was supposed to be teaching them anyway, but I got to enjoy the process. I pulled the same trick on them with both Shakespeare (using a rap version) and Renaissance art (turned into a detective game), and later used the same technique to warm up a frosty “academic writing” classroom filled with earnest but tongue-tied graduate students.

Flipping the Script—the Socratic Way

Also called “the flipped classroom” approach, my teaching technique is rooted in the Socratic method. This form of cooperative, argumentative dialogue is designed to spark and develop critical thinking. Using the Socratic method, the teacher (or facilitator) doesn’t lecture or overload the learner with information, but instead guides them through an intensely interactive process of discovery using open questions.

Socrates believed that learning is actually a process of remembering (called anamnesis in Greek), and that teaching is simply a process of helping the learner remember what is lodged in their subconscious mind.

Using the Socratic method means throwing out the textbook—literally—and “teaching unplugged” or “from the hip,” as is often said in the Dogme teaching method.3

The modern form of the Dogme teaching method is based on the Socratic method and was (re)born out of language teaching. Its beauty is that it can be applied to all fields of knowledge. Once mastered, learners will be able to apply it to anything they want to understand.

I was not taught to use this method formally; I developed it out of sheer frustration with my students and the mainstream teaching process.

Teaching Students to Teach Themselves

In the early days, I taught English as a second language to teens and adults, but I quickly began losing the will to live when preparing lengthy lesson plans from books that were out of touch with real life and plodding through endless grammar tables. The struggle was real.

There were days when teaching was like pulling teeth; I was more bored than my students, and I couldn’t blame them. Blessed with an insatiable love of learning myself, it seemed obvious that if I could teach my students to learn for themselves—and love doing so—it would save me an awful lot of frustration and would give them a gift they could use throughout their lives.

So, I gave up trying to teach them English and began teaching them how to teach themselves. The key was helping them understand how what they were learning was relevant to their lives and the real world. Language is not simply a sum of its parts, and neither is life. The results were incredible!

Eventually, I was invited to develop and lead teacher-training courses and seminars for colleagues and educators in all kinds of fields and at all levels. The goal was for them to take and apply these methods for themselves.

Thinking Outside the Box

Since I first started teaching, I found the whole notion of chopping language into bite-sized pieces entirely irrational. The purpose of language is to communicate, and anyone who has ever visited a foreign country with a phrasebook in hand will know that thinking outside the box, being observant of the communication around you, and using improvised body language is the only way to get by.

A language reflects a culture, so full immersion, observation, and openness will bring understanding without having to forcibly memorize random lists of phrases. This observation method applies to actual languages like French or Spanish, but it is also true for field-specific languages and jargon such as those used in mathematics, astrophysics, or bodywork, which all have their own communities and insider cultures, even though we don’t often think of them that way.

It is often said that if we don’t have the words for a concept, we cannot actually think the idea at all. This is the essence of my interest in language. Even if we are all speaking English, we are not necessarily speaking the same version of it.4

I taught language initially as a temporary means of earning a living in parallel with my studies from 2003 onward. Yet, those worlds often collided as my frustration with language teaching was reflected in my academic pathway. On one hand, I repeatedly clashed with my professors over what I saw as an overly compartmentalized approach to learning in general. On the other, I saw the utter disdain of so many in the ivory tower for those actually working in real life. As I was already working, I was more aware of this clash than many of my fellow students.

Building a Communication Bridge

My educational background took me through communication studies—a hybrid modern field that grew out of a multidisciplinary cluster of social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy), literature, and cultural history.

For my PhD on a niche topic within cultural history, I developed an interdisciplinary methodological framework that aimed to build bridges between fields that would not talk to each other—and could often not understand each other, due to this disparity in “culture” and “language.” It became a running joke how a literature scholar just down the hall from a historian never really spoke to each other.

In order to bridge the communication gap, I had to connect literature, history, art history, aesthetics, communication studies (again), and sociology. To some in each of those fields, this was pure heresy, but I did it anyway. To achieve my aims, though, I was obliged to work twice as hard to support and document my argument—which needed to be watertight against criticism—and convince my university to provide an interdisciplinary examination panel.

In parallel, I created a short-lived, but influential, online academy aimed at outreach teaching to the general public. I also organized conferences on the same topic and clashed grievously with my professors over expending my energy on non-specialists. My risky ventures were, nevertheless, successful, and after my PhD was awarded, it led to more teaching, speaking at universities and to lay audiences, and publications.

After a decade of arguing this point, my field has now moved in an altogether more interdisciplinary direction. Many of my former colleagues focus more on outreach teaching than on academia alone.

Socrates and Bodywork?

I hear some of you asking, what does any of this article have to do with massage and bodywork? And I bet you’re also wondering why I’m writing for Massage & Bodywork. Well, many of you know I am the daughter of Leon Chaitow, and his influence on my thinking and my path has been all-encompassing throughout my life. Readers familiar with my father’s work will be aware that he is primarily known as an integrator and synthesizer whose holistic outlook—a result of his osteopathic training—was applied to everything he did.

To my father, integration meant two different things: the integration and cross-fertilization between bodywork professions, and the integration of therapies and techniques once (or still) considered “fringe,” “alternative,” and “complementary” into mainstream medical practice. He was instrumental to both processes, and though he was met with resistance at many turns, this did not deter him.5 He was deeply conscious of the need for robust, solid research to support the therapies and techniques in question if they were to achieve widespread credibility and acceptance. Both objectives led to his cofounding, in 1983, of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,6 which, from its inception, he served as consultant editor, becoming editor-in-chief in 1990, and later (1996), to his establishment and editorship of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (JBMT).7 The idea was to provide a venue both for clinicians to easily access knowledge and research to benefit their practice and simultaneously to encourage research into relevant topics that would serve these aims.

I am no clinician, and indeed my father had to work hard to hide his disappointment when at age 16, after being certain for a few years that I had been going to follow him as an osteopath, I declared that I wanted to pursue the study of humanities instead.

My father supported me at every step, and he showed a deep interest in everything I did. We enjoyed long discussions during which we compared the issues in our respective fields and actively learned from each other. In the last 10 years, in particular, I drew on my father’s experience and undertook secretarial (mostly journal-related) duties for him, and he took and applied many of my own experiences to his handling of students.

The Leon Chaitow Award

The JBMT policy of supporting early-career researchers and assisting them in achieving the standards required for publication comes from a place of compassion and belief in the next generation, but few know that it stems primarily from my father’s reaction to some of my worst experiences in the academic world (this is not the place for horror stories, but suffice it to say, I fought my own share of battles in the development of an integrative, interdisciplinary research framework). In my role as managing editor of JBMT, I am proud to uphold the JBMT policy, now formalized in the newly established Leon Chaitow Award for early-career researchers that I established in his memory.8

As all those who learned with him will know, Chaitow distilled the newest evidence to enrich and develop evidence-based techniques that he then shared with his practitioner students in all relevant professions. His key role in that respect was that of a translator—translating research to practice, one of the things he did best in both his writing and his teaching.


There is a void now that I cannot fill by teaching as my father would have, but I can do something else. I can teach others how to take that evidence, learn to understand it, and do it for themselves. Following, therefore, both in his footsteps and in those of the incredible Niki Munk, who has shed light on much important research in her authorship of this column, my aim in taking on the Somatic Research column is to integrate my approach to education, my current work with JBMT, and a variety of issues in the world of bodywork and movement therapies. I firmly believe that education should be in the hands of learners. That means giving them the tools to learn for themselves, beginning with the idea that a whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Bodywork research and applied practice are not isolated elements. They are dynamically interrelated and need to be seen as such to be understood and applied. Therefore, some pieces will feature distillations of recent research along with practical ways to understand and apply it, and others will explore current issues in these areas, framed in a way that provides readers with the tools to develop their critical appraisal skills, always with the bigger picture in mind.

This brings me full circle then; from changing my mind about following my father at 16, to flipping that poetry classroom, to writing and teaching in this context. The poet had it right: this life is a snake eating its own tail. I am coming full circle, and, as there is poetry in words, there is also poetry in the healing arts. And there is even poetry in what looks like dry, dull, and often incomprehensible scientific research. I look forward to discovering it with you!

Sasha Chaitow, PhD, is a professional artist, gallerist, and scholar who exhibits and lectures internationally. With over a decade in journalism and academic publishing, she was appointed managing editor of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in March 2018. Based between London and Corfu, Greece, she is studying for an MPH at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus.


1. Luka Lesson, “Antidote,” 2016,

2. Luka Lesson, “Antidote.”

3. Scott Thornbury, “A Dogma for EFL,” IATEFL 153 (February–March 2000): 2; Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching (UK: Delta, 2009).

4. Sasha Chaitow, “Whose Research Is It Anyway?,” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 23, no. 3 (July 2019): 435–38.

5. Leon Chaitow, “Evolution from Quackery to Integration to Functional,” January 1, 2008,

6. This refers to the independent journal so named and produced by Argus Health Publications in the UK, ISSN 0950-5466, not to be confused with the journal of the same name produced by Liebert publications, ISSN 1075-5535.

7. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Theories (JBMT), accessed November 2019,

8. “The Leon Chaitow Award for Excellence in Early Career Research,” accessed November 2019,