For this topic I went directly to one of the people who knows it the best, Dr. Ankur Tayal. Dr. Tayal is a graduate of Life West, President of the Alumni Association and head of the Department of Philosophy here on campus among many other accomplishments. He indefatigably continues to share his knowledge and love of learning with us students lucky enough to pass through Life West while he has been a faculty member. Without further ado I will open this interview in true Dr. Tayal style with the insert of a “Bias Alert” here.
Q: What is your definition of tone and how is it similar or different from the Green Books?
A: Tone is vibration, that is my favorite one to one relationship. Now vibration, that gets into all sorts of cool words. Tone to me is resonance, harmony, wavelength, frequency. All of those have something to do with vibration. I have always liked the guitar string analogy of the spinal cord. I think that is what DD was talking about. I don’t think DD was talking about vibration and frequency explicitly. I do think he was talking about tone when it comes to laxity or tension. He said that was the essence of chiropractic, the laxity or tension of the nervous system, probably the spinal cord itself. I think he was talking about the nervous system as if it was one big nerve. If it’s too tight, if there is too much tone, that’s not good and if there is not enough tone that’s not good either.
For us now, we encapsulate that with pressure. I like the word “pressure”, I always ask students, “what does pressure on the nervous system mean?” Is it like a physical “poking” or is it tension? Is it that the space that’s being occupied has a little bit more “stuff” in it so that there’s just more physical pressure or vapor pressure or chemical pressure? Pressure is pressure. There are so many different ways that you can increase or decrease the tone of the system.
Everything has a frequency, everything has a wavelength. Vibration and tone is about having all of the organs and all of the tissues and the cells playing the same music, having the same vibration. If they have different tone it might not be harmonious, we might be playing different kinds of music. Establishing the same tone throughout the whole organism is valuable because then it will be more likely to have coordination and coordination leads to harmony.
Q: Does the history of tone begin with the emergence of chiropractic or does the history of it precede that?
A: The short answer is yes, we get that from DD’s magnetic healing. The magnetic healing to me sounds like magnets and I always thought that for the longest time. But that’s not what it was. Its BGI, basically; its tone work and energy healing. Tone has been around for centuries and throughout cultures. That’s part of the coolest thing about chiropractic is that it is this really cool, East-meets-West phenomenon in the late 1800’s. People weren’t really doing that back then, people weren’t doing East meets West, it was either one or the other.
Q: Is tone something you would discuss with patients? How would you describe it to a layman?
A: I will do the guitar string analogy all day with patients. I will do the orchestra. The digestive is brass and wood winds are breathing and cardiovascular is the drums and the conductor is Innate in the brain. I will do that all day. I will talk about harmony and the tension of the spinal cord itself because I like talking about the “ends”. I like talking about upper cervical and the sacrum and pelvis. And so I like that model of [the spinal cord being] tethered and twisted which is very much where tonal techniques come in. Tonal is not segmental we are not putting in a force into the spinal segment to move it. We are putting in a force to the whole system because we are looking at it from a tonal aspect, thats where that comes from. I will talk about that all day because my two primaries are Network and NUCCA. You can can get really mechanistic and specific but in NUCCA we are talking about the shoulder and the hips and the feet and ultimately thats tone. Will I use the word “tone”? Only to the patients that have already identified that they can talk like that but I will do “orchestra” and I’ll go “guitar string” all day. I might say the tension and tone of the nervous system dictates the tension and tone of your reality, thats not too esoteric for my people.
Q: How do you apply tone to NUCCA vs full spine? Is there a difference?
A: So again with full spine what I want to differentiate is tonal full spine vs segmental full spine just like tonal upper cervical or segmental upper cervical. With NUCCA, and this is biased when I talk about technique, we really do look at posture and when we look at posture it screams tension and tone of the nervous system to me. Anterior head carriage and how thats pulling on the spinal cord and how that easily leads into [a] parasympathetic/sympathetic conversation. I don’t call it that [t patients] but stressed state vs a relaxed state, fight or flight vs rest and digest, thats an easy conversation in both of those models. But that doesn’t mean its only upper cervical or only full spine.
I think what happens in a segmental model, when we are looking to move just the one bone compared to the one above or below, tone is not as common of a discussion. Do I know why? When you are doing an input to move either the sacrum or the occiput to release the tension on the spinal cord then its easier to talk about tone. But in the segmental model its much more likely that we are talking about pressure on the nerve. Thats where that physical pressure on the nerve comes in. But in a segmental model we are looking at the IVFs. I think thats why they don’t talk about [tone] as much but that doesn’t mean that they can’t. It is a little different than a tonal model, it isn’t incompatible but its a little different. Does tone have anything to do with technique? And the answer is it doesn’t or it doesn’t have to. Different personalities gravitate towards different techniques but tone has nothing to do with that. Even if you don’t think you are feeling tone, you are. Look at muscle tone, muscle tone is just tension of the muscle and we all feel that.
Q: We are always told to look for our patient’s change in tone, have you had an experience in which the change in tone was for the worse or negatively impacted the patient?
A: Definitely, change is first and foremost what we are looking for. If [the tone] gets really tense or tight the first thing I’m thinking is did I do something wrong? But also in the back of my head “hold on maybe not, lets go back to our system”. This is why I think it’s so important to have a system because that’s when the educated, the innate, the subjective, the objective, can get really cloudy. We can go to cop-outs saying there is no way I hurt them because I came from a place of love or I felt that this was the right thing to do so I did that. Those are things that you can’t back up, you can’t justify that. Those are opportunities for cop-outs and excuses and it’s an invitation for sloppy work. It might be true but how do you know? What does “the book” say? Well “the book” says you screwed it up, ok, that sucks. I need to not screw it up next time or I need to fix it. Or “the book” says that I did it right. Let’s give [the body] a second to figure itself out because that’s the reason we have “the book”. There are so many people that came before you that are able to contribute to your knowledge base. If you don’t have “the book” and are just relying on your own subjective experience, well I am going to call that because it’s not as good as the other option.
I am all in favor of developing my palpation and [being able to] “hear” subluxations when they walk in the room but I’m also using my x-rays and my thermograph and my leg checks to confirm if my skills are actually developing or if I am just making it up. There are so many excuses and get-out-of-jail-free cards littered throughout chiropractic philosophy. “Limits of mater”, “retracing”, “you can never hurt someone if you are coming from love”. Thats nonsense! Even though it’s important to point out that it’s littered with these cop-outs, we have to be bigger than that. We have to explore and we have to have a system and we have to know that we are actually doing what we say we are doing and we aren’t just making it up.
We have all been through one or more philosophy classes in our time at Life West but most of us could not give a definition of tone if put on the spot. As someone who is slow to accept any philosophical ideas I encourage other students to seek out Dr. Tayal for a philosophical conversion in true Greek philosopher style with an honest open sharing of ideas.
This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of Lifelines, the Life West student magazine.