When I tell people I do massage and bodywork for a living I usually hear one of two things. “Oh, if only I could justify that kind of frivolous luxury”, or “I tried that once. It didn’t help!” These comments usually stem from a lack of knowledge about the vastly different forms of bodywork available. The bodywork I practice is a highly intuitive, integrative therapy that is very different from what is traditionally offered in a spa, clinic or massage chain. In addition to more typical requests to help relieve stress or treat a pulled hamstring, I often hear a call for help on the spiritual, emotional or energetic levels.
The biggest turning point in my career was when a new client walked into my office and said, “I’m here for spiritual comfort. I have pancreatic cancer and I only have two months left to live.” This man’s confidence in the healing power of touch and presence inspired me to begin practicing in earnest a type of bodywork that integrates body, mind and spirit.
Most often what I hear from new clients is something like, “I’m here because I feel a blockage in my lower back, and nothing I try to do to release it is working”. During sessions, they often uncover fear, sadness or anger from early childhood or even before. Sometimes they are surprised at what they find, and other times they have been working on this same issue for years and feel frustrated and hopeless with a seeming lack of progress.
For these clients, what seems to work best is a certain type of touch. Sometimes what is needed is a gentle, listening touch, and at other times it is a very deep, specific pressure. This touch seems to provide clients the space to identify a spiritual or emotional issue they need to resolve. Oftentimes the issue lies buried beneath layers of muscles that have been contracted for months or even years, in which case traditional massage techniques are also used. This intuitive touch along with gentle coaching guides clients towards a heightened sensory awareness that results in a meditative state. Along with this expanded state of awareness come deep relaxation, calm acceptance and a willingness to see and question limiting feelings and beliefs.
Our issues truly are in our tissues. Studies have shown the negative effects of traumatic events on our bodies even when we have long since forgotten what happened. For example, imagine that you are in a fairly serious car accident, and at the moment just before impact, your entire body tenses up and is flooded with fear and panic. You think, in fact, that you may be about to die. After the accident and the time it takes to recover from any acute injuries you’ve suffered, your brain may register that you are healed and safe, but your body tension does not relax. You now feel an increased level of danger, unrest or anxiety and your body tension turns into chronic pain. It is not only the violence of traumatic accidents that gets lodged in the body. The grief of a past or future loss, childhood memories of abuse or neglect, or even natural life transitions can become embedded in the body and manifest in various ways (e.g. pain, tightness).
The dear man who walked into my office with only a few months left to live put his faith in my hands. As we worked, his body relaxed layer by layer until his awareness was focused on the center of his being. What he was able to discover there was a deep well of inner peace, surrender and acceptance. His face was joyful as he told me he was ready to leave this world for whatever was next.
There is an intricate connection between body mind and spirit, and bodywork can help integrate them all. The next time you notice pain in your body, see for yourself. Breathe deeply, put your attention on the sensations and ask, “What is here for me to learn?” You may be surprised by the wise words than you will hear from within.