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Healing through AcroYoga & Massage: Trust

“…but a woman whose love has vanished,
who thinks now, too much, of roots
and the dark places
where everything is simply holding on.
But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again…”- Mary Oliver


If one can apply herself to any activity or process with the intention of emptying out into presence with what is real, and with staying true to what being love is in that moment, any activity or process can be a spiritual practice, maybe even an initiation. It is a chosen paradigm that resonates deeply and has served me greatly. When viewing life this way, events occur multidimensionally- affecting a being on many levels of being- and take on meaning that has a ripple effect throughout our consciousness. In my 5 year journey with massage and bodywork, and my 2.5 years of those 5 with AcroYoga, I’ve encountered incredible challenges, have been exposed to many psychological mirrors, and have had to expand a lot to be able to show up fully each day for the practices. And everyday, there is still a process to attend to. Many of the lessons and challenges that I encounter often show up in the realms of how to be in relationship, how to be present, how to value process over endpoint, for example- realms I believe hold a lot of weight and interest with many people. So many times I have found myself in conversation with colleagues or practice partners exclaiming over how the lessons learned in these practices can be applied to life- and that, we are actually more loving people if we do make these applications. I write this series to explore, to share, to muse over what I have discovered over the years in the hope that it will spark the readers’ own explorations, sharing, and musing. No doubt, the process will be more enriching this way. I specialize in flying, so in full disclosure, much of my experience will be from this perspective, though I will try to incorporate what I have learned from my partners where I can.

Diving right in: the first concept that gets a lot of attention in AcroYoga is trust. What is trust? In these contexts and in the largest sense, it is letting go, giving over to a space created by two people, which inevitably takes away some of our personal control. It is a sense of allowing uncertainty- not knowing what will come up next, but also knowing it will be held in safe space, and that we will handle it with capability.

For example, the first thing a new acroyogi flyer learns is that it takes a lot of trust to get onto someone’s feet and trust she will not be dropped by her base (or that her spotter “has” her)! The base often has to also trust that the flyer will move with awareness- so there is ease and safety in holding the flyer up. Let’s take the first pose most of us learn, which is “Front bird”- much akin to the position parents take with their children when doing “airplane”. The flyer has to lean his hips forward and give this weight to the base’s feet. The base then takes the weight (at the fulcrum of the hips), bending his or her knees and then extends through the knees and heels toward the sky. The flyer must hold a type of plank pose, only with uplifted chest and head.

Trust shows up, here, when the flyer “gives weight” to her base, literally and physically. The sensation of literally leaning my hips forward onto a bases feet, as they bend and receive my weight to push me up toward the sky takes trust. So many things could go wrong: the timing could be off, the base could tip me side to side, I could fall face forward; but with trust, the movement is possible and then so is the access to deeper trust. As trust grows between flyer and base, the practice is able to take on more and more risk, with more and more allowing and letting go. The process of getting there is what’s most illuminating: what gets in the way of our trust? Is there a way to build in safety along the way, so we can keep progressing? What do we need? Do we give ourselves permission to ask?  All of these questions could each be their own blog post (and very well may be :))

As massage practitioner, trust shows up as I also “give weight” to a client through the use of pressure. I lean into an unknown, quiet myself, and receive what is showing up. In that space there is co-creation, because what comes up will be different with each client. What comes up is what informs the work to be done in that session. If I come in trying to control, with my own idea of how a session should go, I could miss what is wanting to surface and the client may ultimately feel unheard- which breaks down trust. So, what emerges here is the issue of “control”- something I find often in the way of trust. The question becomes how am I not trusting myself, the client, the process? What am I trying to force, and why?

Lastly, how well one is able to receive a massage, that is, give his/her “weight” over to the therapist (once it has been deserved), is where I have found trust shows up most potently as a client. I am as much a client as I am a practitioner, so I will speak from my experience. When receiving massage,  I have been present to magic most when I give preliminary boundaries, i.e. where I am feeling the pain or tension, what my goal is for the session, and then literally let go of an outcome and give over my weight, (which can physically show up in the practice of not guarding or controlling my limbs when she moves them) practicing trust in my therapist. In my allowing, I am creating a space for the therapist to step into with me, again co-creater, where more is possible as we both discover what is true in each unfolding moment- I have found its not always what we thought it would be.

A most potent example I’ve had of this recently was when I was receiving a massage treatment for whiplash. I know the way I showed up for the session changed the way the session went (grounded, spacious internally), and I know that because this therapist practices mindfulness (again, a practice in trusting the present moment), we were able to meet in a realm where true healing happened on more than just the physical level. She was working on the left side of my neck and at one point passively rotated my head over my left shoulder- nothing fancy but indeed intuitively guided. At the time, I felt the significance of this action, but couldn’t put together why- only that it was some kind of completion of an action I hadn’t been able to complete at the time of my accident. My therapist also knew something significant happened- and she too didn’t know how or why, only that it had happened. We only both knew there was magic and healing. After the treatment, as we processed, she said that she had given up trying to “fix” the issue (because we had been working on this chronic pain for a while), which implies a letting go of outcome and a trust in the unfolding of what would happen. We had gone into the session to address the pain and tension in my neck- and allowed for whatever else was there to show up. And because there was space and trust, an invitation was made, and the traumatic energy that was underneath the pain in my neck was safe enough to surface. Days or so later, my brain caught up and I realized it was because when I saw that the car was coming toward my left rear end, I had turned myself forward and braced for the impact, literally not knowing if I would make it through that accident because of the high speed of the car. I couldn’t turn my head to the left to watch.

There are many pathways to healing, and the body- with its mysterious way of holding memory and trauma (literally our muscles and blood vessels constrict with any kind of fight or flight sensation) is a powerful gatweay into healing. Whether it be in the exhilaration of being held in the air by strong feet or holding and co-creating safe space between therapist and client; in any practice, if we allow, let go, lean in, our souls will lean toward healing like a plant toward light, seeking higher and higher organization. It seems that deep connection and coherence become available in the opening… the softening into practice.


Structural Integration- Session 7 (2/2012)

Session 7 in the Structural Integration progression focuses on aligning the upper body, bringing about a second completion within the 10 sessions- that of the core. The upper body within this session consists of the shoulder girdle, which is made up of our clavicles and scapulas (shoulder blades as most people know them), our arms, the sternum to which the clavicles attach, and then the neck and head. The shoulder girdle is literally like a yoke placed over our ribcage and imbalance here not only greatly affects our upper back and chest, but also moves up to the neck and head. For example, some people are very “glued” down in the pectoral muscles, which are attached at the clavicles. This drags the clavicles down, which then in turn drags the anterior neck, and the rest follows. The neck and head placement is also greatly affected by our thoracic (the spinal section where our ribs attach) spine, as many neck/head muscles attach here- some going all the way down to the pelvis (the erector spinae longissimus). If there is an aberrated curve in the thoracic spine, it is bound to aberrate the cervical curve, putting lots of strain on the neck muscles. Also, it is important to note that the cervical curve mimics the lumbar (low back) curve- aberration here translates through the whole spine. So, in earlier sessions, the lumbar back was addressed, bringing it more into alignment and changing the relationships between the spinal curves- oftentimes clients will start to feel discomfort in their necks between sessions because their lumbar spine has been moved into alignment, while the cervical spine is still hanging out there. Session 7 completes the work, bringing the head (the top of the vertical column) into alignment with the pelvis (the bottom of the vertebral column).

Perhaps the most fascinating (and perhaps notorious) hallmark of this session is the inner mouth and nose work. There are many important muscles within the skull, affecting the alignment of the head/neck, that cannot be released other than from the inner skull outward. For example, releasing the root of the tongue effects the hyoid muscles under our jaw, which is closely related with our cervical vertebrae. Building on that, there are muscles on either side of our jaws called the pterygoid, which, if they are too tight, can pull the jaw out of alignment and cause TMJ. We can release the pterygoid through manual manipulation within the mouth, but can only release the other end by entering the nose and releasing it indirectly via the sphenoid cranial bone. Entering the nose in this way also releases our third diaphragm (the first is within our pelvis, second is the one we breathe with), which then allows the head to “float” up into alignment. Lastly, after the oral and nose work, the facial muscles in general just have a new energy about them and are allowed to express more freely.

It is hard to avoid how personal this session was for me, as it has been the most revealing. I am not sure if it is due to the culmination of the other sessions it represents, revealing the depth and profundity of the work, or the fact that it was the most healing for me to receive it. During this session, I had an emotional release, which allowed me to go deeper into healing an old trauma I had experienced. It was profound to me that not only did my partner sense and know what the trauma was (intuitively/energetically) way before I did, but also that my body knew- way before my mind caught up. It wasn’t until I was standing up after the session for postural analysis did I start to cry and at that moment had no idea why. Afterward, I was struck by the accuracy of my partners insight, that she picked this message up from my body, and that my body spoke this truth in the first place. It was as if my body got in the drivers seat in that moment and said, I know its scary to speak this verbally, so let me; I will tell the truth. It seems the truth of our wounds are in our bodies, and in one way or another, they will find a way out. I guess we choose if it will be in a healing way or a destructive way. Later on, as I processed the content of the release, I felt a supreme gratitude to my body for, again, restoring my faith that it is on my side. It was right there for me, ready to help me heal, keep me on that trajectory, reminding me that always, always we move toward healing if we just let ourselves. It is as natural a trajectory as a plant moving toward the light. It is part of our make up; it is in our cellular intelligence. And for me, this is profound. I feel blessed to be learning a modality that can bring people into such deep healing.

To weave in another piece, I had also just read a chapter in Ida Rolf’s book that reinforces this idea of a healing trajectory, as it discusses why and how this work seems to shift people into a deeper state of being. In it, she posits that perhaps we have an indestructible blueprint of an energy body in addition to our physical body, around which our matter can be organized and draws its intelligence from. When our bodies are misaligned and disorganized, there is a confusion that expresses itself on a molecular, energetic level in our bodies and translates into how we hold ourselves in space (and it seems to be relational- that how we hold ourselves also translates to the molecular level). She posits further that, Structural Integration, in releasing the fascia to return to its natural place of balance, seems to allow our matter to re-organize itself around this energy body- blueprint, thereby allowing us to come more deeply into balance or beingness. I have found that my experiences (and many of the experiences of my classmates and practice partners) speak directly to this hypothesis and confirm not only the depth of this truth, but also brings forth the question of what is made possible through harnessing this great capacity of ours to heal, grow, and live more fully. In closing this note, I thought this quote appropriate:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you”- Gnostic Gospel

August 4, 2015 0 Comments

Structural Integration- Session 6 (2/2012)

In session 6 of the Structural Integration progression, we “speak” to the nervous system more directly than in previous sessions due to its focus on the sacrum. The sacrum has been called the “seat of the soul” due to the fact that it houses a vital nerve plexus which has major effects on the autonomic nervous system (again implicating that any aberration here can effect the ANS). In session 4, we started the core work by coming up into the pelvis from below, in session 5 we released the major pelvic muscles, and in session 6 we begin to move out of the core and into how it relates to the upper body via the spine. According to Ida Rolf, the sacro-lumbar junction is key to how a spine will function. Any aberration here, and the rest of the spine is affected. One of the most common aberrations at the sacro-lumbar junction is found in the anterior pelvic tilt posture (the psoas is also involved with this posture, and release of it can greatly reduce it). In this posture, not only does the pelvic basin lose its ability to properly contain abdominal contents (often causing a “potbelly” look), but there is also increased pressure at the sacro-lumbar junction. It seems to be a common place for disc failure- as it can become quite compressed. Session 6 frees the sacrum and elongates the spine in such a way that compromised discs in the vertebral column can heal themselves. In releasing the sacrum, we address the gluteal muscles which can rotate the sacrum, the hamstrings which can pull the pelvis and therefore the sacrum from below,  the tissue surrounding the coccyx, which is at the very end of the sacrum, and lastly our spine, which connects at the top of the sacrum. When the work is done, we should see movement ripple from the sacrum up through the spine as a person walks via the erectors (the large muscles that run parallel on either side of our spine and suspend us upright).

The biggest take away from session 6,  for myself and my classmates, seemed to be the incredible lift in the trunk of the body via the spine elongation. Many of us literally looked taller and leaner, as if somehow our abdominals were pulled in. I noted within the next few days that my belly looked pulled in (seeming to finish the psoas work from session 5) and the vertical of my body was more obvious. I also felt greater lift and ease of movement. A lot of focus was given to how to walk in a more integrated way in this session also. I literally am learning how to walk again- picking up my thigh/knee and placing my foot on the ground, heel, ball, toes, and feeling like I can glide more instead of stomp. Before, it  was a lot of work to get myself to walk properly, stand properly, sit properly. As the days pass, I can feel my body becoming more aware of itself in space, and how it is learning to re-settle itself properly back into alignment naturally (which I notice most in static postures), as if remembering a whole new consciousness that maybe it just forgot, or never learned. It is helping to restore a faith I didn’t know I lost in my body. I, like many, became so used to my body’s shortcomings, the things I felt it couldn’t do- yet struggled to make it do- and blamed myself when it “failed” me. I realize now I couldn’t have achieved that perfect posture no matter how hard I tried- because my body literally wasn’t free to. With proper function gradually being restored, I realize it is something I didn’t even “know” I had lost. Something so overlooked in our culture and undervalued, and yet fundamental. But my body knows, and it is happy.

August 4, 2015 0 Comments