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.