Summer Musings on Connection, Quality of Touch and Embryonic Empathy
Summer living is quite fine I’d say. After teaching my spring class, I took a well deserved summer sabbatical from social media and teaching events. This centering, away from performance and towards my true essence, has been deeply nourishing. After two years of a very isolating pandemic, I chose to dedicate this summer to reignite my intrinsic ability for connection.
I have reconnected with myself and who I was before the pandemic. This has been a profound process of naming a facet of grief that I didn’t realize existed. Like everyone, I was grieving what was obvious – what I had lost. What I didn’t realize (and you might be able to relate) is that I was also grieving the version of myself that I lost as soon as Covid began. What ever happened to my playful, curious, explorative and spontaneous self? I discovered that she has just been waiting for me to take her hand and lead her into some amazing summer adventures!
Connection: with others and the great outdoors
We have all experienced great loss with the Covid pandemic and yet there has also been tremendous growth and change. Just as a storm carries seeds and transforms landscapes, Covid continues to transform and change us. Some of us introverted extroverts found ourselves surprisingly grateful for the solo time that the “shut downs” delivered to our lives. We had time to work on ourselves focus and get clear about our career paths, reconnect to our families, plant gardens, or watch episodes of Marie Kondo, and simplify our homes.
Eventually, though I’m pretty sure most of us can say that we have had more than enough alone time! Personally, my healing of this grief that I speak of has been found in connection with the great outdoors and attending workshops with folks, like myself, who are on a path of self actualization. I’m so excited to share my summer experiences with you!
Connection to nature has meant backpacking in the High Sierras. I climb up granite mountainsides until I am so winded and up so high that my exhales merge with the wind and my body is offered at the feet of the Great Earthscape, the ALL! I love that humbling feeling of the grand expanse. I can hear the wind’s ancient message as it whispers across miles of conifers and over granite peaks “You are small”.
Moments later, I witness a masterpiece of perfect reflection. I dive into the liquid mirror of a crystal clear, high mountain lake and the sky, rocks and trees morph gently into a watercolor-like turbulence by the ripples my body makes. The water sends a contrasting message in code-like echos across the surface of the water “You matter”.
A somatic dive
Speaking of water, I recently took a series of somatic movement workshops in water. I’m so excited to share my unique experience with you! I have been wanting to build my somatic skill set and deepen my listening skills and quality of touch and this summer’s water play was an amazing journey of self discovery!
As a pregnancy massage specialist, I am working on clients daily while little beings float in wombs of water before me. As a lymphatic massage therapist, I am often working with the tributaries of the body -the lymph. We come from water and are made up of water. Water is this holy, sacred element and yet so often we take it for granted in a kind of disconnect. These summer water workshops left me feeling connected and deepened my quality of touch.
The first classes I took were with John Delaplaine. John is an amazing aquatic bodyworker in California. Being floated and danced through the water by him is otherworldly. John’s spirit is so connected to the water that his moves are seamlessly fluid. That I could be moved by his strength through a 20 foot pool so effortlessly left me feeling like I had underwater superpowers! My body ribboned and twisted like seaweed -wound up and unwound again and again by the current. Then, in contrast, he would loosen his tone and take me into suspended stillness. In this suspended state, I felt the sense of safety that only an embryo might feel before being so rudely interrupted by anything or anyone from the not-water-world. I highly recommend working with this man of the waters. Who knows? He might even take you to Bali! Click here or on the photo to be redirected to his website.
Last week, I took another water course with Stell Bahrami and João Paulo Pereira. I met these two lovely somatic practitioners at SoulPlay festival and recently dropped in on “Sensoria”, a segment of their Liquify series. I’m bubbling like an excited mermaid to share my personal Sensoria account because I believe that life experience influences quality of touch and as an instructor of massage the big question after teaching my student/colleagues awesome new skills and steps is how to teach a deeper, exquisite quality of touch.
Water’s influence on quality of touch
I teach that ‘quality of touch’ is experiential and the more elements that one places one’s hands in, the better quality of touch that person will have. Personally, I have attributed my quality of touch to the years of putting my hands in art mediums: clay, paint, metal, wax, into soil as a gardener and hours of kneading dough back when I was a chef. Until now, I forgot what a huge role water has been on my life. Of course! Water plays a major role in quality of touch!
Fluid resistance and the sensory skills of touch
Water is a wonderful medium in which to practice the sensory skills of touch. The fluid resistance that water presents is truly unique in quality. Before entering the pool water, João guided us to the pools edge to initially just observe the water. How it sits, reflects, its color, movement. We floated our hands above the water to feel the air or anything we noticed above the water. Then, so slowly we touched the water. We noticed how it felt to move our hands in and out of the water. The way our wet hands felt cool now in the air. We also noticed the quality ripples and movement we created. Slowing down and noticing all of these wonderful details of water showed me how much I miss as a human plowing through life. Now I was being invited to slow down and float and wow, was it ever so healing!
Entering the pool, we were given nose plugs and guided through different somatic exercises. We floated solo and then supported each other. We could choose being blindfolded, eyes closed or holding a meditative gaze. Our movements were ever so slow so as not to harm ourselves and also to allow for the water to become a partner in movement.
Then, the invitation came for us to ‘jam’, similar to a contact dance jam. The ‘rules’: No use of opposable thumbs. You can hook with your feet, hands (like fins), elbows, etc. but no grabbing or using force. Tapping lightly lets a person know you need air and squeezing lightly at place of grip lets them know if they are gripping on you, which happens sometimes and can take way from the no-mind experience. Play with postural tone. Allowing the water to become a dance partner, one notices that the slightest muscular tone or release of one’s tone is enough to evoke significant movement. Play with breath: how you breath will affect your flotation and movement. These guidelines make for a magical experience of suspending and moving through water safely together in 3D space -totally free from strategy or thinking.
At some point I had to unplug from the large ‘circuit’ to satisfy the curiosity to observe and I saw twenty or so people moving through the water connecting and morphing into one entity, dividing into individual forms, then reconnecting together in the most beautiful water dance. It was totally mind blowing. Some of these participants had never done anything like this before and some were even afraid of water and there they were, moving in a total state of grace.
Where does movement begin?
My own experience as part of ‘the circuit’ was enlightening. At times I would discover another body -perhaps a foot or head. We would ‘dance’ becoming a pair, or triplet, or quintuplet and then inevitable separation of form followed as I was cast away into solo suspension. Floating solo, I noticed something very interesting. I first noticed that the concept of being alone can be accompanied by the great shadow of loneliness and yet all of it is an illusion of the mind because everything is connected, even when divided.
I also noticed that my movements were not necessarily coming from my mind. At times they were autonomic impulses and at others it was as if my soul was moving me and other times it felt that the movement of the community circuit is what moved me. Sometimes, I would find myself slowly spinning but I was not spinning myself purposefully and there was no one touching me. Then, I would slow to total stillness, floating blindfolded in this peaceful, suspended state -feeling the perspective from my souls’ seat. I observed myself: floating solo but not alone, being moved by the energy of the water and the community within the water. Then, just as happens in life, my solitary sense of peace and stillness would end and connection to other, object or current would begin. It might be that my direction would shift by gently contacting, then bouncing off the side of the pool. Or, I might be moved by the current of others or another being might make connection with me -a foot might hook behind my knee and their ever-so-slow movement would then alter my course. Suddenly, I would be in the mix again, morphing with others like cells -creating life together. Then I would be liberated, floating solo once again -in tranquility.
When vector dissolves
As massage therapists we are so often “toned up”. Sorry, I’m speaking in dance terms. Tone or ‘postural tone’ is the steady contraction of muscles that hold different parts of our skeleton in proper relation to constantly changing attitudes and postures of the body. Tone can be seen as the resistance between two dancers that can influence movement and shape of form. Sometimes we dancers strengthen our tone and at others we lighten it up. As a bodyworker, I can attest to having strong tone most of the day. I am also navigating the map I see and I move from one vector (direction of movement) to another as I unwind fascial restrictions. Amidst all of this strategy, there are moments when I release tone and set aside my vector. Those no-mind moments hold great significance because there is no strategy, no fixing, no repairing, no doing. In this state there is only pure presence within a sense of being, an emptiness that has the quality of fullness. If that emptiness had a voice it would say ‘all is’.
Deep Listening and Embryonic Empathy
This workshop definitely left me swimming in life’s poetic metaphors and asking many questions. Do we move through life or does it move us? Are we ever really alone? What happens to us as a community when we loosen our grip? How do we respond when our stillness is “disturbed”. Who is responding when my mind is completely still but my body is moving?
Such rich inquiry stemmed from this experience! When I returned to a week full of clients; pregnant clients and others -I was connecting more deeply than ever to the water element in us all and most profoundly to growing babies floating inside womb-pools, moved by the cells of their own soul circuit as these cells dance to become a human, bouncing off the walls of their perimeters, moved by current and impulses.
In Italian, the term sentirse “to feel” also means “to hear”. Deep listening is crucial to quality of touch and if anything can slow us down to do some deep listening I would have to say that the element of water is it. Find yourself in some water, take your time to get in, connect and listen!
My Fall class schedule is soon to be announced so please stay tuned!
I teach the following classes in Dynamic Fascial Response™ live and via zoom NCBTMB approved):
Pregnancy Massage Certification:
- Side-lying bodywork techniques: hip and low back
- Semi-reclined bodywork techniques: neck, intra-oral bodywork for TMJ, rotator cuff, carpal tunnel, lymphatic drainage
- Labor stimulation and support
- Postpartum bodywork (also addresses Scoliosis)
Alla Carte classes are available in all of the above
These classes are packed full of inspiring content for professional, practicing massage therapists and bodyworkers. Check out DFR student testimonials.