Integrative Bodywork: The VastRoot Approach

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The first question anyone asks when they find out I’m a Certified Massage Therapist is “What type of massage do you practice?” The term I use is Integrative Bodywork – a compact name for an expansive concept. It usually requires more explanation and that’s great! I love my work and jump at the chance to share it.

So what does “Integrative Bodywork” actually mean? To integrate is to unite one or more distinct parts into a whole. “Integrative” is the adjective form and is often used to describe fields characterized by a holistic, inclusive, and unifying approach (i.e., nutrition, thinking, and medicine).

definition of integrative

Integrative health/medicine combines conventional and “alternative” healing methods, with an aim to support a patient’s entire person (mind, body, & spirit) and promote optimal health. The dominant healthcare model in the West stands in stark contrast to this – focused more on a compartmentalized view of the body and disease management.

A full article on integrative healthcare is beyond the scope of this post, so if you want to learn more check out “What Is Integrative Health?” by Dr. Meg Jordan. It’s a great primer on what I believe is the most promising path for the future of our communities. But now, back to VastRoot…

As for “bodywork”, Wikipedia writes “In alternative medicine, bodywork is any therapeutic or personal development technique that involves working with the human body in a form involving manipulative therapy, breath work, or energy medicine.” Well there you go, pretty straightforward. At VastRoot, bodywork means therapeutic massage, yoga, and breath work.

As an Integrative Bodywork practice, VastRoot’s approach is defined by some core values:

The Whole You

Only a holistic approach takes into account the full beauty that is You. 

First and foremost, I work holistically because you are a whole person and your body reflects your whole life. Your entire being gets on my table, not just your body.

Your structural, breathing, stress and movement patterns are, in part, products of your experiences, feelings, and beliefs. Your body is literally carrying the residues and evidence of all your emotions, memories, and life lessons. And let’s not forget, your body is home to an active mind and your radiant soul!

You are a wondrous interplay of body, mind, and spirit and it’s impossible to touch one and not the others.

Second, your physical body is not just an arrangement of muscles to me. It is an amazingly complex, mind-boggling network of interconnected systems, tissues, chemicals and electrical impulses that function simultaneously and interdependently. Massage therapy affects every physiological system you have – nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, lymphatic/immune, digestive, urinary, integumentary, endocrine, craniosacral, and musculoskeletal. Thorough consideration of the full picture is important for a safe session and my intake process reflects this. So yes, you really do have to fill out my medical intake form. 😉

Science + Intuition = Creativity

The artistry of a massage lies in the endless combinations of skilled, therapeutic touch. 

During a session, my methods are both scientific and intuitive. Techniques are chosen based on what you tell me during intake, what I feel beneath my hands, an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, and what I visually and intuitively sense from you from the moment you walk in the door. While my hands are assessing your muscle tissues, my mind is paying close attention to your mood, breath, and sounds and I’m sensing your flow of subtle energy. You may be lying quietly and motionless, but your body and I are having a profound conversation.

That conversation changes each time I see you. You and your body are different everyday and what you need may differ from session to session. I have many different modalities to choose from and I intuitively and often spontaneously mix and match techniques from them all.

The Breath is Key

The breath is the bridge between the mind and the body.

As a practicing yogi, I view the breath as manifestation of life force, or prana (or qi, as it is known in Chinese medicine). I encourage clients to begin with several rounds of full, slow breathing to direct attention inward, prime the body for deep relaxation, and invigorate the energies that stagnate when we fail to fully engage the diaphragm.

Full inhalations and long exhalations signal the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s natural antidote to the havoc that daily stress causes. Bringing intention into that process engages the mind-body connection, allows you to notice spaces of tension in your body, and reminds you of your natural capacity to release them.

Throughout the session, I watch your breathing closely and follow its rhythm to create a pace to my movements that resonates with you unconsciously. The flow and depth of your breathing is an indicator of your internal activity and when we discover difficult spaces, it can often become unconsciously strained or shallow. When that happens, I may prompt you to take a deep breath to literally “re-mind” you to engage the breath, resume your rhythm despite the discomfort, and invite spaciousness to tight areas.

The effects of breath-work are fast and powerful and incorporating it into a massage adds a deeply therapeutic layer to the experience. We are supporting your innate and highly effective ability to stay mindful and self-soothe, skills that directly contribute to the creation of serenity in your daily life.

Collaboration & Communication

You are not a passive witness to your healing, you are an active participant.

In the integrative health philosophy, the practitioner-client relationship is one of equanimity. I am not an all-powerful expert coming to “fix” you, the passive recipient of my knowledge and skill.

You and I are equals and I have as much to learn and benefit from you as you do from me. The nature of each encounter is one of mutual respect and collaboration.

As a partner in this work, your job is to talk to me about what is going on in your body. As much as I can learn from your body without words, I can’t feel your sensations or hear your thoughts. Communication is crucial, especially as we work in uncomfortable spaces of tension or difficult emotion. Many clients refrain from speaking up if the pressure is too great, a spot is too tender, or when emotions welling up from within begin to overwhelm them. Some people fear offending their therapist, or coming across as picky or demanding, but those are the times when communication is most important!

I say this firmly: It is your body, your session is your time, and you are always in total control.

I am present only to facilitate your needs and have no agenda of my own. Plus, the tension that pain creates prevents the relaxation that makes your internal healing possible. In my opinion, nothing should hurt more than you can tolerate, and any practitioner who pushes you past your stated threshold is not a practitioner you should continue to see.

It’s your job to dictate your own healing and my responsibility to interpret and adapt within your boundaries. But none of that is possible without communication, so speak up.

YOU are the Real Healer

All healing is self-healing.

This might come as a surprise, but the truth is that while health practitioners are invaluable, you are the real healer.

Everyone needs help to boost their capabilities sometimes and it’s a blessing to find a trained practitioner to support you. But I don’t care if you see the best doctor in the world – what they are doing is facilitating your own internal healing mechanisms. Healing is ultimately an internal process and whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual, it happens within you.

The Western medical model is also a capitalist one and it’s in the industry’s interest that we continue to turn to pharmaceuticals and countless specialists to heal us. However the truth is that the scientific community is well aware that the human body and mind is able to heal from all kinds of trauma and disease without any intervention at all. The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon that demonstrates the amazing power of the mind to heal the body, and yet we routinely dismiss it!

My point is that wellness is well within your reach, not because you are so capable that you can achieve anything (even though you are!), but because wellness is already inside you. We must stop seeking outside ourselves for external solutions, and instead turn inward to re-connect with our inner healer, re-ignite our fires of resilience, and above all BELIEVE in our own capacity to create health.

Most of us need some help to get re-acquainted with our personal power, bodily wisdom, and intrinsic sources of strength. And so the healthcare practitioner re-enters the picture. But never forget that at the end of the day YOU are the real healer.

*****

Yes, Integrative Bodywork is absolutely about deep relaxation, reversing the effects of chronic stress, relieving pain, boosting immune function and all the other wonderful benefits of massage therapy. But in the bigger picture, it’s about giving yourself the support you need to reclaim power over your body and feel the richness of being alive with every cell of your being.

This work is so full of honor that sometimes I can’t believe I have the opportunity to do it. Gratitude and joy infuses every moment I spend with my clients.

To all the beautiful people who have discovered the wonder and potential for transformation that results from our collaboration, I thank you endlessly. To those who are new to VastRoot, I leave you with this:

Consider that within you lies a seed of human potential, defined by pure love, strength, and vigor for life. It is the seed of health and happiness within us all and it aches to be nurtured. To improve your mind, body, and life, look inward to find yourself and believe that what lies there is capable and worthy of infinite, unconditional love. Nourish your center, ground in your body’s wisdom, and prepare for limitless growth.

What you seek is already within you, waiting to be unearthed.
Get Rooted, Grow Vast!

Yours, in awe…

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