For the last few years it seems like every yoga class, washroom and coffee shop I go to, people are dropoin' the "bodywork" word left, right and centre. One late, internet-land night I decided to do a little research and typed, "what is bodywork" into google.
Here's what it said:
1. Bodywork is a term used in alternative medicine to describe any therapeutic or personal development technique that involves working with the human body in a form involving manipulative therapy, breathwork, or energy medicine.
Awesome. About as helpful as asking google "what is love.” So I tabled that search for meaning for a few years. But like all good quests for meaning, they always have a way of sneaking back into our consciousnesses. A few serendipitous things happened and I found myself receiving some of this illustrious bodywork (reiki, accupressure, jin shin do, lomi-lomi, etc). However, I never really stopped to question why or how or acknowledge that I had, myself, become a bodywork user. I did, however, start to slowly accept the role of energy in this mystical world.
Then, almost one year ago, my life got shooken right up. I suffered a serious injury to my neck that was both physical and energetic in nature. I wont get into the details, but it wasn't pretty. Alongside my physical and neurological symptoms, my chief concern was the anxiety and vertigo that accompanied not being able to feel my limbs. A lot of the physical injury cleared quickly but the fear remained and manifested itself in a big way.
Of course, the kinesiologist, virgo, ex-varsity athlete, problem-solver me wanted answers and I wanted them NOW. I wanted a diagnosis, a few physio exercises, some NSAIDS and to get back to my 4-jobs, daily power-vinyasa, over-achieving lifestyle by the end of the week. Turns out, the universe had other plans for me...
This whole process, and I say process because it certainly is not complete (and never will be for that matter), has taught me a hell of a lot more than can possibly be contained this blog post. It has also helped me to answer, or un-answer, “what is bodywork.”
Sure, it's easy(easier) to believe in energy and to feel the benefits of shoulder stand from your twenty-something fit and able-bodied self. But how do you practice this when all of a sudden you can't sweat out your fears, backbend your heart into answers, run 10kms away from your problems or stay in headstand for clarity? Aren't these the tools I had practiced so hard to serve me in life's challenges? I found myself resentful of this once sacred energy, this connecting to the divine through the physical body and I couldn't keep on pretending to fart lotuses (to quote one of my favourite teachers). I was mad at yoga.
So, like I always do, I did everything- physiotherapy 3x/week, chiropractor, massage, x-rays, doctors’ appointments galore. Nothing worked. Nothing. Even my doctor couldn't understand how I could clear a CT scan with flying colours and have such limited mobility in the joints and muscles of my neck.
Then, (through another serendipitous encounter), this "bodywork" stuff reappeared in my life. First, from a yoga student who emailed me out of the blue saying she felt called to gift me some healing. During my time with her I felt things I never knew were possible- I felt anger, fear, joy, and little pulses of electricity that made me feel simultaneously more alive and more relaxed then I ever felt (I should add, her bodywork is so gentle, she barely touched me). All that potent bodywork and energy, I was convinced I would hop right off that table magically fixed, and be back to advanced inversions by dinner time. And then I wasn't. Fiercely disappointed that I hadn't been handed a miracle on a silver platter, I left our session feeling more anger. However, like all things good, real, and magical, healing is not a linear process and integration doesn't happen in a line.
After some anger, vertigo, sadness, more anger and a small divorce from practicing and teaching yoga all together, I decided I needed to do something to un-funk myself. I said to one of my teachers, I can’t practice yoga anymore. To which she replied, no- you can’t practice yoga the way you’re used to. Those words really stuck with me. It pushed me to break out of my one-track asana mind and explore the other 7 limbs. I started attending restorative classes (admittedly practiced yoga for 10 years and not once took a restorative class), yin classes, kirtan, reading, meditating, pranayama, practicing some of the kriyas, and walking my dog in the forest A LOT. For a few months I was so limited in what I could do without getting “the spins” as I call it, that all I could do was walk. Through this practice of doing “less,” I learned more about myself than I knew was possible.
I digress from the “what is bodywork question” but here is where it all comes together. This quote pretty much sums things up:
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” –Dr. Seuss
Over the holidays, a long time friend, Sarah Harvie, offered to give me some bodywork. She explained that bodywork is different for everyone and to everyone. She uses a combination of yoga nidra, massage therapy, cranio-sacral, guided meditation and somatic emotional release. After my session with her, I don’t really give a shit what you want to label it. I set an intention to let go of my fear and Sarah worked with me on a deep level. I felt safe and relaxed the entire time. The things that had previously surfaced for me in my other bodywork session seemed to integrate and I felt an understanding in my body that I didn’t need to think about or put words to in my mind. In a state of deep relaxation and complete surrender to my fears I felt tears streaming down my face without feeling an ounce of sadness or any cognitive awareness I was crying. I wasn’t “crying” per say, I was releasing emotional trauma that had manifested itself physically. I let go of anger, I let go of fear and I felt an enormous releasing of the muscles in my neck; it was as if my cervical spine could breathe again.
I have to admit, as soon as she left the room I started moving my head around a lot (despite her advice to move slow and chill out). I hadn’t been able to put my neck in any degree of extension (aka- looking up) for months. Although I was excited with my new found range of motion I didn’t feel the urge to jump back into a powerful asana practice full-force. I have regained a lot of my mobility and could probably safely return to my old practice routine, but I am finding myself enjoying some of the sweeter and simpler things life has to offer me. Some days my yoga practice is lying over my bolster and breathing, I now feel excited about this instead of guilty. I like the soft spot I have acquired on my belly. I love my 2-hour restorative class with a bunch of 60+ year-olds I now attend once a week. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up and feel differently; but for now I am finding Santosha (contentment) in a more sustainable practice and I believe this is my work.
So perhaps google’s answer that bodywork is "any therapeutic or personal development" is more accurate than I thought. Maybe we don’t need to label it or define it anymore than that. Maybe bodywork is walking your dog in the forest, who am I to say?
Check out Sarah Harvie Integrative bodywork here.