This isn’t the first time that I’ve been utterly taken by surprise with an educational course, and I hope it won’t be the last. I remember entering the first yoga teacher training that my wife, Ginny, held ten years ago when she had finally registered ReFlex Arts as a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance. She wanted me in her class to provide feedback on her teaching and to help her remember the names of the 19 enrollees. I wanted to take the class to become more flexible.
I got so much more than I bargained for. Yoga helps with physical flexibility, of course, but it’s so much more than that. I gained mental, emotional, and spiritual flexibility. I learned breath control and meditation techniques, but more importantly, I learned what to use them for—to pursue self-examination, detachment from distractions, focus on the true Self, honest and enlightened awareness of how I see myself and how I interact with others.
Along my path since then, I’ve gotten 500-level training, and become a Reiki master, and taught more than a thousand students some of what I know and have learned. I get better as a yogi with time, because I’m paying attention and doing the work. So recently I decided to move forward with another aspect of training and get schooled in massage therapy.
Honestly, I did this so that I could legally perform Reiki (for compensation) in the State of Florida. Florida is one of the only states that does not allow Reiki practitioners to perform treatments unless they hold a license to do bodywork (massage therapy, physical therapy, or occupational therapy). As a founding member of the Florida Reiki Association, and as a person who has attuned and trained well over a thousand students of Reiki in the past seven years here at Heartwood, it seemed unconscionable that I had to turn down the many requests I’ve had from people who wanted me to work with them to help them heal problems. So I began Massage Therapy training at Manatee Technical College. And that’s where the surprises began.
First of all, the facility was incredible. The staff, the building, the programs, the students, and the teachers were wonderful in various ways. My instructor, Nancie Yonker, is a handful of years younger than I am but she’s devoted most of her life to massage. She used to instruct at Sarasota School of Massage, teaching there for seven years, and then did a couple year stint at Keiser, and finally got brought in to MTC to help them develop their program there. Denver got her training at Sarasota School of Massage, and I can attest to how much skill she has due to that wonderful education, but I feel I got at least as much for much, much less tuition.
I have a respectable medical background, having worked five years as a paramedic and I also was one of the first five certified Emergency Cardiac Technicians in Illinois. But I learned so much about anatomy—not just the muscles and bones and tissues, but about cell operations and subtle energy and chemical reactions and how and why we do what we do as we move through life—that I not only passed my medical board exam on the first try, I now have a ton of material I feed into Heartwood’s newly accredited yoga therapy training. Before this, I knew what muscles and bones were moving and operating throughout each yoga posture. Now I know exactly what is going on under the skin as I touch and move and manipulate all the tissues of the body. I know the names of virtually every obscure little muscle, but more importantly, I know how to relax them, or make them stronger, or make a client more aware of them.
And what really surprises me is how much I love doing the work! To feel a client’s resistance to movement melt away under my touch, or to see the relaxation grow into a client’s features, or to sense the body’s internal rhythms slow and relax or quicken and strengthen as I work become amazing affirmations of what properly-done techniques can mean to help another human being become better at living in their skin.
And some of the adjunct therapies took me by surprise as well. Debi Kleer, a fellow student, is an old friend of mine who was trained in reflexology when she lived in South Africa. She needed a massage therapy license to pursue that career here in the USA. I never much cared for reflexology since my feet are really sensitive to touch—my only ticklish spot, and I find walking barefoot on gravel or shell excruciating—but we had a visitor to class, Sam Belyea, who is known as the foot whisperer. He opened our eyes to the way reflex points on the feet and hands can actually be used to diagnose conditions and suggest treatments. He and Debi speak the same language, so she was a step ahead of all of us, but we got a chance to experience what reflexology can do. I’m not inclined to pursue this therapy myself; I’ll leave it to Denver, who does it here, and Debi, who does it elsewhere. But it was fascinating to see it in action.
And then I love Thai massage. We had gotten some training previously in Thai massage by Joni Masse, and it whetted my appetite, but I knew we couldn’t legally do it here with a license, even if we were going to call it Thai Yoga or something like that. We have too much at stake to risk losing Heartwood over trying to skirt the law. So Ginny set up a plan to ship Denver and me to Thailand, enrolling us in their famous massage institute at Chiang Mai, one of the few that are fully accredited in the USA. We were planning to go in September and stay long enough to get certified to teach massage and herbal applications, and then come back to set up a legitimate teaching system here at Heartwood and add another skill set to our practices. But, Covid… Those plans are on hold until next year.
The adjunct therapy that really did speak to me, however, was craniosacral therapy. We had a guest teacher come in and demonstrate for us, and let us work on each other a tiny bit, and that was enough to whet my appetite to learn more. All that time doing Reiki shares and attunements and demonstrations have given my hands a wonderful sensitivity and I was easily able to feel the delicate craniosacral rhythms in a client’s head and feet. I decided to enroll in training with the Upledger Institute, founded by Dr. John Upledger, an orthopedic surgeon, and become certified in CST. The training was so much more than I had anticipated. Not only did I learn the science behind this gentle practice—involving pressures on parts of the body that are never more than 5 grams, about the weight of a common nickel, that coax the body into helping itself resolve issues on all different levels—I learned techniques to make this work very effectively for clients.
When I took the training, my massage partner, Bernadette Brelsford, a fellow student and a practicing esthetician, performed a practice 10-step protocol on me, with particular attention to my right shoulder, which had been quite painful for almost nine months after a fall from a ladder while working on my barn roof. Shortly after the session concluded, I discovered that my shoulder pain was totally gone. “I’m a healer!”, Bernadette responded happily. Well, along the way, I’ve been discovering that I can help clients achieve similar results for themselves. It amazes me each time these ever-so-subtle pressures can wreak such remarkable results, but as time goes on and I gain more experience, I am starting to expect these things rather than be surprised by them.
I didn’t become an overnight convert to yoga, and neither did I dive passionately headlong into massage for its own sake. Both surprised me with how much they have affected my life. Yoga has turned into a lifelong learning path. I fully expect massage will be the same for me. I welcome the future with open arms and willing hands.