I Visited An Integrated Bodyworker — Here’s What Happened
I laid flat on my back, legs splayed out in front of me. Juliet Maris – a total stranger up until thirty minutes prior – hovered overhead, encouraging me to pretend like I was stopping a flow of urine. I tightened up in a way that felt appropriate. “Am I doing this right?” I asked hopefully. She smiled, “Well, I can’t exactly see into your uterus. How do you feel?” I released a big belly breath of air and laughed. This was going to be interesting.
This exercise – however amusing it is to reflect back on – wasn’t for my entertainment. It was a part of a series of pelvic floor strengthening movements prescribed by Juliet to help target some of the body alignment issues she’d diagnosed at the start of our session. At this point, I guess I should explain: Juliet is an integrated bodyworker, and I had come to see her get her opinion on, well, my body. If you’re not familiar with what an integrated bodyworker is, fear not – I personally had no idea what the heck her professional title really meant prior to our meeting. In short, integrated bodyworkers – and Juliet in particular – are sort of like body therapists, with their goal being to both alleviate and prevent bodily pain through a variety of strategies (yoga, massage therapy, talk therapy), thus getting your body into optimal alignment. In Juliet’s case, she also integrates various modalities – including Ayurveda, Reiki, Thai and Swedish massages – to create truly holistic treatment solutions for her clients. If this all sounds sort of confusing, it’s absolutely not – quite oppositely, there is an effortless cohesiveness to the way Juliet works.
At the risk of losing you, I’ll veer away from the more abstract and discuss my recent personal experience with Juliet. I arrived at her light-filled office early one Friday morning, filled out some information about myself, and then stood in front of her, shoes off, while she circled me slowly. She thoroughly scrutinized my posture – touching my back, measuring my hips – and after a couple of minutes of sweating it out, had me sit back down. Regarding my body’s alignment, she had a succinct and rather enlightening assessment. For one, she pointed out that I stand with locked, hyperextended knees. I would learn that this personal quirk – a distinctive part of my posture that I had never questioned – was negatively influencing my body in many ways, from messing up the curve in my spine (when your knees are locked, they don’t create a normal, natural curve) to putting unnecessary strain on my neck. It also meant my core wasn’t as strong as it could be, my hip joints were hyperextended, and my pelvis was pushed forced and titled backwards. (Not natural. Yikes.)
Next, she pointed out that I seem to heavily favor my right side and naturally stood with my right hip pointed out. This observation made complete sense. When I was a teenager – right in the middle of a major growth spurt – I broke my left leg badly. I never fully rehabbed it and, consequently, my right leg is much stronger than my left. This one-sided favoritism meant lopsided alignment and created weakness in my lower outer leg muscles. Fun!
Sobering assessment done, we then dove into some strengthening routines aimed to directly address my postural problems and get me aligned. One sought to remedy both my lock-knee tendencies and even out my leg imbalances using yoga blocks. (It was surprisingly hard, I learned, to stand with soft knees.) We also did some of the aforementioned pelvic floor work, some deep breathing exercises, and some body manipulations which kind of hurt, but in a really good way. Throughout, I found it fascinating the way Juliet integrated emotional and spiritual therapy tactics into the session. She noted that my left side (my weak side) is, according to the principles of Reiki, the feminine side, associated with emotion, nurturing, and loving.
She wondered aloud if there was a reason why this side was more depleted; was there anything in my personal history that could account for this? This made me laugh at first – kind of depressing that my feminine, loving side was depleted – but, when I began to think seriously about it, I felt a chill. When I had hurt that leg, I was recovering from losing my only sibling, a brother. During this time, I was attempting to put a brave face for the world and for myself. I struggled to admit that I was deeply wounded by the loss and hated talking about it. As such, the fact that my right side dominated during that time – and thereafter – isn’t all that surprising. This was just one of several instances where Juliet’s holistic approach offered some real insights and opportunities for healing.
Juliet finished off my session with a truly amazing neck massage, noting that I had a lot (like, a lot) of tension in my neck. She also pointed out that my breathing was shallow, which is usually an indicator of stress. Yet again, her observations initially struck me as funny and further proof that I’m a stressed-out mess. But she continued, noting that, according to the principles of Ayurveda, if the throat chakra is distressed, neck pain can manifest. The throat chakra, she explained, is associated with creativity, communication, and honesty. “Are you having trouble expressing yourself – creatively or otherwise?” she asked. I thought about it.
Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses is not saying what I really feel and bottling my anxieties up. (Again, this tactic was pretty much adopted promptly after my brother died.) So, yes, I always feel like I somewhat struggle to open up. Moreover, the most cathartic thing for me – aside from talking about my feelings – is expressing myself creatively. For me, that has always been through personal and creative writing – like, I’m talking about writing in a diary. Admittedly, I had been doing very little of that lately. So while I’m not necessarily a devotee of Ayurveda, I did find this perspective really instructive.
I cannot explain how wonderful of an experience seeing an integrated bodyworker was for me. What’s more, I came to realize that a lot of the principles that underlie Juliet’s practice are core to the S.W. Basics philosophy, too. That’s to say, we believe that our bodies are complex and many elements compose the whole. So, for example, if you’re stressed out, that might manifest itself in neck pain or in a breakout. You can take Advil or apply a zit cream to remedy the symptoms, but the problem still exists. To heal, you must seek out and fix the root cause. As such, I believe Juliet’s – and S.W. Basics’ – perspective is not just valuable in helping us look better, it’s the key to making us feel better.
Yoga blocks – my new BFFs
Since my appointment with Juliet, I’ve been doing plenty of pelvic floor movements, taking lots of deep breaths, and writing more journal entries. I already feel less stressed. Hopefully my posture – internal and external – continues to improve.