Archive for the ‘massage’ Category

Wet hair

Madre Angelita grew up near a river in Jose Maria, a village in the Sierra Norte.  She also grew up in two other ranchos and would live at one or the other or the third depending on the season and if the family needed to harvest, make cheese, or more closely tend the animals.  Her father lived in Jose Maria and was employed for many years as the municipal secretary. But he longed to work the land and walk in between his cows. And he missed his children. Angelita was happiest when her father was home and the family was reunited.

Angelita spent a lot of time in that river in Jose Maria. She and her sister would bathe in it and wash their long, thick hair that hung past their waist. One day when she was 12 years old, Angelita’s sister washed her straight, long, lustrous hair and went to sit on a chair.  She was particularly tired that day, and she fell asleep on the chair resting her head in a pillow of her own arms that she drapped in front of her on another chair.

The next day, all her hair fell out of her head! Why? I asked Madre Angelita. Because she fell asleep before her hair had dried, she answered. I asked Angelita if she believed that a person’s hair will fall out if they go to sleep with it wet, and she told me that she did.

When the sister’s hair began growing back, Angelita and her Tia made a poultice from white tomatoes. They rubbed the tomatoes on the sister’s head and left it there for hours.  When her hair grew back, it was curly.

Madre Angelita shared this story with me while I worked the knots out of her back. She’s too little and too old for the massage table, so she sat on the sofa and faced the wall, while I sat on the arm of the sofa, kneading and listening… absorbed and transcended by childhood memories tenderly wrapped and delivered in her sighing, sing-song voice.

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She was as hard as a corpse, and when I touched her, she trembled.  Some of us have turned into dry deserts, I told her. When the rain comes, there is no place for it to go, because the ground has never learned how to receive.

When offered compassionate touch, kindness leaves the body in the form of tears. Love overwhelms these women and they have no place to put it, even though it’s the thing they most need. But if they are heard and feel understood, a place opens up within where healing can enter and soften. Sometimes, this happens without words.

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Still movement

When I began going to massage therapy classes, I was most interested in Sport’s Massage. As a runner, I had been to a number of therapists and a session always meant pain and manipulating muscle. I was interested in the science of the body, and the way we’re all put together.

As I’ve experienced bodywork these past few years, I’m now more interested in the art of healing. I believe that healing takes place in the still moments.  If someone is brought to stillness and profound relaxation, their own body reaches back towards homeostasis, and the movement towards healing begins.

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She laid prone on the table, talking like a water fountain you can’t turn off. The table was drenched in words. Her parents kicked her out. Her mother was mean. She’s almost 40 going on 12. She won’t look you in the eye. Her head won’t stop hurting. It’s hurt for months. Maybe a year now. I looked to the Virgincita for compassion and grounding.

I asked her to turn supine. I asked her to imagine her mind a clear, blue sky, and wherever there is pain, there are dark clouds. Bring a small, steady wind to clear those clouds so that she can return her mind to clear blue. As she closed her eyes and visualized, she began to relax. The fountain stopped, her breathing deepened, her body loosened. I held the sides of her head for 20 minutes while the world stopped and transformed and released and renewed.

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Ground suffering

I meditate on this image when I massage the women. I like to think the Virgincita is comforting the Pope by grounding his suffering. She does so by seeing him and bearing witness to his pain. Not judging it, or making it disappear, but allowing it to be. This grounds his pain, so he can choose to release it.  She remains serene in the face of hardship, not taking any of it on herself, but making a place for it to come out into the light. Her hand rests so gently on his head. Nothing is forced here. He has come to her.

This serene Virgincita inspires me. When I massage the women, I lean on her example so that I might ground the suffering a woman in transition feels when the only constant she has in her life is the knowledge that her 5 year old son has two years to live. So that I might bear witness to the pain a 15 year old mother must feel when she herself lost her own mother. Her arms and legs are marked with self induced cuts, white scars on her dark, beautiful skin.  She doesn’t see her own beauty because it’s lost on her, somewhere beneath the cutting, the loss of freedom, the craving for someone to love her despite of it all, someone like a mother.

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I had a wonderful day at Buen Pastor yesterday.  More of the madres are requesting massage. Fortunately, it’s helping. We do arm rotation exercises and massage around the shoulder to keep this ball and socket joint limber. It’s great to see them loosening up and healthier these days. Another interesting experiencing was working with nerve pain. Using visualization and reiki, I worked with one of the madres to clear her chest and arm of radiating pain.  It was an eye opening experience for both of us.

I need to invest in a stool.  Some of the madres can’t get on the table.  So I place a filled suitcase for them to step on while I hold them to balance them as they maneuver the table. 

At one point, I went with Madre Lourdes for a walk downtown to buy some things. She’s one of those uplifting people who raise spirits simply by her presence. I truly admire her and cherish any time I get to spend with her.

In the afternoon, I listened to boy troubles, dried tears, and played Connect 4 and Jenga with the girls.  They love Connect 4 and are seriously improving their game as they learn strategy. I also got a chance to see Sara’s report card and congratulated her on raising all her grades since last year. It’s pretty amazing the effect that having a sponsor does to a girl’s grades.

Finally, I ended the day by giving Madre Patty her English lesson.  The sun had gone down and Fernando was still working on finishing up a numbers project.  So while he wrapped things up, I conversed with Madre Patty. She’s at the point where we can hold a conversation in English. She told me about Buen Pastor 30 years ago. Apparently, there were three times as many nuns, and they spent three times more time in prayer. Today, they “only” have time for 3 hours of prayer everyday. They pray in Latin. Madre Patty told me that when she first became a nun, she and the others were all given prayer books with Latin on the left and Spanish on the right, so that when they prayed, they would know what they were saying.  I found all of this fascinating.

We also talked about the differences between the words old, vintage, and antique. This lead to a conversation about the nun habit. Apparently, all the madres have vintage habits with long capes, flowing sleeves, and heavy material.  She explained them to me and they sound fantastic.  I’m hoping that one of these days, I can see a full outfit.  They don’t wear them anymore — but the madres do have them preserved in their closets.

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On a walk

I love this garden. It's always alone, abandoned, and overgrown.

A listening heart grounds suffering.

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Pastita, a neighborhood I would like to live in.

There have been a lot of firsts this week. I feel honored that I’ve been included in family discussions and have met some of the girls’ families. I hope to continue doing more of this as to help the girls, you have to start at home. Mothers hold the key. Their daughters will repeat the same story for generations. To break that cycle, you have to sit and learn the stories from the mother if they’re willing to share them. Only then do you have a strong starting point.

One of the shelter women let me work on her today. Another first. She suffers from severe headaches and neck pain but hasn’t accepted any form of bodywork until now. This young woman was severely abused by family members and neighbors since childhood. Her brothers, uncles, and father raped her from childhood. Her mother sold her to anyone who would pay. So you can imagine, she has issues with touch.

When Madre Catalina told me that she was willing to have me touch her neck and shoulders as long as Madre Cata was in the room and she was fully clothed, I thanked my fairy godmother. This first session was only 12 minutes long and she shook the entire time. I barely touched her and she would wince and pull away as if I were hurting her. I talked her through it and asked for permission when moving my hands. In the end, I practiced what I have been reading on Reiki so as not to touch her at all and interact with her energy field.

I hope she is willing to try again. This woman would so benefit in learning how to accept compassionate touch and develop appropriate trust. And I would so benefit from taking Laura Magpali’s reiki class this October in Eugene!

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Healing space

Yesterday was rewarding in terms of massage. It was the first time I practiced in my new massage room. A couple of weeks ago, I had asked Madre Lourdes if we could find another space for massage. The old room had a lot of traffic: people coming in and out, the television, the phone, and one of the madres who sat and watched me massage for hours. I thought a more private space would be conducive to relaxation and healing.

So Madre Lourdes and I walked the entire convent looking for a space and we found one. It’s small, but sweet.  The walls are a deep aquamarine blue and there is a picture of the Virgincita comforting the Pope. I like meditating on her as I work. He looks as though he is suffering, and although she is compassionate, her face registers acceptance more than any other characteristic. It’s as though she’s holding his pain, and by accepting it as it is, transmutes his suffering to grace.

This space worked well yesterday. I think it’s going to be a healing room. I already love the way it smells like Aveda and the big, beautiful, green leafy plant Madre Lourdes thought to put in the room.  I took pictures, but they aren’t any good.

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Everyone who knows Madre Elvira loves Madre Elvira.

I left Buen Pastor yesterday thinking that the day had been the best one of the year. I feel so fortunate to have community with the madres, the women, and the girls there. The place brings out the best in me. When you find people and places that do this, it’s magic.

In the morning, I gave three madres a massage.  It was the first time for the smallest madre, and she was hesitant at first. But the doctor recommended she have one and after Madre Lourdes insisted, we got her on the table. At the end, she was so relaxed and grateful. I bear-hugged her off the table as her feet couldn’t reach the floor. 

In the afternoon, I attended to each woman in the shelter. They were good at rotating and observing the time so I could get them all in and catch my bus in time. Each lady had 30 minutes dedicated to the body part of her choice. Even though it was just half an hour, I do believe they benefit greatly from the relaxation and from compassionate touch. One left her headache on the table, another a tight jaw, and a third, her upset stomach. When I work with the women, I imagine their tissues and their spirits knotted up like a head of long hair that needs a long and gentle combing. It’s one way to think of massage.

I’ve noticed that every time I arrive at Buen Pastor, one of the nuns who suffers from dementia discreetly ushers herself into the massage room and sits on the couch in front of the table. She watches me from there, gumming her lips, and I wonder if it does anything for her. Yesterday, she sat for three hours before another nun took her to the comedor for lunch. She returned in the afternoon for the final massages.

At the end of the day, I took photos of some of the madres for the website. And then I spoke with the girl I have chosen to sponsor.  She’s a modern-day Cinderella, complete with step-mother and all. The difference is that her Prince Charming is going to be an education.  As Fairy Godmother, I want her to see in herself those things I already see: commitment, intelligence, and a kind heart. 

So I’m a madrina now.  I like the sound of it. And the feel.

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Guanajuato VW Club '09

So orange.This orange Bug with the skulls was my favorite last year. This year, she came in a close second. Skully garnered a lot of attention last Saturday. Since last year, she’s had many additions including a stereo that blasted music for the entire plaza. As I walked around her taking pictures, I distinctly heard her whisper, take me with you. Oh that I could, I would!

In other news: I had a great day at Buen Pastor yesterday. I just need to coordinate the timing of the massages a little better so everyone gets a chance. As I worked on the women, I felt much compassion for them.  It’s funny how little things, like a ripped up and ancient bra held together by a safety pin, tug at the heart.  I think this is the stereo, but I'm not sure.

I also met the latest addition to the Buen Pastor family, Hermana Catalina. I look forward to learning more about her. At this point all I know is that she is young, worked with male prisoners in her last job, has been a nun for six years, and smiles all the time.  She’s lovely.

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A late start

Virgincita statue in a cemetary (or panteon) in San Miguel de Allende

Leaving on the 10:00 bus for Buen Pastor for a day of administering massage to women who need it.

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Jesus door

jesus doors

There’s a new girl at the shelter. She’s 15 years old and has spent her life in foster homes. I knew from her body language yesterday she wasn’t ready for a massage, but I invited her to the table anyway, fully clothed and placed the sheet over her. As I slowly rubbed her lower back in circles and placed my other hand on her neck area to secure her, she cried. Later when she was off the table, she was able to sob as I held her. I’ve come to realize that when someone believes they are safe, all the poison they’ve been holding inside must come out.   They’ve carried emotional nausea for too long and if there’s a compassionate witness, cathartic purging takes place.

Another women told me how her family has disowned her because she’s decided to leave her abusive husband. She shared how her mother instructed her to stay and that the beatings were her destino. She refused to believe that violence should be a part of anybody’s destiny, so she left with her three small children. She’s finishing her schooling at Buen Pastor, having never made it to 6th grade. She wants to learn a trade so she can support herself and her children, one of them just a baby. I wonder how she’ll do it and only pray she doesn’t return to her husband, that she’ll have another choice.

Madre Lourdes has insisted on paying my bus fare for these last few trips to Guanajuato.  As difficult as it is for me to accept money from her knowing how little they have, I am heartened to know she believes in bodywork and has come to appreciate it as a form of therapy for these women.

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Fun Madre Elvira and Juanita who adores her

Madre Elvira insisted on taking pix of me with her cellphone as I was dressed up, according to her.I left Guanajuato feeling uplifted and purposeful yesterday.  It had been a packed day. Buen Pastor treated the Ashland Rotarians to a fine breakfast and then gave them the big tour. The rotarians have been very busy visiting projects and villages. Buen Pastor was another program on their list. I very much hope that something will come out of their visit: a roof, some beds, perhaps a website… but we will all have to wait and see.

After the tour, I spoke with four energetic women who either help with Buen Pastor or are somehow connected to women/violence/education in GTO. There’s a newly formed group of volunteers in Guanajuato that are bringing positive changes to town, including renewable energy. They’ll have a formal meeting this Saturday and I hope to attend. I feel Guanajuato pulling me again. My heart has never left there.

Sometime around noon, it was time for massage. I worked on one woman who was tiny and had her pants rolled under at the waist in order to keep them on. Size 12. For some reason, the image stuck with me. It made me think of how these women run away with their children and try to be everything: mother, father, protector, advisor, provider, while ignoring their own emotional needs that end up calling to them via body pain and fatigue. Massage is their time. Once they begin to feel their bodies again, they begin to process their emotions and their pain. Therapeutic touch is powerful because it stills the body allowing reconnection, balance, and healing. 

Madre Lourdes was last. It’s been awhile since she had a massage and I always consider it an honor to work on her. Two of the madres sat on a couch full of Lori’s needles. Two others sat on another couch enjoying the relaxing music. Madre Lourdes jelloed-out on the table. It was nice listening to their small talk while I worked. I thought to myself that I never want to leave this place.

When Madre Lourdes woke up, everyone had left. I remained to say goodbye. We ended up having a nice conversation. Madre L commented that she believed the economic crisis was allowing people to downsize to a standard of living the Earth could better support and also to begin relying on the friends and family some more. She believed that by losing material comfort, people could gain spiritual comfort by helping those with less. She believes that the financial scare will hold up a mirror to values and what really matters in life which will be a great opportunity for people who have “lost” to gain back a greater part of themselves through service.

It’s a beautiful thought, that. Some might say idealistic. I would say absolutely necessary.

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Rotation Wednesday

Sisters waiting for their mom's treatmentWhen I arrived at Buen Pastor yesterday, there were two women on massage tables and the cook was sitting on the couch.  They were full of needles. Lori Wilson L.AC, M.AC. was administering acupuncture, prescribing Bach Flower essences,  and updating their progress charts.  I had heard a lot about Lori and have wanted to meet her for some time but our paths never crossed. Lori has been coming to Buen Pastor on Wednesdays for two years to treat the women, girls, and madres and has been instrumental in allieviating pain, anger, and depression in all three groups.

Lori working on a woman with neck problems.As she worked, we talked. I asked her how she came to know about Buen Pastor and why she does the work.  It’s her passion, she told me.  It’s where she wants to be and she’s excited about the progress she has seen.  She pays for most of the needles and flower essences out of her own pocket, and only just recently has begun to look for funding and donations for her supplies.

A 15 year old mother receives treatment for headaches.When she found out I volunteered massage, she asked if I might work on one of the women who was complaining about her neck, and then another who was suffering from headaches, and then another with lower back pain.  Soon enough, I was stationed at one of the tables following up Lori’s acupuncture treatment with a mini-massage.  The modalities complimented one another and I loved being able to compare notes with Lori.  We both knew the backgrounds of our patients and have the same perspective about healing and bodywork.  Most of all, the women and girls respond to the treatment and love being worked on. It’s one of the rare moments someone focuses love and attention on them.

Cutie pie!

Lori told me she has never seen anyone so enamored with needles. This little girl flies to the table exclaiming aguja aguja aguja! or needle needle needle! and even instructs Lori where to insert them. When she first arrived at Buen Pastor, she was a zombie. She's come a long way.

Juanita and Madre LourdesI plan on going back and teaming up with Lori every Wednesday. It’s such rewarding work.  I also like to think of Madre Lourdes tucking in the girls at night and giving them their flower essences drops Lori has prescribed before kissing them on the forehead goodnight.

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4 on Friday


Four massages today.  Two down, two to go, including a facial (my first). 

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Unless Mexico has lost a soccer game on a Wednesday afternoon, Wednesday evenings at La Dama are dead.  F and I take the opportunity to practice and I can feel my confidence building.  Last night was the first time I could do one of the bending twirls he has taught me without losing step.  And even more, the movement is starting to feel much more natural, much less mechanical. Anyway, we´re perfecting the Bachata currently, and currently, my hips are really sore!

Likewise, I am gaining confidence with massage.  Between the lessons with Rosario and her husband Eduardo, and the everyday practice I get with the women at the shelter, I feel as though this time has been put to good use.   The other day, one of the women came to me with a migraine.  After the massage, it was gone.   I believe that she needed to relax so badly, that as soon as she allowed her body some rest, it took care of itself.

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Fernando on the table

Rosario asked me to bring in someone this morning so she could teach and we could massage at the same time and have immediate feedback. Fernando agreed to let us both massage him for two hours (it actually took a little persuasion if you can believe that!). Rosario covered a lot including,

  • initiation of massage: intent and checking-in
  • cleansing
  • outlining borders of the body, suggesting that art in massage can raise self-esteem
  • importance of fluidity and continuity of touch
  • firm pressure on anchors–palms, soles, neck, sacrum–while other hand outlines
  • lymphatic massage of arms
  • reflexology of hands and feet
  • head massage
  • energy movements in stomach
  • rib massage
  • lymphatic massage of breast area
  • neck stretch

All in the space of two hours! I am learning more in these sessions with Rosario than in my 10-week-classes in school. It´s wonderful.

Fernando was a complete jello-ball when he got off the table. I hope he has a great day. I look forward to seeing him tonight so we can review today´s session and I can receive more helpful feedback.

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Intake Walk

I feel privileged to have this opportunity to work with the women at the convent´s  shelter.  There are six of them and 15 children all living in a space of less than 500 sq feet.  It´s been a almost a week, and thus far, I have worked on three of the women. 

Everyday at 2:30, I go to the shelter and wait as the next woman in the massage queue  gets her sheets off her bed and takes care of last minute details with her child(ren).  During that time, the other women ask me if I would like something to eat.  I always thank them and tell them no, and then one of the girls puts a plate of something delicious in front of me. There is no escaping hospitality here.

After 10 minutes or so of chatting and trying to remember all the kids names as they line up in front of me and ask me what their names are–Miguel, Jose Luis, Juanito…–the woman and I walk together up to the salon where the table and 28 saints are waiting (the room is filled with Catholic iconography).  On the way, I ask her how she is feeling, if there are any injuries or pain I should know about, or any part of her body that needs special attention.  And she begins to tell me.

I continue to be amazed at the amount of abuse a body can take.  In today´s intake walk, for instance, this woman told me that she had recently had a neck collar removed.  In a particularily passionate beating, her husband had pulled her by the head and hair through the house which required surgery and a brace.  When I replied, she told me to speak up because she didn´t have hearing in one ear.  She lost her hearing during another beating when her husband shot her.

Their experiences are unfathomable to me. There are several explanations for the high abuse Mexican women endure at the hands of their husbands.  One that I´ve read believes that the oppression that Mexicans had to endure as a result of the rape of their culture and religion by the Spainards and the issuing hierarchical social stratus based on skin color and social standing has resulted in machismo and deep seated rage.  Wives provide a convenient release valve from centuries of fury.  I´ve also read that the Catholic Church at one time encouraged, or at least did not discourage, men from beating their wives as punishment for the original sin.  The more a woman was beaten by her husband, the less retribution she would receive in the after-life.  A third opinion states that men beat their wives so that the women can fully experience her sexuality.  Until she is properly “broken in”, she will hold back.  Thus, reccuring beatings keep her sexually responsive.

At any rate, and for any reason, the stories I hear are horrifying.  As I work on the women, I wonder how anyone could harm them.  And I think of the massage, and how much it´s needed… to take them away from anger or to give them respite for just a little bit, an hour away from their children and a roomful of women all going through a very hard time.

Before Karma left, she told me of a study where they found that just 20 minutes of massage a day can restore depressed pregnant women´s hormone levels.  The study went on to say that it significantly found that when a pregnant mother is depressed, she gives birth to a chemically depressed baby.  Massage can turn the depression around so that the baby is born healthy.  Karma thinks that every hospital should have massage therapists working to augment patient´s overall well-being and recovery period. 

I think women´s shelters should have them too.

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I like working at the massage center.  I meet all kinds of interesting people.  Yesterday, for instance, I met an interpreter.  He´s lived all over the world (Brussels was the most lucrative) and has settled in GTO, working with the law program at the University.  Most of the people I have met are travellers, and most of them speak English.  Today, I am translating the center`s brochures on Temazcal and Massage into English.

The owners of the center are wonderful.  I spent an hour with Eduardo last night after the interpreter`s massage. He has years of experience, mostly with energy work.  We talked a lot about energy, learning, and language.  He is trying to improve his English so we role-played a bit and I corrected his English.  He also asked me why I refer to him in the formal when he addresses me informally.  I told him that he´s my boss, and so out of respect, I assume the formal.  He laughed at this and told me that he addresses everyone informally.  To that I replied that as an American woman, I think it would show a lack of respect to assume the informal… but as a Mexican male, interacting with his own people, that probably works for him.

I am reading a book–on loan from the Texan–on Mexican history and culture.  Etiquette and respect is everything in Mexico, and the informal and formal address is part of this.   As is Sidewalk Etiquette.  For instance, GTO is filled with narrow sidewalks and traffic.  The sidewalks are full of people.  So it becomes sort of guessing game whether or not the approaching person is going to step off or if you are.  I always step off for older people, pregnant women, and people holding babies.  However, when it comes to young women and any man, etiquette points to them stepping off for me because of age and sex.  However, this doesn´t always happen, especially with the women.  I have found, however, that that the slower I walk, the more I don´t step off.  If I am in a rush, people tend to hold their ground.

Also, the male always walks on the outside, shielding the woman from traffic (even if there isn´t any).  So whenever I am with F, I am constantly shifting my bag from one side to the other so we can continue holding hands as we cross from side to side (It`s a pain in the arse all this shifting and appropriate sides).


It`s Wednesday night: dance practice!  A highlight of every week.

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