We all have defining moments in our lives and one of mine happened in a dermatologist’s office. I was 20 years old and had eczema erupting all over my body. When the doctor announced the prognosis of a lifelong affliction a loud internal voice responded saying “I don’t believe that. I am going to heal myself.” I walked away from that appointment determined to bring my body back into balance but not sure how to do it.
At that time, I was studying environmental science and human ecology at Fairhaven College in Bellingham, WA. I was deeply concerned about the state of the earth and the growing effects of our actions on the environment. It was a deep shock to realize that my own body was under a similar assualt. With the guidance of a naturopath and an acupuncturist I began my healing quest with herbal remedies, a radical diet change and exercise. Then I began to listen to my body’s deeper needs of creative movement, expression and emotional support. The eczema became a barometer I was thankful for, telling me with a rising heat in my system that I was getting out of balance. Our bodies talk to us and I found that learning to listen was one of the key components to health. Since we all have different constitutions, patterns and histories there are many ways that our systems can communicate their distress from chronic low back pain or tension headaches to sinus infections and anxiety. We all have our own journey in learning to listen.
The personal changes I went through inspired me to shift the direction of my studies and design a major entitled “The Ecology of Health”. I asked the question “what is health and how does one heal?” and looked for answers in the theoretical foundations of traditional healing systems, somatic movement practices and Jungian psychology. By the time I graduated I had changed my lifestyle and was no longer troubled by eczema. But more importantly I gained a deep trust of my body’s impulse toward health and balance.
I wanted to be of service and share my newfound insights, so I enrolled in the Brian Utting School of Massage in Seattle, WA in 1996 and my journey into the body continued. After graduating I spent my first six years of massage practice in a busy clinic working extensively with complex orthopedic issues related to car accidents and repetitive stress injuries. I was able to put my personal journey and my learning to use and help people. I loved it. Since our bodies are infinitely complex my curiosity was able to range from the details of anatomy to the spiritual question of what it means to be human. I also kept studying over the years. My main influences have been: Emily Conrad (ContinuumMovement), Susan Harper (ContinuumMontage), Don and Diane St. John (Paths of Connection), Tom Meyers (Anatomy Trains), Kevin Frank and Caryn Mchose (Resources in Movement), Jean Piere Barral (Visceral Manipulation) and the work of Huber Goddard.
In 2003 I was invited to teach at the Brian Utting School of Massage. I knew this rigorous school’s innovative, integrated curriculum well from having studied there myself. As an instructor, I was expected to teach each piece of the 1000 hour program, from the basics of anatomy and physiology, to swedish massage and advanced structural bodywork, from communications and business to movement and pathology. The rich fabric of the school and the insightful and challenging questions of my students pushed me to grow as a practitioner and as a person. I was especially intrigued by figuring out how to teach such things presence, grounding and the ability to listen to tissue. This interest led to the development of a curriculum about quality of touch.
Since my time in college I had thought about health as an ecology and often look at the parallels between how we treat our bodies and how we treat the earth. After 13 years of practicing massage and studying health I decided that I needed to make changes in my life in order to reflect my larger ecological values. I wanted my built environment, my food system and my community to also be an expression of health. I looked hard at what changes I needed to make. As is often the case in our lives, when we ask deep questions with a commitment to act on the answers we receive, surprising opportunities arose. I moved back to my hometown on Lopez Island after realizing that its strong community, rural nature, and progressive spirit provided rich soil in order for me to pursue the question of “what is health?” on a community scale.