Jan Trewartha, Body In Harmony Training, Diorama Arts Studios, London,
1st-4th September 2014 by Catherine Stone
Jan Trewartha’s Fascial Unwinding and Energy Awareness Course can be taken as a stand-alone course, or as the foundation course of her Diploma in Body Realignment, which is a combination of body realignment, fascial unwinding, energy field therapy and scar-healing techniques, all used to release emotional and physical trauma. Jan is Principal of Body in Harmony Training and Director of the British Fascia Symposium. Originally working as a nurse, her interests moved towards complimentary therapies twenty-two years ago, and she has been developing her unique combination of techniques for over fifteen years. Taught in the context of a discussion on the nature of fascia and the latest research into this intriguing connective tissue, this course is suitable for a wide variety of body workers, and can be incorporated into treatments, or used by itself.
The Diorama Arts Studios is conveniently located near Warren Street Underground station. The building is modern, light and comfortable, located in a business area where there is a variety of shops and cafes nearby. In addition, Jan provided some tea, coffee and biscuits to have at the venue. There were six of us on the course (all women) – Jan prefers to teach smaller groups, for better quality of teaching. It was a friendly bunch and the atmosphere was non-judgemental and friendly.
The collective skill set of the group is wide-ranging, including craniosacral therapy, osteopathic techniques, reflexology, sports massage, holistic massage, Hawaiian massage and reiki. Most of the group are now more interested in the effectiveness of gentle touch – personally I know from doing manual lymphatic drainage that you can be very effective by being feather-light. Jan believes the most effective results come from this approach, although I reckon those from a sports massage or other firmer disciplines would debate that – one could argue that it depends on the individual case and what the goal is, and maybe a combination of the two is also effective.
We started each day with some stretching, which is a nice way to get going. We then began the course by discussing the nature of fascia, its supportive, compartmentalising and communicative properties. Just like the muscles, the way it is laid down in an individual’s body reflects their physical actions and posture. In addition, and pertinent to this course in particular is the physical, and fascial, manifestation of emotional states. This is what particularly interests me at the moment. Trauma can simply arise from factors such as accidents, bad posture, overuse, illness and operation, but it can also be from family or relationship issues, grief, stress and a whole host of psychological issues. An example is a hunched-over posture that has resulted from the grieving process, or a period of depression.
“Jan refers to the theory that the tissue is emotionally charged, seeing as it has been argued that water is affected by negative and positive emotion (citing the work of Masaru Emoto, and Candace Pert’s ‘Molecules of Emotion’).”
Many types of trauma can lead to misalignments and restricted flow of blood, oxygen, nutrients and lymph (and as some would say, energy flow), increasing the possibility of further health issues and reduced immunity. So areas of restricted or fibrotic fascia would contribute to this, as well in the sense that substances are transferred through the fascial membrane. Fascia has a high water content, so when trauma occurs, this is impaired, and the hardened fascia restricts movement of substances, soft tissue and bones. Jan refers to the theory that the tissue is emotionally charged, seeing as it has been argued that water is affected by negative and positive emotion (citing the work of Masaru Emoto, and Candace Pert’s ‘Molecules of Emotion’). It is argued that fascia reflects the body’s cranio-sacral rhythm, namely the wave-like motion of the cerebrospinal fluid, which protects and nourishes the central nervous system, fluctuating about six to twelve cycles per minute. Seeing as all fascia is connected (although there are different layers and pathways), restrictions to this flow around the dural membrane have a knock-on effect on the healthy functioning of the body.
For about twenty minutes, we did a ‘self-scanning’ while lying down on this first day, subsequently noting down observations / colouring in areas on a body map according to how each area felt. It was interesting to compare what we felt was going on with our own posture and areas of tension with the standing and walking postural assessments that we then did with each other, looking out for imbalances, torsioning, tilting, etc.
Each day we did a mini ‘grounding’ session to clear our thoughts and round up the day.
“One of the therapists commented that on the walk home the previous evening, she felt more aware of her body, posture and areas of tension.”
Every morning, we shared feedback about our thoughts and experiences relating to the course. One of the therapists commented that on the walk home the previous evening, she felt more aware of her body, posture and areas of tension. I always find this when I do such CPD courses – it is always good to be reminded of what is going on in our own bodies.
We discussed the different reactions that people have after fascial unwinding. The idea that fascia can hold past traumatic experiences like muscle memory means that people can experience an emotional release when it has been worked on during a treatment. Some people (more so women than men) can release / are readier to release than others – those who cannot during the treatment, may do so afterwards, e.g. by having vivid dreams (‘resolution dreams’). Part of me thinks that the reason some people find treatments such as these (e.g. reiki) effective is that it provides a forum in which to psychologically unwind, comparable to a counselling session, and simply having physical contact is good for both mental and physical health. Jan said she used to be sceptical about the same things as me years ago, but became more and more interested in energy work – at first she found it hard to sense anything, but years of practice have given her a very good perception, she feels.
So when we paired up and tried scanning each other’s bodies (clothed, standing up), I was wondering exactly how you can detect problems in a person’s body / energy flow just by looking at them, holding up your hands at a distance to them and feeling around their ‘aura’ / energy field. Surely the sensations I felt in a few places was just body heat? But maybe even just that sensation is useful, as a tense area would be more likely to be warmer due to inflammation. Having said this, the other practitioners all experienced sensations (e.g. ‘tingling’, a sense of being repelled, and even feeling slightly queasy) while scanning their partners, and there was a concurrence of observations among therapists and Jan looking at the same person, which was interesting. And Jan and others did sense my own areas of tension without me telling them.
“One lady had very strong reactions, moving her arms, legs and head around (in quite a graceful, slow way) and crying. She explained afterwards that this felt like a good release, and that it was hopefully the start of some important ‘unravelling’ of built-up trauma.”
Some hands-on palpation comes next, once the client is on the couch, as well as checking for leg length difference and if necessary, a positional release of the psoas, an area that can hold tension / trauma and lead to pelvic tilts. In a fascial unwinding session, the touch is as light as manual lymphatic drainage. You ‘tune in’ to what is going on under the skin (grounding yourself and deep breathing helps as always – Jan emphasises the importance of focus, patience and the ‘power of intention’), and you can actually sense a lot even with a clothed client. You can supposedly feel what is going on in the fascial level, and the rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid that it reflects, although I was not sure if I was just feeling the pulse, or even if I was imagining feeling anything. Often at first touch, you feel ‘twirling’ movements in the flow. After a while, whatever the ‘flow’ is you are feeling does start to become more uniform / rhythmical, and to ‘straighten out’. This often happens just after a sudden stillness. I did feel all of this (or it really seemed I did), and almost straight away. As areas release, you follow the tissue as it starts to unwind and move to other areas of irregularity. Jan openly says she is not sure why this method works, but it does seem to – it might be connected to the effect of the therapist’s body heat on the fascia, or the effect this touch somehow has on the fascia’s neurotransmitters.
During our practice sessions, we all reacted differently. One lady had very strong reactions, moving her arms, legs and head around (in quite a graceful, slow way) and crying. She explained afterwards that this felt like a good release, and that it was hopefully the start of some important ‘unravelling’ of built-up trauma. Most of the group seemed to believe in the power of the treatment and had come on the course hoping to experience such releases, and for them it was a comfortable environment in which to do so. More common reactions included some twitching and eyelids fluttering as in REM. Personally, I just found it a very relaxing experience, the same feeling I get during reflexology.
Some members of the group managed to make connections between their reactions to the therapy the day before and previous physical and also emotional trauma in their lives, some of which they had previously forgotten. I had slept deeply, and others had experienced ‘resolution dreams’, seeming emotional outlets on themes concerning past traumatic situations.
After discussing the causes and effects of different types of trauma on the body, we practiced on the head and neck area, which can be a deeply relaxing experience. There were similar reactions among group members, one of them even shouting, which again felt like a positive, purging experience. Treatments are finished with the client either lying on their side or their front, the therapist placing once hand one their sacrum and the other cupping the occiput in a cranio-sacral technique called ‘occipito-sacral balancing’.
Jan explained her theory of how to clear ‘energy blocks’ (the reiki-style energy scanning / awareness aspect of what she does), in which you focus on feeling for changes in sensation in someone’s ‘energy field’ (hands hovering over the client) and try to pull away and shake off any bad energy you may be able to feel. I was not convinced by this, although I did feel changes in temperature, and sometimes felt some tingling in my hands, which Jan would say might be an indication of problem areas. This ‘energy field’ area can feel tangible and sometimes ‘sticky’, but again, I was not sure how far this was down to things such as the body’s electromagnetic field – but maybe the latter is what people like Jan are sensing (scientific instruments can detect it), and maybe ‘blips’ in it are indeed areas of tension or built-up trauma.
We also practiced self-unwinding, sitting in a circle with our eyes closed, focusing on the head and neck area. Some found this easier than others – I again found it hard to clear my mind and focus, and could not help but wonder how this would achieve anything. I clearly need to practise!
The therapist who had reacted strongly felt that her pelvis had become more aligned, and her usual sciatic symptoms to which she is normally prone in the mornings had gone. As with other types of therapy, it can take several sessions to work away the layers of tension and achieve a release not only of the tissues but also the mental blockages. This lady said that she was looking forward to continuing with fascial unwinding treatments. People commented that both she and another member who had experienced some emotional release looked visibly brighter in the face.
After a re-cap, we gave each other full treatments, and did final self-scanning and postural assessments to compare how we felt to our observations on the first day. Most people’s postures had improved, and we all felt positive. Even though some had more profound experiences than others, this was a good outcome at least! We exchanged more useful reading material suggestions and had a final grounding session.
The information on this course is well explained, both during sessions and in the accompanying reading material. It definitely suits the more spiritual type of therapist, but then again I would recommend anyone to look into it, to keep informed of alternative techniques and to see how certain clients respond really well to this approach. As much as parts of the treatment are way out of my practical, ‘the treatment’s effects must be scientifically-proven’ comfort zone, we were always reminded of the evolving nature of treatments in conjunction with emerging research and the need to keep an open mind. There is so much we still do not know about the body and the powerful effects of the mind on our health. I did not feel I was being brainwashed by some ‘airy fairy’ hokum, and the practice treatments I experienced were very relaxing, if anything. I think in this way if at all, they do help to regain some homeostasis within the body, the aim of all therapists. The other members of the group all seemed to enjoy the course, and most seemed keen on learning more and incorporating these skills into their practice. Everyone has their own preference, so if this particularly resonates with an individual, it is definitely worth a try.
Catherine Stone is a sports and remedial massage therapist, who also does Thai, pregnancy and holistic massage, as well as manual lymphatic drainage (Vodder technique). She works from Neal’s Yard Remedies, and does home visits in Crouch End, London. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.cs-massagetherapy.co.uk.
This article was first published in issue 86 of Massage World.