Last month I visited a small Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I experienced one of the most profound massages of my life. It was firm yet gentle, adaptable yet fluid. There was no break in attention from the therapist. The practitioner was decisive and clear… fully present and aware. There was absolutely no personality chatter whatsoever. She could zero in on injury and then therapeutically skated along the edge of pain without inflicting more. She was not only a skilled practitioner, but also an intuitive healer. She knew exactly what was she was doing and I returned four more times just to make sure I could repeat this experience. Finally, and most importantly, she knew how to finish the massage and it was art!
If I told you touch was a language that speaks without words, what would you say? In today’s interview I discuss this topic and more with local massage practitioner, Mira Brockelman. With strong hands and intuitive knowledge, Mira delivers a profound sense of touch that mirrors many of the same qualities that I encountered in Thailand. The good news for you is that you won’t need to travel 10,000 miles to experience it, she is right here in Ashland!
Mira, thanks so much for speaking with us today and welcome!
Thanks! I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and connect with the LocalsGuide community.
To begin with, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as a massage therapist?
Sure, I’ve been a licensed massage therapist and body worker for almost 15 years; however, I began my personal studies into wellness and holistic healing over 30 years ago. As a young person, I found myself attracted to the idea of taking care of oneself in order to avoid illness and injury. So I began to explore such (now fairly common) practices as eating wholesome foods, practicing yoga, using naturopathic medicine, and of course, receiving massage and other forms of body work. I was particularly interested in massage, because beginning when I was a child, my mother used to have me rub her shoulders and neck, and would exclaim at how wonderful it made her feel at the end of her stressful day (She was a busy therapist). This brought me such pleasure, that the simple act of therapeutic touch could affect one so profoundly.
Although I didn’t go professionally into massage and wellness right away, it was always a part of my lifestyle. Over the course of my life I educated myself. Beginning with yoga and a vegetarian diet, I strove to learn the ways one could best be in control of their own health. I have, however failed at this many times, straying from the path of wellness. I believe that this actually has also been a beneficial part of my education. It allows me to have compassion and to experience non-judgment when dealing with clients who have guilt about not stretching enough, eating badly, not exercising, and so on. (And I think most of us have come up against that sensation.) I’ve learned over time that it’s healthier to be where we are, even if it means you’re not eating enough broccoli or going to yoga class.
Absolutely! Touch, for me, is definitely an art form, and like all art, it’s an expression of something deeper; a connection is made that’s unique…mystical…. Without a doubt I’m listening to the subtle messages the body, and the energies within the body, are sending me. As I listen, both with my hands and my entirety, I’m picking up on who a person is, what kind of a day they’ve had, how vulnerable or how closed they are, and what they need or don’t need from me during our session. It’s a fascinating process that I believe all of us have the ability to learn; it’s simply a matter of who feels most inclined to tap into this language.
Mira, what qualities would you say differentiate and individuate you as a massage therapist and healer?
Well, to go deeper into this subject of listening, I personally feel that when I go to see a massage practitioner or healer I want the intuitive communication to be intact. I believe this is a core skill of mine. I can tap very quickly into the energetic flow of the body, and follow that with my touch. Often, someone will say something like, “my mid-back has been bothering me, on the right, near the shoulder” and I’ll move my hand to that place, zero in on it, and say, “Here?” And the reply is usually, “Yes that’s exactly it!” From there it’s a matter of navigating the energy flow away from the blockage (i.e. trigger points, or “knots”) and helping to facilitate the healing process. Of course, that innate knowing couples with the intellectual knowledge of the body structure and how it moves, where it’s fulcrum points are, what places generate pain when the moving parts around it become strained, etc. My experience as a very kinetic person, involved in various physical activities over the course of my lifetime, as well as studies of anatomy, kinesiology and yoga, help me to have a clear understanding of that.
Is there a specific type of massage technique or style that you utilize?
Not necessarily, although I suppose I would call my technique my own specific style! My work comes from a combination of skills and techniques. My original education, from the East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, was based in Swedish Massage. During and after school I immediately gravitated towards therapeutic modalities. Since then, I’ve been known for my deep tissue and trigger point work. Over the course of my career I’ve trained in many modalities: Myofacial Release, Thai massage, Reiki, Shiatsu, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Feldenkrais. I’ve completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training, reached practitioner level in breath work training, and am certified as an Integrative Nutrition Coach. Besides trainings, I’ve studied reflexology, acupressure, Chinese meridians, essential oils, chakra healing, sound healing, and more. I use everything I’ve learned in my work, whether it’s actively during the session mixing in different modalities, or simply as part of my awareness. This spring I finished a training in Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy, which I’m very excited about, and am getting great results from. I plan to bring that more and more into my practice.
It’s very important to pay attention to your client’s threshold. While I use deep tissue in almost all of my sessions, one client’s idea of deep tissue may be very different than another’s. As practitioners, it’s our responsibility to not only be the facilitator of better health, but to pay close attention to what’s actually going on at that moment, with that client. For instance when a client comes to me with a whiplash injury, I have to have such an awareness of how my work will affect the injury. There is absolutely an edge that must be danced along to do the best kind of work… For instance, with trigger point therapy, I go into accordance with how the tissue is yielding or resisting, (rather than what kind of pressure I think would be best for me, or Joe, or Betty). When I feel the slightest indication, (and this is usually energetic before it’s physical) that I’ve gone too far, I pull back. Ideally, this will be almost imperceptible to the client, or at the least, we feel the need to pull back simultaneously.
Pacing and timing is crucial to your work. Please say more.
Yes, in general, I work slowly, as my intention requires this… And I like to begin very slowly; I want to generate ease into the session right away… I may begin with some gentle rocking or shaking, which for most people is very comforting. I also find it’s soothing to firmly lay my hands on the whole body in the beginning of the session… to familiarize myself with all the parts, and the parts with me. Once I’ve said a little “hello” to everything from the head to the toes, the whole being is more receptive to what I’ll be bringing… In other words, generally relaxed, which allows for the real work to begin, whether it’s some subtle cranial sacral therapy, or some intense gluteal trigger point, setting a tone right from the beginning which connotes, “I’m 100% here for this, I’m paying attention, and will pace myself according to this being’s needs”.
Mira, you are not often using a lot of verbal communication during your sessions to know where you are. Please say more.
First of all, before I begin my sessions, I try to get all the verbal communication that’s necessary out of the way. If it’s a first time client, I ask what they do like, what they don’t. For example, do they mind being stretched? What’s their pressure preference? Are they open to cranial sacral therapy? That sort of thing… If a client really needs to talk about their stuff while on the table, I’m going to be open to that, compassionate towards it, however I’ll do my best to direct them back to the moment. I find that too much talking will subtract from the profundity of the experience, because it has to mean that both the client and myself are in our heads. As the practitioner, when I’m in my head, I don’t have as much free range to go into a zone that allows me to do what I do, in terms of listening, following the edge, etc.
I love outdoor sports and in a way, this process is exactly like dropping into the moment when I’ve surfed waves, or ridden a single track on a mountain bike…I’m tuned in, the chatter is off, there’s no talking in my head, no one is asking me questions I have to think about, I’m simply following the flow of the wave, the dips and turns of the track. It’s ultimately my physicality and intuition connecting with nature… in this case my hands and the human body.
Now I have been doing this a long time, so I can still listen to a client tell me about their tough divorce and have compassionate responses for them, while still in the zone. But in my experience the client will derive more comfort from the session if they allow themselves to feel all the feelings from being in their body, rather than outside the room re-counting all the drama from out there.
Spending time in the mountains and in the ocean taught me to pay attention in this way, and even more so, I think from being artistic. This is a particular kind of attention that I’m good at, that’s why this work suits me. I’m very right-brained, I’ve been artistic all of my life. When it comes to sensing the nuances of nature, including the human body, I have a natural ability to focus there.
It sounds like you very much regard your own work as art. I love this.
When I work it’s very much like when I paint or draw etc. My direction is guided by a keen symbiosis with subtle energies… the human body, the being, is so very beautiful, and magic really, this amazing piece of work… This is with all bodywork, but in particular, when I’m practicing cranial sacral therapy or reiki, I’m tapping into the matrix of creation, and I feel that way when I’m creating art… It no longer IS me, it’s the act of being a part of a thing that is greater than myself, than all of us… At times I’m moved to tears by the sheer joy and gratitude of experiencing this. I’ve done less painting and drawing since I started this work, because this actually is a creative process for me.
Something you said that I really think is key to any experience, is that it is a two way street. Please say more.
Indeed. One thing that I like to remind people is that this is a relationship. It’s not me doing a thing to another; it’s the two of us working towards the same goal. This goal can be to address an injury, alleviate stress, or simply just to feel better. When the client understands that they are part of the process, the result is more profound. What this can mean is that the client is willing to pay attention to their breathing, to allow themselves to let go and almost forget that I’m there… This may sound counter to what I just said about it being a relationship, but actually, what I mean is, to allow themselves to be so involved in the process, that they can trust me enough to really let go in my presence….to sigh, cry, groan….even just taking deep breaths can be hard for people. But once they realize that I have no judgment towards them, and that they are the most important part of the session, they can really benefit from it.
And sometimes, like with any relationship, it just doesn’t work, the chemistry isn’t right, whatever. I’ve learned both in life, and in my work, that this has to be ok, to not take it personally.
Who would you say your style of work is best suited for?
I’d like to say I’m open to everyone, but I suppose I work best with client’s who are motivated and interested in their own wellness. Kind of to follow up with the last question, I resonate well with clients who realize that they are part of the process, and who realize it’s not just what I have to offer them, but what they are doing for themselves by coming to see me. Clients who know that a massage and body work is so much more than a feel good rub down… Although, that’s ok too!
Right. I am really excited by working with people who have chronic issues that I can work with on a regular basis to help them achieve a more healthful life. I definitely resonate with working towards overcoming injuries, whether acute or chronic. It’s so frustrating when things aren’t working right, and you’re in pain. Often with injuries it’s about shifting the resistance. An injury might be about protecting a joint, a misalignment. It’s my job to gently let the resistance know that it can soften as the injury is corrected, for example if someone like Dr. Cynthia Wright or Dr. Scott Roberts sends me a patient who has a sacral iliac joint misaligned, it’s my job to work with the soft tissue so that it will stop pulling the joint out of place and causing pain. Or vice versa, I may discover that as much as I work with the soft tissue, the joint misalignment may need correcting by a chiropractor or an osteopath, and I’ll send my client to them. As well, if someone has certain issues like headaches or psoriasis or stomach pain, I’ll suggest ways to address these issues, and guide them towards appropriate practitioners. I consider myself a therapist in the sense that my interest lies in the clients healing.
Mira, tell us more about you. You are life-long adventurer and traveler. You have lived in Costa Rica. You are a life-long athlete. You have suffered personal injury and have had many experiences that support the work you do today.
As I’ve mentioned, I really love the outdoors, art, and different cultures and that’s led me to some pretty fun adventures. My interest in yoga and eastern religion led me to India and Tibet, my late-in-life obsession with surfing led me to Costa Rica where I had the opportunity to work on a lot of surf injuries! I used to be a rock climbing instructor and was in domestic partnership with a class 6 white water kayaker, so I was always running into folks who were suffering from the impact of being kept from what they loved, including myself! And because I’ve been athletic and suffered injuries, and have spent time with some pretty serious athletes who suffered injuries, I have a pretty astute awareness of how the musculoskeletal structure works. That’s part of how I finally settled into massage as a career; as well I liked the opportunity to create the kind of lifestyle I’m comfortable with…out of the box, with a healthy amount of liberty to travel, spend time with loved ones, create art, etc.
Now that you are in Ashland, what are some of the things you enjoy doing in your free time?
Ashland is such a great combination of nature and culture. I love that I can get my outdoor fix by driving less than an hour out of town to kayak on some beautiful lakes and rivers, and the same evening be out for a lively First Friday! I’ve been super blessed to have connected with a really lovely group of friends who I’m so grateful to know, and meeting more great people all the time! This town truly attracts some wonderful souls.
Mira, what type of feedback are you hearing from your clients? Can you please share some recent testimonials with us?
Sure…I love the feedback from my clients!! It helps me to know I’m serving a deep purpose of service, and that brings me joy. My “official” testimonials I have posted on my web page, but some of the things I’ve heard recently are: “I love how you understand exactly what my body needs.” “I really feel your presence in your work, thank you for that.” “We’ve made really great progress, I’m feeling so much better since I’ve started seeing you.” To name a few…
Finally, let’s talk about the art of finishing a massage. What really goes into knowing when, where, and how to finish a massage?
This is so crucial because you don’t want to have brought the client into this blissed out state and then abruptly shut it down. The whole session has been this intricate dance and how you bring it to a close is essential in giving the client the sense that there’s nothing left lacking. You must stay present to the very end. Just like when I firmly connect in the beginning, I will gently disconnect by using certain techniques that allows the energy of the session to lift. There is a ritual to the finishing process. I do often find myself towards the end at the feet or the head. People really love that, because the touch here is so delicious, with all of the nerve endings and powerful energy there.
Most importantly, no matter how a session is finished, it’s my intention to leave people feeling that they’ve been attended to and cared for – a great practice for moving about in life, actually.
Mira, thanks so much for speaking with us today and giving this interesting insight into the work you are doing here in our community.
Thanks Shields!! Really fun speaking with you!!
Mira Brockelman, LMT #11078