Massage Magazine Profiles Joan Wulfsohn
Moved Deeply By Bodywork
The first time I lay on Joan Wulfsohn’s bodywork table I had never experienced professional touching, not even a massage. I was gathering information on alternative health practices for my column in a weekly newspaper, and Joan offered to demonstrate “body therapy” by showing me her method.
I had little concept of what to expect as I lay on her low, Feldenkrais-type bodywork table. Joan was silent as she knelt at my feet in deep concentration. She began to touch and press my feet gently. After several minutes, I felt my breathing slow. Tingling sensations radiated up through my legs, and my mind spun as if I had lain down after a few too many drinks.I felt myself effortlessly slipping into a deeply relaxed state, but I was aware enough to notice wind chimes and the whir of a lawn mower in the background.
As Joan continued to touch my legs and feet, I felt my head begin to pull strongly to my left side, all the way to the edge of the table, then all the way over to the right, then to the left again. I laughed out loud at this involuntary reaction. Joan then put her hands under my shoulders. My head tilted back and my stomach muscles began to contract and relax over and over, until she pulled away to let me settle down.
Not surprisingly, I got up from the table feeling euphoric. Nothing that I had known or read had prepared me to be “moved” in this way. The bodywork had affected me so deeply, in fact, that I awoke from my sleep later that night to feel myself in a light trance, twitching with spontaneous motion.
Now I was thoroughly confounded. My first thought was to look for a scientific explanation. I spoke with a professor of clinical neurology at UCLA who examined me for brain damage—[though] fortunately not because he thought I was crazy. He told me that odd physical reactions are often the result of damage to the central nervous system. He found me to be perfectly normal. Since known neuro-connections did not account for the phenomenon, I tried to understand it as Joan did: an interaction between our “energy bodies.”
Though the energy exchange between us was unusually forceful in Joan’s opinion, most of her clients feel it to some degree. It is a key component of her work in bringing clients to a conscious awareness of the body’s deeply-held personal, as well as archetypal, patterns.
An Odyssey of an Otherworldly Dimension
Hoping to comprehend Joan’s work more fully, my initial fascination led me into a series of sessions that became an odyssey of an otherworldly dimension. One session stands out in my mind particularly: Joan began simply by cupping her hands under my left calf. Feeling the powerful flow of energy in my body, my right arm began to inch slowly away from my side, as if it was being tugged by an invisible string. The pull grew stronger, until suddenly my arm swept over my head and down my body. Stranger still, my left arm followed with the same motion. Soon, both arms were flowing in symmetry as if engaged in some cosmic dance. I marveled again at the reactions Joan’s light touch elicited, without her saying a word or making a suggestion. They were nothing I would think of on my own.
In subsequent sessions, my body did many more spontaneous “acrobatics”: circling of my rib cage and hips simultaneously in the opposite directions, as if describing a figure eight, circling of my thumbs, snaking of my spine, twisting in my wrists, my feet compelled to go through a continuous arching movement. Though new to me, these reactions also felt inherently familiar, as if Joan’s touch was simply revealing my body’s own deep, primal language. Later Joan explained to me that many of my gestures on the table were similar to lessons she had designed (using manual manipulations she did not use with me) to teach the body archetypal movements. A figure eight, for example, describes the four directions of infinity, encompassing all possibilities of bodily movement on a horizontal plane. An arcing motion, like that of a fetus making its way through the birth canal, symbolizes rebirth. ln anclent shamanistic practices, an Initiate attempted to acquire a full range of “collective unconscious” movement in order to go through a physical, emotional and spiritual transformation. One of Joan’s primary goals in her work is to bring the body/mind to a realization of its complete capabilities, in order to expand a person’s creativity.
And what of my own transformation?
My experience of Joan’s work has certainly had a profound effect, both in my understanding of myself and in appreciating another, quite mysterious, dimension of the body/mind/spirit.
One of the most dramatic results for me, is in the strengthening of my connection between my body and emotions. A year after I stopped seeing Joan regularly, I am able to feel stress in my body as soon as I experience a stressful situation. This “early warning” system helps me face what I’m feeling immediately, and keeps me from denying the intensity of these feelings—a denial which used to end up in migraine headaches and debilitating stiff necks.
About the Author:
Jane Baeumler has been a part-time free-lance writer and editor in Los Angeles for the past nine years. She has written about health and other topics for L.A. Weekly, and about film and television for Premier and American Film. She is currently at work on short stories and a novel.