Apr 7, 2017

Posted by in Featured, School of Massage Therapy | 2 Comments

The Ab Project: What do they mean to you?

For our Foundations of Massage class, we were given this assignment that was so abstract, so personal, that many people weren’t actually sure just what it was. There were no guidelines really, aside from asking yourself the question, “What do my abs mean to me?” This was confusing, because you could take it very literally and think of the muscles, or you could go completely figuratively and make obscure references. It was 100% left up to each individual student to interpret this in their own way, and then decide if they wanted to present to the class or not. You could even hand it in, and choose whether the instructor was allowed to read it or not. All that mattered was showing that you thought about it and put work into facing this idea. Society and the idea of learning being what it is, this was a very odd thing, but we managed and today (Thursday technically, I’m up late writing this so it’s still the same day to my mind) we had the ab project class.

My typical format at this point is to just put an entire week’s worth of information into one blog post, as I share my experience of attending the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy. I absolutely cannot do that with today’s FOM class though, and so I will write about the rest of the week later. Today’s FOM class was a lot more intense than I anticipated when we were first introduced to the ab project by our instructor. It is a two-part class. Part one involves the projects, and sharing if you want. Part two is actually giving and receiving an ab massage. It was explained to us that the majority of people are very sensitive about their abs being touched, because we hold so much in them. It’s not just the area of digestion, or the core muscles that help us to be bipeds. This really is the center for emotional baggage. We feel sick to our stomachs, get butterflies in our bellies, gut instincts… the list just goes on and on. And so we were told that this was a class where vulnerabilities could be shown, and because of that it was a class where privacy was of the upmost importance. We’re allowed to bring guests in, but today was a day where that was 100% not allowed, and if any potential students were on tour and viewing in-session classes, we were off-limits. Thank goodness, because as I already said, this was a lot more than I prepared for it to be.

I knew as soon as it was announced on Day 1 what I was doing for my project. I could have presented right then and there, I knew my topic so intimately, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about it. As far as my topic goes, I will discuss it a bit here, but I’ve already realized there are some details I shared with my classmates that I do not feel I want known to the whole internet. That fascinates me, because I feel very much like an open book sometimes, and I’m realizing I’m actually a lot more private than I thought. It’s a comforting thought, honestly.

Since it was such a personal, private day though, I will not be sharing any details about what any of my classmates talked about. They’re not mine to share, and I don’t ever want to breach that trust with them. I will say though that I feel a lot more connected to my classmates, knowing now that many of us share in that we have all had experiences that touched us deeply. I was not prepared, and there was no way I could be, for the sheer level of vulnerabilities and topics that came up. I’m starting to cry again just remembering the class and its intensity, which means I haven’t fully decompressed yet (which is why I want to write this now, while it’s still fairly fresh and raw). It was an honor, and a privilege to sit in the room with these fellow people, and to hear their stories; to be trusted with their stories. It was humbling to watch as we got a slow start to presenting, with many not thinking they would, and then like dominoes falling one after another people got up and shared. Not all, but most. Some even changed their presentations on the spot, based off how the energy was changing in the room by those who went before. We were informed it was unheard of to have it happen this way, and the instructor was grateful to us for being so open with each other. We had been told, time and time again through these first seven weeks (of our nine month journey) that we are a family. Each class is a family, and we need to hold each others hands and lift each other up. It’s one thing to be told that, but I personally feel after today that we really did become a family of sorts. It was a truly moving, profound experience. Every project shared… Each one unique, each one different, but it somehow made me feel like we were all one. We all shared such a common bond of overcoming obstacles in the path of life. More than just hearing it, it became real, this idea of our class being a family.

I am so very humbled, honored, grateful, and touched to have been a part of the experience.

It was so overwhelming to be in that space we were holding, and emotions and tensions were high. Male and female alike, tears were shed. Emotions have no gender bias, and in this safe space we had for each other they were freely exposed and raw. You don’t see that in society, and it is so powerful and moving. I feel like I will cherish this moment for a long time to come, probably my entire life. I don’t know that I will ever experience anything like it again. I cannot remember a time when I ever experienced anything similar before.

Afterward we were given a long break to just decompress a bit, and return from the space we had created. I had to leave the room for this break, it was just so overpowering. I needed to remove myself from the energy so I could ground and re-center. And while the room had cleared quite a bit by the time I returned, there were still faint traces of the energy remaining, and it made for table time to be… different. There really isn’t a good way to describe it, aside from saying it was a very unique moment to look upon someone’s abs now, after hearing their story, and see them.

So for my ab project I spoke about my struggle with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). After I was done speaking I felt like I missed so many points, but upon looking back at my note cards (which I basically ignored for my speech) I realized that I actually didn’t miss much. For me my abs are my IBS, and I have no issues talking about that fact. I want to talk about it, because it’s something that’s still so unknown, that’s still so misunderstood, that I want to share my knowledge so others can understand. IBS is one of those silent debilitators, that people cannot see but you feel and you just know when it’s going to interfere with daily activity. It very much falls under the idea of the Spoon Theory, and while it’s not as debilitating as some diseases, it still requires constant vigilance and awareness to maintain.

I started experiencing symptoms for the IBS 17 years ago at the time of writing this blog entry, and was formerly diagnosed 16 years ago. I was in Middle School, and this was the time when all the cool new things were happening. People were really making some solid friendships, sports teams were being organized, and the awesome class trips were starting. The kind you had to do all those crazy candy fundraisers for and stuff, because actual travel was going to be involved. Well, because of the IBS and my fear of having an attack, I skipped everything. I went on no trips, I avoided most socialization (socialization meant possible birthday parties and other places where I could get sick and have no escape after all), and even though I joined a sports team I would end up quitting because it seemed to be too much. As I got older I avoided going to any city at all, and traveling because hey, what if I got sick. I had no life outside of making sure my IBS did not flare up.

A food diary was essential to me to figure out my triggers. IBS can be triggered in a few ways, in my experience anyways. Food, Emotions, and Weather. Food is the easy one, kind of. Certain things are triggers, and it differs from person to person. For me, I cannot do garlic, but I can have the food items that spice is usually in. I cannot do ice cream, but I can have cheese because it’s not as heavy a dairy. Mayonnaise is out because of its high grease content, but I can have eggs, work with some oil, and the like. Weird things like that. My food restrictions are nonsensical to anyone I explain them to, but second nature to me. And when I eat out… oh boy. I’m the kitchen’s worst nightmare, I’m sure. Heaven forbid it’s foreign food. And there again is another thing, I fear new food experiences because different cultures mean different combinations of things and unique spices so… who knows how that will go! Emotions are next on the list, and those are more straight-forward. Any time I experience something intensely emotional, I have a chance of triggering the IBS. High levels of excitement, fear, nervousness, and stress are the biggest triggers; but even being euphoric and similar intense good feelings can bring it on. So I’ve tried to maintain a relatively balanced life as far as emotions go. Not easy when depression and anxiety are other factors (or hell, hormones from a menstrual cycle), as they create quite the cycle of abuse when the IBS joins in. Weather might be the oddest one though, and it’s really more how the weather affects my bodily systems than anything else. Depending on how humid, dry, stormy, etc. it is out changes how my body reacts to its environment, and thus how it processes everything.

In my quest to control IBS, I discovered Reiki. I’m here to say I achieved mastery (but I declined to go on to be a teacher at this point), and was disappointed to find out that Reiki only makes IBS worse. My FOM instructor seemed a bit shocked by this, I noticed it on his face when I mentioned it, but it really does. I’m not the only one with this experience either, who has IBS. Reiki really does seem to make it all worse when it’s directed at the IBS itself. If you use it to calm the anxiety it’s sort of okay, but the IBS is a no-go. Grounding on the other hand does wonders for me, so I have a theory that some of IBS is an energy blockage of sorts. Obviously I cannot prove that, but it’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Aside from Reiki I really learned how to meditate, to use switch words, and to try to consciously relax. I have some bad coping habits as well, but as is the nature of the internet I don’t care to share them so publicly. Suffice to say I am aware of my bad coping habits, and I do try to be aware when I start falling back to them without realizing it.

There is a silver lining to the IBS, at least to me anyways. Because of it I had to give up fast food. I had to learn what foods helped, and I’ve found organic is better because it’s less processed. Farm fresh is better than store bought for meats and similar. I’ve had to be more self-aware, and I think it aided in my maturity levels. So I try to recognize that it isn’t all bad, because when I’m having an attack it really sucks.

An IBS attack entails, for me, going from constipated to the runs in a matter of hours. Sometimes less than that. It’s like having your entire intestinal track doused in acid, gasoline, and kerosene; and then lit on fire to burn. No two attacks are ever the same, either. One attack can be very mild and over rather quickly, and just feel like general cramping (at least at this point). My worst attacks though are so bad that it feels like my entire insides are being squeezed so tightly around my spinal cord that I am nothing but spine, and I feel I cannot breathe. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I know I need to just poop and I’ll feel better, but to contract my muscles to have that bowel movement hurts equally as bad. Being stabbed seems like a better feeling than the pain of the attack, and I just want to die.

That’s the gist of what I presented anyways, skipping out many of the more personal emotional effects this has had. So I was honestly terrified to receive an ab massage, because how was it going to affect me? I know that in theory massage is wonderful for those like myself who have IBS. It’s supposed to help. I am skeptical though of it, because I fear the lack of control that comes with someone else interfering through direct touch with my intestinal processes. That’s exactly what ab massage can do, too. You can clear constipation, you can aid digestion, all sorts of interesting things. I however did not want to be touched, but I also knew that if I didn’t experience it, I couldn’t perform it well for others. Even if I don’t think anyone will come looking for an ab massage, it could happen (and probably will because I feel that way, thanks universe). Thankfully, we selected our own partners for this instead of it being done by random drawing of cards, and so we each could work with someone that we felt safe with.

My partner was extremely courteous of my fears and apprehensions, and checked in with me constantly to make sure I was okay. I am extremely grateful for that. The experience for me, overall, was not terribly pleasant. One of the side effects of IBS is that your intestines can feel sore to pressure, and since I had an attack recently mine were (however since my partner was so careful, it was only tolerable discomfort and never pain that I felt). I am happy to say that while I thought at first I might have an attack, that attack never came. I was able to make it home and sleep off the immediate after-effects of it. Ab massage really only lasts 10 minutes at best (the process of it, not the after affects), so it was over quickly enough and now that I’ve done it, I’d be happy to not experience receiving it again. I was grateful to my partner and my instructor thanking me for going through with the experience as well though, because it’s nice to feel that not only were you heard, you were understood. I can only hope to be so wonderful to those around me like I received from them.

So today was an extremely emotional, profound day. Or rather, afternoon. If I ever have a client once I’m licensed who I feel could benefit from an ab massage, I will be so aware of what they could be holding there. I will be so aware of my future clients in general now after this. To date, this is probably the most emotionally draining, but moving day of school. And I am so humbled and honored to have experienced it, despite my apprehension at receiving an ab massage.

To my classmates that may read this, thank you for the experience. I see you, I honor you, I am grateful to you, and I am humbled by your ability to travel the unique journey you have had and will continue to have.

To those who are reading this, perhaps considering attending CNWSMT, I hope you do attend school and are able to have such a moment in life. May you take away from it everything that you need, and experience humanity in a new way.

To those who are simply following my journey through school here on this blog, may you be humbled by the glimpse of the experience my class shared today, and be reminded by it that humanity at its core shares the common thread of struggling through life and overcoming its hardships. May that common thread serve to draw you closer to others, let you love more deeply, and drive you to be less judgmental and more compassionate for the journey that another may be traveling.

  1. Kathy Genier says:

    Beautifully said.

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