Heat, Pressure and Healing Herbs – A Review of the Herbal Ball Massage

This review is an add on to my Thai Massage Review therefore I haven’t gone into depths about the Thai Massage itself, please click here to see this review.

I had the Herbal Ball Massage at The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, which was opened in 1955 and was the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education – in my opinion it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39.

I usually go here for a two hour massage, however this time I decided to try a Herbal Ball massage which consists of 75 minutes Thai Massage and 45 minutes Herbal Ball Massage. Thai Massage itself can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

The Session – Herbal Ball Massage

Usually for a Thai Massage at Wat Po, they ask that the client change into a cotton t-shirt and loose cotton trousers (a bit like pyjamas), however for the Herbal Ball massage I was asked to change into a loose sleeveless top and shorts. The massage room also had a steamer which had the Herbal Balls in and it was occasionally letting off steam which smelt of green tea, lemongrass and something menthol, possible Eucalyptus. When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a light weight towel.

The Massuse then proceeded to give me a 75 minute Thai Massage, then when I was lying face down she began massaging me with the Herbal Ball. She asked me to remove my loose fitting top while she covered me up with the towel and then began to pad my back with a hot ball of wrapped up herbs. The smell of the steam coming off the ball was very strong, firstly with notes of green tea but instead of the bitterness that usually follows this, I could smell menthol herbs or possibly something similar to Tiger Balm, either way the dynamic smells were very pleasing to me.

She dabbed my upper back and then proceeded to move down my spine and then up again. She then moved over to my arms, pressing firmly on areas such as underneath my armpits and my triceps. At first the ball was very hot so she dabbed very lightly, however as the ball began to lose it’s heat she pressed down harder and for longer periods of time to give my muscles the benefit of the warmth. After my upper body had been worked on, she covered me back up with the towel and asked me to remove my shorts, again covering me with the towel for my modesty. At this point the ball was cooling down, so she swapped it with the other one in the steamer, she proceeded to do this throughout the massage as one ball cooled down to a certain temperature.

The Therapist worked on one leg at a time, leaving the rest of my body covered up with the towel. She applied more firm pressure on the meatier parts of my legs, especially my thighs and also took care to be light on the more delicate areas such as behind my knees. As she dabbed the ball she moved in a rolling motion so as not to shock me by applying the pressure of the whole ball all at once, instead she move it as though she were using an ink stamp. Her movement was also very consistent and predictable which aided to my relaxation. When she reached the soles of my feet she pressed the ball down for a long period of time and the warmth and pressure of the ball felt very soothing.

Then she asked me to turn over while she held the towel up to cover me, once turned she pulled back the towel whilst placing a small light fabric across my breasts to cover them. Then she proceeded to press the ball on the front of my chest, starting at the shoulders, then the armpits and then my breasts, taking care not to be intrusive or actually press the ball on my actual breasts – instead she worked on my pecks where the tendons can be quite tight. She then moved over to my arms, pressing firmly again on the armpit area and as she worked her way down my arms she pressed firmly and for a longer period of time on the palms of my hands. After this she moved to my stomach but again worked lightly. This was a very calming sensation and it made me think that it actually be a very nice delicate kind of massage if I was experiencing period pains. She then moved on to the fronts of my legs, right down to my feet again and then asked me to sit up in a crossed legs position.

Once up, she gave me both of the Herbal Balls to hold on to and motioned to me to dab my own legs while she turned off the steamer and removed it from the room. Once she came back she took the hottest Herbal Ball and worked it on my shoulders very firmly and still in the same rolling motion. She worked again on my upper back, shoulder, triceps and up and down my spine before she tapped the ball lightly on my back and then said that she had finished.

Pre-session sense check (5th March 2016, 6pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – My muscles were tired today (even though I had a two hour massage yesterday). I think that it’s stress from spending two weeks in an emotionally testing state a week earlier, because this week has been spent in a negative mindset with tears. My left side is tight as usual and I generally feel quite lethargic, even though I’ve done nothing tiring all day.

Emotionally – I’ve been feeling a little bit lost and a little bit negative this week and it’s been a challenge to snap out of it – so I’ve spent the week trying to immerse myself in things that make me feel positive. This has left me feeling emotionally exhausted. There’s still a sense of emptiness and general deflated-ness which sometimes finds me in the days since my Dad died.

Post-session sense check (5th March 2016, 10pm – 1 hour after treatment)

Physically – I feel very relaxed and the warmth sensation of the Herbal Ball remains on my skin in memory and it feels really nourishing. It’s a very comforting feeling that I’m trying to hold on to even though the massage has finished, the same way you try to hold on to a hug from a loved one. My muscles feel less tense than they did before the massage and my body generally feels more loose and flexible.

Emotionally – My head seems to be a whole lot clearer now that I’ve had the massage, this could be because I had two hours to lie down and relax or it could be because of the herbs or the massage. Generally my mindset is a lot more positive now and I feel mellow, even rejuvenated – I’m definitely looking at the World through a different lens this evening. I feel calm and collected in myself too, which is refreshing as it’s a rare feeling to have in the days of post trauma.

Overall Review

I found this massage to be very dynamic because it couples together a very interactive stretching and pulling massage which can actually be a little bit hair raising (for those who aren’t used to Thai Massage) with a deeply warming and relaxing massage. Personally I really enjoyed it because even though some parts of the Thai Massage were necessarily uncomfortable as my muscles were stretched I could smell the steam of the Herbal Ball and this presence helped me relax into the intensities of the stretches further.

There is also something deeply therapeutic about the Herbal Ball. At first I wondered if it could just be because of the heat of the ball which in itself is a very nice feeling – the sensation of specific heated attention being given to a secluded place on my body. However after remembering back to a hot stone massage I don’t think it was just the heat, I think it was also the herbs. There’s a lot of research into essential oils and the effect that they have on the body by being absorbed into the blood stream through respiration and the skin and I believe that the infusion of the herbs would have had the same kind of effect. After looking around Bangkok for the Herbal Balls I did actually find a stall that had a variety of different herb concoctions to aid different ailments. After studying Aromatherapy and Reflexology it makes perfect sense to me that herbs can not only be absorbed through this manner but also have beneficial results on the body and mind.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Find Out Why So Many People Rave About Thai Massages

I’ve had a lot of Thai massages in Thailand and the ones at Wat Po  are, by far, the best. The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was opened in 1955 and were the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education and in my opinion, it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39. To aid me with this review, however, I’ve called in a Thai Masseuse friend of mine to give me some of the theory behind the massage – Thank you Siska Vergauwe.

I usually go for a two-hour Thai massage, however, it can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, so if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one-hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

Wat Po Training School

The Session – Thai Massage

To begin the Thai Massage the Therapist asked me to remove my shoes and she washed my feet, downstairs in the foot washing basin. I was then asked to slip on some comfy fabric slippers and we proceeded upstairs in the lift to the massage cubicle rooms (rooms that are divided into private spaces with a mattress on the floor), where I was asked to change into the clothes laid out on the mattress – a cotton t-shirt and loose fitting trousers (like pyjamas). When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a lightweight towel.

The start of the massage began with the Therapist crossing one foot on top of the other and pressing down and then by doing the opposite on the other foot, she then bent both my feet in a forward curl, then pushed back against the bottom of them, flexing them back. She then proceeded to press firmly up and down both legs with her palms. When she got to the top of my legs she pressed down on the inside of my hips firmly for a few second, stopping the blood flow into my legs. When she released them I could feel the warm rush of blood into my thighs and then right down to my feet.

She pulled back the towel from my left leg, leaving the rest of my body covered and began pressing up my leg from my ankle firmly with her palm. Then she came back to my foot and massaged it with her fingers, pressing quite deeply on the instep. She worked her way up and down my leg a series of times whilst pressing with her palm on the more meaty muscles and then pressing in more intensely with her fingers and thumb on the thinner muscles alongside my shin. She also used her knees on my upper leg muscles and used her body weight to press more firmly into the stronger muscles in my legs. Then came the stretches – Thai Massages include movement and stretches, almost like the Masseuse is doing yoga on you, and it feels very therapeutic. To do this the Therapist opened my left leg into a 90-degree angle on the mattress. She pressed down on it first, then folded it against me, across me against her while she massaged all around my leg including my glutes (my butt muscles). After completing the massage on my left leg, she lay it down and covered it back with the towel before performing the same sequence on the right leg.

Once both legs were massaged she moved on to my right arm, starting off by stretching my arm out and pressing into my armpits, similar as she had done with my hips to stop the blood flow for a few seconds. Then she proceeded to massage up and down my arm, again using her palms in a pressing motion and her fingers and thumb in a squeezing and sharper pressing motion. This finished when she stretched my hand backwards to touch just behind my shoulder, whilst she pounded my triceps with her fist. She then did this on my left arm before she asked me to turn over.

Once turned over she started to massage my shoulders, again using a pressing motion with her palms and also by using a squeezing motion. As my shoulders are usually really tense I asked her to do the back and shoulder massage very hard and wow, she did and she was pretty damn strong. She concentrated on the muscle that runs beneath the scapula to the rib cage and this area gets particular knotty for me so she worked hard to press on and flick the muscle where the knots were. Sometimes this was a little painful, but I know that it’s beneficial in the end so I persisted. She also worked on the area behind my armpits where the tendons connect to the shoulder blade, which is another area of tension for me. She worked up and down my spine and the muscles that support it then came back to my shoulders before using her body weight to massage me. By that, I mean she stood on me. I know that for some people, this is something that can be quite scary but I’ve learnt to embrace it in Thai massage because I’ve found that if I can relax into it then I can get the best out of this movement. The Masseuse tends to stand on my buttocks and massage them slightly by rocking from side to side then she will leave one foot standing on, say, the left buttock, while she moves her right leg in a pressing motion up and down the right side of my body. Seen as the massage takes place in a cubicle the Therapist tends to use the sides of the walls to counter balance her weight, however in this case I’m quite sure that she had her whole weight on me. I was confident that she knew what she was doing because she had thoroughly massaged my back and had a good idea of how strong it was and how tense it was – I guess it needed her whole weight… working on yachts gives me a pretty strong back. She then swapped legs and did the same action on the left side of my back.

After this, she knelt down and massaged the backs of my legs with her knees in a pressing motion. She went back to massage my back and shoulders with her hands in the same sequence as previously then she asked me to sit up, cross-legged. This is another bit which isn’t for the squeamish – back cracking – but again, if you can relax into it then you can get the best out of it. At first, she placed my right hand behind my head so it was folded backwards and stretched my right triceps, then she did the same thing on my left arm. After this she asked me to place my hands behind my head and lock my fingers, then she threaded her arms through the gaps in my folded arms and proceeded to swing me from one side to another whilst she cracked my back. Usually, this doesn’t have too much of an effect on me because it takes a lot to loosen my back muscles, however, this time, my back cracked from the bottom of my spine up to the middle where the main twist took place. This happened on both sides and it felt pretty fantastic, I guess that she must have really loosened my muscles by applying so much pressure to my back when she stood on it. She unfolded her arms out of mine and then motioned for me to move my arms backwards and lock onto hers as she pulled my backwards in a bend across her knees, she did this bit by bit as she moved up my back and again each bit cracked, especially the top of my spine.

She finished by giving my shoulders a very intense massage using her elbows and forearms as she pressed down on my sat upright body from a standing position. Then she used her hands again to squeeze and press on my muscles. After this, she gave the temples on my head a massage and the muscles on my neck, especially the ones at the back where the tendons connect to the back of my skull. She squeezed the back of my head as she pulled her hands away, as though she was drawing some kind of energy away from my head, she did this a couple of times. Then to complete the massage she pounded my back and shoulders with her hands that were in a loose clap, placed her hands together in a ‘Namaste’ position and quietly whispered ‘finished’.

Pre-session sense check (7th March 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – Sense checking my body today I can mostly feel the throbbing of my calf muscles, probably because I’ve been walking around Bangkok in flip-flops for most of the day. My left shoulder isn’t too sore today but I do have a subtle neck ache. I feel quite alert for a change, but the heat of the city is starting to tire me as the day goes on.

Emotionally – I feel quite neutral today, I think it’s because I’ve spent the morning working on a business idea so I’ve been quite focused and thus not dwelling on any present emotions, I am possibly numb and avoiding. There is a sense of background negativity in me which is usual these days (as in anyone experiencing grief) but it seems manageable today.

Post-session sense check (7th March 2016, 7pm –  1 hour after treatment)

Physically – My body feels refreshed and it was really gratifying feeling my back crack so many times – this is very rare for me. The massage felt more like a physiotherapy session when the cracking took place and as a result, I feel like I’m walking taller and in a better posture. My shoulders feel slightly sore because they were worked on quite intensively (which I asked for) and I know that not all the knots are gone (even though I’ve had a massage every day this week) but they are definitely looser and the cracking of my back demonstrated this.

Emotionally – Strangely I don’t feel that in touch with my emotions right now, or at least there isn’t anything noticeably positive or negative. I actually still feel neutral and generally unaffected emotionally by the massage but maybe this might change later.

Overall Review

Thai Massage remains one of my favourite massages. It’s a very interactive massage where the client is asked to move into certain positions, it involves stretches, cracking and a variety of techniques all working along the Meridian energy lines. This one was especially intense as I asked her to go very hard and because of this she was able to really push my muscles to loosen up, hence the cracking of my back. Most of the time my back doesn’t crack because the muscles are so tight around it and it takes a lot of manipulation or yoga to release this but this experienced masseuse was able to. The thing that I love most about the Wat Po Training School is that the Therapists are very skilled at what they do and they are all very intuitive. Although the language barrier can provide to be an issue sometimes, once you get to know the rhythm it’s easy to work with the Therapist and get into the positions. The reception area also has a help sheet with some Thai phrases on such as ‘A little harder please’ which is helpful.

I really appreciate the diversity of the Thai Massage as it doesn’t just rely on the Therapist to work on the muscles but the client also has to move around too. I also like that the client is moved into different positions in order to allow the therapist to use gravity to their advantage, simply because it means that the pressure of the massage doesn’t necessarily depend on just the strength of the therapist.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

What is Cupping and Why Are Olympic Athletes Going Crazy For It?

I had cupping as part of an Acupuncture Treatment that I was reiving when I was in Bali and seen as Olympic athletes are going crazy for it, I’ve dedicated a specific piece on the theory, my thoughts and how it made me feel.

My overall review of how I felt physically and emotionally after the series of treatments can be found in my review of Acupuncture but I’ve included my notes on how I felt about that particular acupuncture and cupping session on the day, especially for this review.

Cupping is an ancient technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine and it can be used as its own treatment or alongside acupuncture. The British Acupuncture Council states that it’s used to stimulate acupuncture points or larger areas of the body, which may be the reason why it’s being heavily used in the Olympics – all that work on those pumping muscles must require a lot of healing.

The cups are rounded and can be made of a variety of material, most commonly in the Western side of the practice, glass is used. To use the cups, the practitioner heats up the air inside the glass with a flame and then places the glass on the clients skin. Then the natural laws of physics prevail and a vacuum is created inside the glass, causing the skin to be sucked into it. It’s typical that multiple glasses will be used at any one time and they are left on the skin for up to 20 minutes.

The theory behind this method is that it supposed to reduce stagnation of ‘qi’ (energy) and also help draw out toxins. In the news however, it’s been reported that the athletes are using it to aid recovery from the physical aches and pains brought on by constant training and competing.

Red Dots

The Session

This was my fourth session of Acupuncture with Ben and as always it started off with some talk therapy which ended up being a roundup of how I was feeling at the time and how I felt about going home – I was leaving Bali that afternoon to slowly head home (via Jakarta, Bangkok and London). We talked about a recent mindset change that I’d experienced and how I envisaged moving back into the real world once I got home. It was evident that I was starting to come down with a cold which was probably a combination of working through all these emotions so intensely and a little bit of partying towards the end of my trip – I was squeezing in as much Bali fun as I could before leaving. Due to the cold, Ben suggested that I have some cupping as well as the acupuncture to help my body release toxins and move around some of my energy, seen as he’s the expert I agreed.

As I lay on on my back, on the acupuncture couch, Ben took my pulse on both of my wrists and then proceeded with placing some acupuncture needles. After he removed the acupuncture needles he asked me to turn on to my front and remove my upper body clothes so that he could put the cups on my bare back. He left the room whilst I did this and knocked before he returned to ensure that I was decent.

He explained the procedure of cupping and methodically started to place them on my back, one by one. Instantly I could feel the pressure of the sucking of my skin into the cups, it didn’t feel uncomfortable but it was a strange feeling. It reminded me of the feeling of being massaged when the therapist goes quite deep to stretch a certain area, however instead of my skin being moved across my body, it was being pulled outwards. There was a feeling of release as though some kind of space was being created within me, like a void was being created between the pressure of the skin in the glass and the muscles within my body. This feeling felt quite pleasurable but it was difficult to really tap into it because so much was going on. I could also feel that some cups had a slightly stronger pulling sensation than the others, but none of them were strong enough to cause any discomfort. The cups were left on my back for what felt like a considerable amount of time but in reality it was only about 20 minutes, for which time I tried to focus on my breathing.

When Ben came to take the cups away he told me beforehand and then proceeded to remove each glass by releasing the pressure at the side of the glass in what felt like a peeling motion, probably much in the same way that I’d remove a sucker off a glass windscreen. When all the glasses were removed he left the room to give me some space to get changed before coming back and asking me how I felt. We talked a little bit about my experience and also about what to expect in the next 24 hours – that I may be slightly tired. I already felt a little lethargic because of my cold and I was aware that after these treatments I can sometimes feel exhausted, but luckily, apart from getting a taxi to a hotel in the south of Bali I didn’t have much else planned.

Pre-session sense check (02 May 2016, 8am –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – I’d woken up with a head cold, which has been coming for a few days and is now in full force. I’m feeling tired, achy and without much motivation to do anything other than what is necessary. My head hurts, my eyes feel a heavy and my shoulders ache a little too.

Emotionally – I don’t feel that emotional, or I’m not connected with my emotions much today because my physical sensations are quite intense with the feeling of being a ill. I’m a little upset at having to leave Bali but I know it’s the right time so I also feel contempt too.

Post-session sense check (02 May 2016, 5pm –  7 hours after treatment)

Physically – I feel exhausted and my whole body feels really heavy, my movements are also sluggish. I just want to sleep. I have a weird sensation in my head, as though I had had a pressure build up that was now releasing but very slowly.

Emotionally – I’m feeling pretty fragile. I ended up crying when I got to the hotel, not for anything in particular but just because the tears were there and needed to come out. I feel quite numb to any sense of feeling, as though I’m a bit detached from them at the moment.

Overall Review

The sensation of having the cupping treatment was quite strange at first but overall I enjoyed the treatment. With regards to the ‘success’ of it, it’s difficult to review it individually as I had it as part of a series of acupuncture treatments, however those treatments overall were very beneficial for me because they released a lot of physical pain and also instigated a couple of strong mindset changes so overall I would say that it was effective. As with all holistic therapies, it’s difficult to scientifically measure them as the placebo effect could be having a very strong effect, and because I strongly believe in the meridian energy system which these treatments are based on then of course they are more likely to ‘work’. Whether or not they are proving as successful for the Olympic athletes is something that we’ll have to watch out for when we compare the medals and red spots – hardly scientific but worth a shot to find out. Personally I enjoyed the cupping treatment and would have it again but I think that it’s worthwhile to do your own sense check and reflection to see how effective it is for you.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Can Underwater Massage Help With Trauma Recovery? A Therapist Explores…

Whilst sitting at a beach restaurant on Haad Salad beach, North-West of Koh Phangan island (Thailand) there was something happening in the water that caught my eye. From what I could see it was a man performing some kind of dance routine with a woman which involved him pulling her in, underneath and through the water. This intrigued me and I had to find out more of what this dance movement was, coincidentally it turned out to be a type of therapy – Wataflow

Wataflow is a type of massage that combines massage, stretching, dance and meditation in the medium of water. It is said to relax and calm the mind and help with emotional blockages, stress, and anxiety. After reading up on this I decided to book a treatment and review it in my current therapies research. You can find out more about the therapy and how it was created here and if you’re in Thailand and would like to book the therapist that I have reviewed (Miguel) you can get in touch with him here.

My research is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

LOU_5092

The Session

I met my Wateflow Therapist Miguel at a beach on the East Coast of Koh Phangan where the sea was deep enough for the treatment and there weren’t too many people around. First, we sat down and he talked me through the process of what would happen and what I could expect from the treatment. Then he asked what my reasons were for wanting the treatment – I explained the trauma that I had been through in the last year and that I was experiencing some anxiety, panic attacks and physical pain from what I believed were emotional blockages because I don’t freely express difficult emotions. He then asked how I felt to be around water and underneath it, to which I replied that I used to feel quite at ease being a scuba diver, sailor, and strong swimmer but seen as the smallest of things sometimes feel like challenges these days I explained that I might feel ok now but if I feel triggered throughout the session then I might have an adverse reaction. Miguel took all this on board and explained that I would receive the best from the treatment if I could try to completely let go and trust him in the water. I knew that this might be a challenge especially with him being a man as all my trauma situations have related to men but there was something calming in his nature that allowed me to relax in his presence. After the consultation, he talked me through some breathing exercises, which we then did and then we went into the water.

For the next 60 minutes, Miguel moved me in, out and through the water in a series of stretches and movements. They started quite gradually without much submersion in the water and for the first few moments as he moved me around, he hummed a song. He also did this at the end which basically signified the start and the end of the massage. Gradually, the submerged time and depth underneath the water increased as Miguel sensed that I became more comfortable and relaxed. Some of the movements I was familiar with as they were similar to positions that I have been in with Yoga, Acro Yoga and Thai massages but the feeling of being weightless in the water made everything seem like a lot less effort. I had my eyes closed for the whole treatment and my breathing was steady and slow but I was prompted by a subtle double tap from Miguel to hold my breath ready for a submersion. During these times I was flexed forwards, backwards and sideways in what was literally a three-dimensional massage. I was also gently floated up, gently submerged deeper and pulled through the water at different speeds and different directions which was a very surreal feeling. Throughout the whole thing, I don’t remember thinking much, it was almost as though because the sensation of being moved through the water was so strong then I actually lost the capacity to think altogether. The times when things did pop into my head it was an observation about how I was feeling which went something like I feel like a baby or I feel like a fish apart from this I think I just felt quite calm and free. I remember the sound of the bubbles as I flowed through the water and feeling of my body floating up to the surface and out of the water, being gently brushed by the air and even now to draw upon those thoughts, it leaves me feeling relaxed. There were some points when I felt the strong urge to take a breath and felt a little discomfort when I was submerged but I realised that these times were irrespective of the amount of time I was being held under water and instead they related to the actual experience. Most of the times when I felt this, it was when my hair momentarily covered my face and it went dark and also when my back was close to the sea bed. At one point my back was rested against the seabed and my legs were at right-angle in the water and I felt quite panicked and jerked my feet which Miguel sensed and brought me up to the surface for a breath. As darkness, hair across my face and being pinned up against something are some of my PTSD triggers it makes sense that I would feel uncomfortable at these points, however, a part of re-framing triggers is to experience them in a comfortable surrounding so exposing me to such triggers in such a relaxing experience will actually work towards my trauma recovery rather than against it.

The final part of the treatment involved Miguel bringing me out of the water and onto the beach. Before he did this, he finished off the massage the same way he had begun – by doing some lighter submerged movements and humming a tune. Then he pulled me up to the beach, until I was half out of the water, where he massaged my head, neck, and shoulders and also pressed on some meridian points. I was shaking quite noticeably when I was brought out of the water and although this may have been because I was cold it also felt like the kind of shaking that happens after I’ve had a panic attack but I hadn’t had one. My eyes also felt a little tired as though I had cried which I may have done in the water but I couldn’t actually tell. Miguel then sat me upright and left me to open my eyes and have the time I needed to do whatever I felt like.

I decided to get back into the water, wash off the sand and float for a little while, reflecting on the experience I had just had. Afterwards, I walked back up the beach and we had a chat about my experience, this is when the emotion hit me. He told me that he didn’t feel any resistance from me throughout the treatment and that I seemed relaxed which was true in my own evaluation as well. I explained that I felt really comforted and somewhat protected throughout the treatment which is when I started to cry because that’s how my Dad would make me feel. Saying that out loud tapped into how empty and afraid I’d felt after the attack and how much these feelings were magnified when my Dad died, as though the only man who I could trust to protect me and not break my heart wasn’t there any longer. Miguel hugged me at this point and I just cried without holding back. To be honest, given the explanation of how the treatment worked I expected that I would probably cry afterwards but having someone stay present with me and accept this emotion helped me accept it too. As it was getting close to 6pm and the sun was starting to set I decided to sit on the beach with Miguel and watch the sunset with the crowd that was slowly gathering. He pointed out a man who was swinging a small baby around by the legs and arms as though the baby was weightless. I said that that’s how I felt in the water with him and we laughed. I thought about how that was probably a father and child playing around at the beach like me and my Dad would have done when I was a baby, it made me smile.

Pre-session sense check (12 Jan 2016, 3pm – 1 hour before massage)

Physically – I woke up feeling groggy and stiff, especially in my knees and my upper back and upper arms. I still feel tired even though I had 10 hours of sleep (probably disturbed sleep) and I’ve not done anything challenging all day. My knees still feel tight but my upper body has loosened up.

Emotionally – I woke up feeling quite irritated as we had to move accommodation today and as we didn’t have a plan I felt a little stressed out and pressured about this situation (pre-trauma this wouldn’t have phased me in the slightest). Other situations throughout the day have left me feeling defensive, stressed, frustrated, low in confidence and generally negative. I feel like I could cry but I’m pushing it back down because I’m out on a moped today and feel like I need to stay clear headed in order to ride competently.

Post-session sense check (12 Jan 2016, 7pm – 1 hour after massage finished)

Physically – I feel very relaxed, free of tension in my knees and upper body. My skin also feels really nice too, almost as if it’s been refreshed and rehydrated. It’s not that it felt bad before, it’s just that there is a noticeable difference to how it feels now, it’s an almost tingling feeling. I don’t have any pain or stiffness in my body like I did this morning, but I don’t feel exhausted which I can do after a massage. I feel relaxed and energised.

Emotionally – I feel positive and there is a sense of acceptance of myself at the moment. I feel a lot less judgmental towards myself and I feel a sense of inner confidence too, especially when I’m riding the moped. I feel the way I did when I was in Koh Phangan two years ago when I was nipping around the island confident enough to do anything I put my mind to. I do however feel upset but rather than dwelling on it, it’s more like I’m content with what has happened to me recently. I wonder if this might be because I had to completely give up control while I was in the water which is something that I don’t like to do (especially not after the attack) but it’s as though this experience has shown me that it’s ok.

Overall Review

Overall I was very pleased with the wataflow massage and I think it meets a large criteria in terms of it being a therapy, however, I think there are a few key things that can affect the experience which need to be taken into consideration which I will elaborate on later in this part of the review.

The theory behind Wataflow makes complete sense to me and although there doesn’t seem to be much research (lab or case study) on this as a therapy it’s clear that it works under the same principles as meditation, the meridian energy system and also general massage relaxation. As well as working to calm the mind and release emotional blockages I also imagine that Wataflow could be used as a type of exposure therapy, especially in regard to PTSD triggers. In my experience, I had to give up complete control which firstly is something difficult to do when experiencing PTSD because there is such a big fear associated with loss of control. However due to giving up this control actually experienced a few triggers throughout the treatment which I might not have otherwise allowed myself exposure to, such as having my back pressed against something (the sea bed) and also having my hair flared across my face and the darkness and trapped feeling that this experience brought me. As one of the steps in trauma recovery is reframing triggers to make them feel safe again I really feel like the trigger exposure that I experienced whilst also feeling completely calm and relaxed has helped me reframe such situations in a positive light, which is why I see a potential for such a treatment to be used in exposure therapy. That said, I believe that there are two very important elements which can determine the success of a treatment if used as exposure therapy – firstly whether or not the client is ready and willing to face such discomfort (if you’ve read My Philosophy section you’ll see that I am). Secondly, it’s imperative that the client feels safe throughout the treatment and that comes down to the setting, the pre-treatment explanation and most importantly the therapist. The client obviously holds some responsibility to communicate how they feel but the therapist should also be intuitive enough to read between the lines and judge whether or not they actually do feel safe. It could be that the client is confused about how they feel or may be out of touch with how they actually feel and it’s very important that the therapist can read this (in the clients words, body language and actions). As I meditate daily I’ve learnt to become very in touch with how I feel and had I not felt safe then I would have communicated this and probably wouldn’t have got in the water at all. Even though I did feel safe I also felt a little anxious at the start of the treatment because this was a new experience but I communicated this clearly with Miguel and I could also see that he was intuitive to how I felt in his response towards me – be that in his body language, words and also actions before, throughout and after the session. This could be down to the experience Miguel has had with other holistic therapies such as reiki, holistic massage, craniosacral biodynamic, yoga, meditation and  free diving or it could just be down to his personal characteristics, either way there was definitely something very calming and secure in his nature which gave me the confidence to have such a sensual treatment with him.

I think another important elements of this treatment are the setting – having this treatment in the clear blue sea on a beautiful beach in Thailand whilst the sun shines through the water and onto my skin as I’m brought to the surface – it felt as amazing as it reads. If this treatment was to be done in a chlorine filled echo-y swimming pool it might not have the same effects and I don’t know if that’s because of the natural effect of the sea and tide or a placebo effect that this setting has on people who aren’t brought up in hot idyllic countries. Miguel believes that there are therapeutic properties of experiencing the treatment in the sea, as it is a natural medium of our bodies and thus gives us a strong connection with nature which I also believe could be true.

Currently as I’m travelling on a shoestring it’s unfeasible for me to commit to having more sessions of Wataflow at present but I would definitely recommend this as either a one off treatment or as a series of treatments for someone who is looking for an exhilarating but relaxing experience, providing that they feel safe to be submerged in water. I think there is great potential for this treatment in terms of exposure therapy as well but probably not without the consultation of a psychological therapist first (luckily I have one of those at hand). Either way, it was enjoyable, relaxing and refreshing so I hope to see and experience more of it in the future.

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**UPDATE** Second Session – Wataflow as a potential exposure therapy?

After reading the review Miguel gave me a complimentary treatment to explore the possibilities of using Wataflow as an exposure treatment. After discussing my thoughts and feelings about the first massage with Dr Jenn and the how it had helped me become aware of some more triggers we both thought that this would be an interesting idea. Before the massage Miguel carried out another consultation with me and particularly spoke about how he was going to gradually put me under triggering situations, getting more intense throughout the massage. I agreed to try this out and we began the massage with the breathing exercises on the beach again. The difference between this massage and the last one is that I felt a little more resistant to being put in positions that triggered me, and I believe this is because I knew that it was going to happen so I had subconsciously built up some fear around this. I did however, persist and try to fight against the fear but it was noticeable more difficult. To persist I literally chanted positive affirmations in my head that I’ve been doing in situations when I feel under attack, which go something like I am safe and protected, I am safe and protected over and over again. In PTSD treatment this is called reframing, it’s basically getting the logical part of my brain to override the reactive (fight/flight/freeze) part of my brain, stopping it from reacting and also disassociating the trigger with the attack. Obviously by doing this underwater I had made this a bit more severe for myself but I’m not known for taking the easy route and I knew deep down that I could handle it, so I pushed through with this. The first trigger occurred when Miguel tried to push my back on to the sea bed with my legs at right-angle, and I actually did push out of this one because I was slightly fearful. However, his response to this was to work more slowly with the submersions that he knew would trigger me and build them up more gradually. This meant that he did a lot of movements where my hair was in front of my face and he pulled me through the water by my hair and very close to the sea bed. Although I didn’t touch it, I was aware it was there. Gradually, he started to lay me down on my back, hold me down by pressing down on my legs at right angles and finally he was able to curl me up into the foetus position and hold me down with his foot pushing against my shins while I lay curled up, back against the seabed.

The end of the treatment followed the same process as the previously reviewed massage and Miguel maintained consistency throughout the procedures which is something that I look for in a therapy as signifies professionalism and confidence of subject area.

Looking back on the second treatment I was actually quite surprised with myself and it’s given me a lot more confidence throughout my daily activities. Personally, I think if someone had told me that I was going to be held underwater in the foetus position underneath their foot, I would have been more worried for their safety than mine. However, as I actually managed to override my reactive response to fight back and re-frame a non-threatening situation it gives me the courage to work on my other triggers.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Emotional and Physical Energy

2015 brings to the end a very difficult year for me, so what better way to start my first chapter of 2016 than going away with a Psychologist? Not just any Psychologist, but one that has studied performance breakdown as a result of trauma experience! Dr Jenn Bennett and I have been friends for over 10 years, back when we were University ‘freshers’ unbeknown to what the World would hold for us. Now we’re sitting in a Bangkok airport; Trauma Traveller and Psychologist looking at the World through very different eyes. As we chat on the bus to the airport we talk about a lot of things but stumble across the topic of The Meridian Energy System.

Although I don’t have it at the moment, one of the things that I’ve been struggling with this year is a pain in my left shoulder. It stems from the back of my neck, down my shoulder and sometimes down my arm all the way to my fingers. It feels like all my muscles tighten up and there seems to be nothing that I can do  to get rid of it on my own, no matter how much yoga I do or Epsom salt baths I take.

I used to suffer with this problem a few years ago but I had had it again directly after being attacked and then more recently in the last few months. To try and diagnose the pain I went down the usual route that most of us might – back to physiotherapy and acupuncture, after deciding that it was bad posture brought back on by the attack. I was given exercises by my Physiotherapist to do daily, but the pain would still come back sporadically, regardless of whether or not I did my exercises.

During the last year, I’ve read up on a lot of different theories about our bodies and how pain can be manifested by emotions. The most impressionable book on this subject was You can heal your life by Louise Hay that was given to me by a Sports Masseuse who I was visiting almost weekly to try and manage the pain. Other avenues that I was looking into were Colour Therapy, Spiritual Chakras and Reflexology, which after a few conversations with Dr Jenn led me to on to the Meridian System. In Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that energy (“qi”) flows through the physical body via a network, called the Meridian System. Although Western medicine hasn’t typically adopted this stance (as science hasn’t proved that ‘spiritual’ energies run through a physical body, however, it hasn’t disproved it either), having studied an element of science myself it makes perfect sense that different energy systems would be connected and that energy between the two would transfer. Anyone who has studied physics would know of Newton’s law – that energy is neither created or destroyed, it just transfers from one form to another. So, if emotional energy was suppressed – which is quite normal to do in a Western conservative society – then by following Newton’s law, it seems logical that this energy would transform and manifest somewhere else, like the physical body.

Back to my shoulder and the weird on and off pains… In Louise Hay’s book, the left shoulder is symbolic of feminine energy and the same thing came up when looking into Meridian System. When I found this out it was obvious to me that something was triggering this kind of physical pain but I just couldn’t work out what. That’s  when I decided to take a step back and look at things in a wider perspective. First question was, when exactly did I get the pain? What things were similar in my life situation during these times?

When I look back at when I first started getting the pain I remember that it was when I was travelling with my ex-fiancé, back in 2011 and it coincided with the argument that marks the start of our breakup. I continued to have this pain for the year and a half after, during which we stayed together but both weren’t happy. I don’t recall having the pain much in the 2 years following the breakup and during this time I was travelling around, working in a variety of jobs and generally being young, free and single. So when I started to get this pain again this year I started to dig a little deeper into what it could be. The attack obviously threatened my feminine energy in a large way because this was a direct threat of female violation so having this pain following the attack made sense in this context. However, it wouldn’t explain why a year down the line I was getting the pain again and somewhat sporadic, or was it? What I’ve failed to look at was other things in my life – I’d recently started dating again with someone who was committed to staying in the UK for a while. This person was very special to me I wanted to make it work and was considering how I could do this. Ultimately to give this relationship a chance it meant that I would have to give up travelling and this thought process coincided with when I would get the pain. To back this up, a topic that frequently came up in the counselling that I had after the attack and losing my father was that of commitment. Specifically, how a commitment of any kind seemed to compromise my desire to travel, thus compromising an integral part of who I am. This is probably why I have spent the last few years fine-tuning different skills to get to a point in my life where I can travel and work freely, however, relationships don’t really work like that, especially not if one-half is tied to a location or career, hence the pain.

This is just one example of a physical pain that has turned out to be directly linked to a suppressed emotion and after learning more about the link between emotional and physical pain I’ve actually become aware of a few other examples in myself and I now make sure that I take a good look at my emotional state if I feel a physical pain. It seems strange to write this having studied science, grown up in a family of medics and lived in a Western culture where there is an awful lot of shame and weakness connected to showing vulnerable emotions, but when looking at it from an objective point of view it actually makes a lot of sense. I guess if you want to know more you can try it for yourself, the information’s out there.

Chinese_meridians

“Chinese meridians” by KVDP – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_meridians.JPG#/media/File:Chinese_meridians.JPG

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x