BODYWORK AND MOVEMENT-BASED THERAPIES
Here's a little story about how my life path has led me to do what I do. It's lengthy, but I've included some tidbits of wisdom that have been shared with me over the years, so hopefully it will leave you feeling inspired and ready to continue on the path of writing your own story.
My work with the breath began when I was introduced to the teachings of Roy Eugene Davis - the last remaining teaching disciple of the world-renowned guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. Through studying with Roy at the Center for Spiritual Awareness in Lakemont, Georgia, I became initiated in Kriya Yoga. Various techniques for working with the breath were transmitted to me through Roy’s lectures and teachings. Although I was deeply entranced by the power of a breath-based meditation practice, I still had some years of undergraduate work to complete and was thrusted back into the reality of life as a college student. Seeking to find a way to incorporate the teachings of Roy into my work as a psychology major with interests in recreational therapy, I was led to Dr. Carmen Russoniello - director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology at East Carolina University. Dr. R opened me up to a wealth of information - quite dense, yet easily applicable info on the study of self-regulation of the autonomic nervous system via Biofeedback. Through a year of working with various forms of Biofeedback technology, all of which monitored the functioning of the nervous system and allowed me to literally observe its function through computer-based platforms, I became very much aware of the fact that everything I had learned from Roy Eugene Davis was deeply supported by the western scientific model. Hundreds of peer-reviewed, double-blind, rigorously dissected research studies began to form the basis of my understanding of stress management through a western lens.
Although I was engaged in this work and enjoyed the lessons it was teaching me, I knew I was on the precipice of stepping into a deeper understanding of the body-mind and just how much power we have as human beings to control the functioning of our nervous system. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. My next teacher was the world's most vast and beautifully chaotic country: India.
Our greatest teachers are perhaps the ones who encourage us to explore the discomfort of leaving behind everything we know in exchange for a deeper connection with ourselves. India did that exactly. India was difficult, to say the least. By my American-raised standards, India was dirty…smelly…crowded. Having grown up in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, I was used to space between homes…between people…between anything. India was exactly the opposite. Crowded, chaotic, and full of some of the most riveting sights to experience and witness as a human. However, once I truly sank in to all that India is - one I began to allow India into my soul - I found such beauty in the perceived “disorganization” and began to bask in the profound undercurrent of peace amidst the chaos. Even more powerful, however, was the transformation I was undergoing on how to relate to my fellow humans. The people of India completely opened up my heart. Never before had I been immersed in a culture of people who are so gregarious - so friendly - so raw, real and ready to make you their family friend. Further, I experienced being a foot taller than just about every person I met for four months. While this was difficult at first (I stuck out like a sore thumb with my backpacks, light hair and skin and freakish height) it became one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. I was no longer able to hide while traveling - to slip through towns unnoticed, curling up with books in cafes and feeling like a number among a ton of other people who looked like me. No way - I was a guest in a country that was ready to make me its friend. If I didn’t show up to the party, the party came to me. Except these parties involved conversations about life, God, happiness and the importance of family, as opposed to everything else you can imagine is discussed among college-aged young men at parties in the United States. I was simply broken open by something that wanted to hold me and nurture me through my coming into Being. India was such a special, loving mother and friend in that regard.
As soon as I got to India, I journeyed through trains and rickshaws to the sacred town of Rishikesh, which is in the state of Uttarakhand (Northeast India.) Rishikesh is known as the birthplace of yoga, and once you’re on the ground, it’s easy to see why. Statues of Hindu deities were on every corner. Markets and little shops with Om’s all over everything sold were on every street corner. Ayurvedic kitchari was served at almost every restaurant. And yoga schools were everywhere! You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting an ashram (I wouldn’t suggest throwing stones at ashrams anyway...) While Rishikesh is indeed saturated with yoga schools and academies for the healing arts, some authentic and others questionable, I was lucky to have come across some very powerful, gentle and wise teachers in my time there. I began my journey into the Healing Arts by studying with Deepak Gupta at Braham Yoga Alliance. I took a course called “Holistic Massage and Reflexology” and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was a quick overview of massage, I left with the confidence of how to provide a relaxing holistic massage, so I was pleased. I then studied with the Ayurvedic Doctor and Surgeon, Dr. G.K. Rastogi. Dr. Rastogi and I quickly became friends. I met with him daily for ten days to study the philosophy of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is such a vast science of life; it’s near impossible to teach someone about Ayurveda without months and months of time to practice and absorb the work. However, I left this training with a baseline of knowledge on how to provide a simple Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultation. Through dosha assessment, pulse reading and analysis, and dietary recommendations, I felt relatively capable of sharing the work of Ayurveda with friends. However, I wanted to dive deeper into the study of this ancient science of self-healing and experience an Ayurvedic treatment, so I began a Panchkarma cleanse. To make a long story short (and a vast system of cleansing relatively simple), Panchkarma takes everything out of you that you no longer need to hold on to. Some of the treatments were quite invasive and incredibly uncomfortable - but eye-opening and profoundly healing at the same time. After completing my Panchkarma cleanse, I took a quick 5-day course in Abhyangam (Ayurvedic massage) with Baba Singh in Tapovan then went on to study under Swami Prakash in Lakshman Jula. Swamiji and I connected immediately. It felt like we had known each other for lifetimes. His gentle, happy presence made me feel welcomed and seen in a still unfamiliar place. Although Swami was a bubbly, happy man, he was also quite stern. He takes his work very seriously - ensuring that his students will progress through the levels of his teachings only when they are ready. Thankfully, Swami’s work came very naturally to me - it all felt so familiar - and I was able to progress through to the Master Level of his work by the time we completed our studies together. Swami opened me up to the world of energy work. Through introducing me to different ways of viewing and treating the subtle body, Swami initiated me into a lineage of healers that he has both studied under and trained over the years. (Important note: I do not refer to myself as a healer; rather, I am a tour guide for your own journey of Self-Healing...more on that later.)
Having completed my training at Swami’s school, I prepared to move north to the Tibetan enclave called McLeod Ganj, which is just above the city of Dharamsala. I said goodbyes to the beautiful people I had met in Rishikesh (most of whom I am still close friends with to this day) and boarded a bus that would take me through the foothills of the Himalayas to my new home. By the will of the Universe, fate, God, whatever resonates with you, I was placed next to a renowned Ashtanga Yogi on that bus. We spent most of the 8-hour journey discussing life, yoga, Ayurveda, and the pursuit of Self-Realization. I was enthralled by this man. He was teaching me so much simply by his presence. I hoped that I would one day be doing the same for others - transmitting wisdom simply through presence and conversation. This conversation made me consider studying Ashtanga yoga more deeply with him after my upcoming Yoga Teacher Training would come to an end. Growing up tall and relatively lanky, I had always wanted to have a stronger physique, and I felt like Ashtanga yoga would do exactly that for me. Quick note of self-examination: Is that a pure motive? Could any decision we make that is solely based upon the image we present to others truly be a pure motive, one that is there to serve us for our highest good? So I played with that idea for awhile. I arrived in Dharamsala and then began a Yoga Teacher Training course with the wonderful yoga school, Chandra Yoga International. Studying at Chandra and living onsite was such an amazing experience. Not only was I deeply immersed in the study of yoga through a lens that drew from both Eastern and Western teaching models, I was introduced to some of the most compassionate, intriguing, and down-to-earth people I have ever met.
It was at Chandra that I met the lovely couple, Martin McNicholl and Elisangela Paes. Through speaking with Martin, I could feel how his lighthearted, fun-loving presence truly drove the decisions he made in regards to how he chose to live. Martin had worked a number of jobs and had entertained various life paths - from being a real estate agent in the metropolis of Dubai, to DJing in clubs all over Ireland, and even had a stint as a professional poker player, yet he was disenchanted by the material world and tapped into something much deeper. Martin had recently founded Activate Breathwork - a multi-sensory, deeply transformational experience for self-healing that he was facilitating with groups all over Dubai. I was so entranced by this work - it seemed like something I’d been wanting to do for my entire life was finally an option. To live and share from a place of love seemed like a distant dream that was finally becoming real. So once yoga school was complete, I had two options: A) I could go back to the Ashtangi I met on the bus and get more fit, or B) I could travel to Dubai to study Activate Breathwork under Martin and Elis. The choice was easy.
Once I got to Dubai, I was filled with such joy for a number of reasons. First, I was studying with two people whom I admired more than just about anyone I had ever met, and secondly, everything was clean! Now don’t get me wrong - the more rugged, minimalistic lifestyle I embraced in India was so rewarding and taught me so much, but I was beyond grateful to be in a country with air conditioning, “normal” toilets and other various luxuries that I had forgotten about during my time in India. Being in Dubai felt like I was in a fantasyland at times. I was introduced to boutique-style Healing Arts businesses, which offered a wide variety of teachings. I took a short course on Self-Hypnosis and then a daylong training in some esoteric studies with the lovely Verona Rochat. I was so excited to see that there were communities of healing arts practitioners - even in big cities - who were living their art and dancing the balance between luxury and simplicity. Dubai taught me so much in that regard. I also spent a significant portion of my time in Dubai teaching Reiki, which was a lot of fun. When the Dubai dream was over, I was heading back to the United States for the first time in what felt like years, even though it was just a few months. I was excited to get back to my family and to what I knew as my home at the time, but it felt like part of my soul was still in the East: a Zach that was still becoming unveiled was a bit disappointed that I was choosing to go back to the U.S. for job security and a more predictable way of life.
I returned to the United States and began teaching at my alma mater, East Carolina University. Here, I was working as the Campus Resiliency Coordinator under ECU’s Dean of Students, Dr. Lynn Roeder. Dr. Roeder was by far one of the most interesting people I had ever met; I was absolutely amazed by her presence. As her “direct report”, I was able to observe her in action day in and day out. To see how seamlessly she was able to manage the operations of such an extensive department, all the while caring for the entire student body of a 28,000+ student population, was absolutely mind-blowing. She worked with such grace and ease, yet she was very much aware of the inherent stress that pervades the world of higher education. She was my mentor, my friend, and the most caring “boss” I had ever had. As I dove into the work as ECU’s Campus Resiliency Coordinator, I began teaching workshops and coaching students on stress management-based interventions for promoting resilience. In other words, I taught people how to relax, center themselves and tap into their hidden strengths in order to cope with the struggles of life as a college student. This was very rewarding work and some of my student clients taught me a great deal about how to hold space for people and relate to them in times of need.
Although I was loving this work, something was stirring within me that was making me antsy for change. Having returned to the university community I had lived in for the past four years, I felt like I was outgrowing my space and ready to step into something bigger. However, I kept ignoring this urge to expand. (Important note of Self-Reflection: Go with your gut. Make the move no matter how difficult it may seem. And most importantly, listen to and follow your heart when it speaks to you, otherwise life will continue to show you why you should've been true to yourself.) Instead of leaving my situation and moving into a more fulfilling future that I could feel was on the horizon, I stayed at ECU and welcomed someone new into my life. This certain someone taught me a great deal about myself - she made me look at exactly what I had been afraid of looking at for years. She catalyzed the most difficult transformation I had ever faced; I had to face my shadow, live into it for a bit, and emerge stronger, wiser and more connected to my Light than ever before. I recently met a very wise Being in Los Angeles who asked me, “Who was your guru? Where does all of this lightness come from?” And I wracked my brain…I hadn’t really had a guru, per se. They then said, “Well…as far as I know, ‘gu’ means dispel and ‘ru’ means darkness; so a guru is a ‘dispeller of darkness’” And then it hit me! This ex-girlfriend was the closest thing to a guru I had ever had! She made me shine light on my darkness, dig into it, and purge it out through months of intense personal work. By the end of it all, I was a new person, yet I was also more fully myself than I had ever been. Something wild about all of this is that I was doing the exact same thing for her. Isn’t it interesting how our partners mirror us so strongly? We separated, having taught each other a great deal of lessons, and I was feeling antsy to move on again. I listened to my gut this time and knew that it was time to step down from my position at ECU. I then relocated back to Asheville, NC, which then became my home base.
This story jumps around a bit, but it’ll all make sense in a few moments. Upon my return from India, and prior to working for ECU, I had begun studying CranioSacral Therapy with The Upledger Institute. This work was so profound - so vast - and so deeply effective on many levels. Although there are upwards of 500,000 practitioners of CranioSacral Therapy all over the world, it's still a relatively lesser known therapeutic modality. Here’s a very mechanical definition of CranioSacral Therapy, and it’s in my own words so I may leave something out: In essence, CST allows people to work through layers of tension that have manifested in the body at either an acute level or over time. Through manipulation of the soft tissues (fascia, muscles, and the membrane system within the central nervous system) a practitioner of CST releases restrictions in the subtler anatomy of the physical body, thus allowing optimal physiological functioning to be restored in all of the body’s systems. Pretty cool, right? I was basically learning how to physically release restrictions in the entire body - from the gross anatomy to the subtle - that led to the storing of stress and all sorts of other trauma in the body-mind. But then the CranioSacral work started getting deeper. As I progressed through the more advanced levels of training, I began learning how to facilitate what’s called a SomatoEmotional Release. In essence, a SomatoEmotional Release (or SER, for short) occurs when we contact points within the body that seem to be the storehouses of rich, profound emotional content that serves the purpose of at least two major things: First, these points can lead to a number of detrimental effects on the body. Think of a point of trauma stored in the left shoulder that creates a pulling on the connective tissue in the body, which creates a tension pattern that runs all along the chest and into the respiratory diaphragm and the liver, just to name a few structures. After the shoulder injury, the patient's breathing and liver function are both impeded due to fascial restrictions. As this point is released through CST and an SER, all of the body's structures that were affected by the tension pattern then have the ability to move more freely in the body, thus significantly improving their functioning and potentially restoring them to optimal functioning. The second major thing that these points hold are storehouses of wisdom - wisdom that our body-mind-spirit have been wanting us to embrace and learn from, but for whatever reason we’ve stored away. Often we are resistant to gain the wisdom that lies within these points because of a fear of any sort. A fear I often contact in my clients is a fear of stepping into all that one is here on Earth to fully embody. The feeling “I’m not enough, I could never be that great” is incredibly prevalent in our society. I also often contact the feeling of “I’m too much, I can’t put myself out there because I’ll be seen as too much for others to handle”, which is very common in our society as well. My work, via SomatoEmotional Release and some other methods I work with, often serves to bring peace to these limiting beliefs and to show you just how valuable - amazing - vast - expansive - and important you really are.
Sounds like fun work, right? Well, of course! It’s amazing and I love what I do, but it can be incredibly difficult at times and requires a deep understanding of the human body. More importantly, it requires a functional basis of bodywork and manual therapy. So in order to become a fully legitimate practitioner of CranioSacral Therapy and the other work I do, I needed to become “licensed to touch”, or in other words, I had to become a Licensed Manual Therapist. In order to gain this knowledge and experience, I enrolled in a Therapeutic Massage program close to my hometown of Asheville, NC. While I was in massage school, I was able to learn a number of other modalities which have completed shaped my practice. I studied Total Body Balancing (TBB) with Dr. Kerry D’Ambrogio. Drawing from classical Osteopathic Medicine, TBB works to balance lines of tension in the body from a full-body perspective (balancing everything from your head to your toes.) TBB can sometimes be the “missing link” in people’s paths of treatment and it allows us as practitioners to determine where the cause of dysfunction may be - often showing that it's not in the physical location we expect it to be. By addressing lines of tension all over the body, we are able to treat conditions and imbalances that may be caused from areas that are much further away from the area that expresses symptoms. The work is profoundly effective and I love sharing it with people. I also chose to study Dr. Kerry's system of Total Body Energetics (TBE). In short, TBE is the most physically-grounded energy work I have come across. Drawing from quantum physics, Dr. Kerry teaches practitioners how to harmonize the flow of energy in any part of the physical body and even in aspects of the mind and consciousness. Get this: TBE works extraordinarily well at a distance. I regularly work with clients via Skype and FaceTime by using TBE and elements from my background in Reiki. By working with holograms of different anatomical structures, we then follow the basis of quantum theory, which suggests that when a particle (body part) is observed (through a TBE treatment), it can then be worked with in wave-form (which is closer to its expression as pure energy.) So in essence, I evaluate your body to see where you are (range of motion, tension patterns, etc.) then work with various parts of your body in a holographic manner, observe them, harmonize them by following them into a pattern of optimal energetic flow, and then integrate the treatment through tapping and other means. I then reevaluate to look for any changes that have occurred. More often than not, dramatic changes occur simply because the energetic flow of the “problem area” is then optimized. From the basis of quantum theory, it just makes sense.
So what do I do now and how can we work together? I travel a lot. While it’s sometimes exhausting to be on the road so much, I love it because it allows me to spread this light and this work to corners of the world that do not have access to practitioners of the work I share. It's also a real joy to experience building community in new locations through repeated visits for workshops and private sessions. When I travel, I often share my work in workshops and with clients one-on-one. My workshops are typically focused on aspects of Self-Healing through Breathwork, Bodywork, and Sound Healing; however, I also work with various groups such as teens and organizations teaching techniques on Stress Management and building Resilience. I see clients both in person and at a distance via video-based platforms. If you would like to work together, learn more, or attend one of my workshops, please visit my Events page. And please, always reach out with any questions or if you simply want to share some love or fascination. I love what I do and teaching people about this work is a big part of that, so I am always open to helping you gain a better understanding of your own capacity to heal yourself through these beautiful methods of Self-Healing.
With love and gratitude,
With Swami Prakash at his center along the banks of the Ganges River
With Martin and Elis in India
With my teacher training cohort at Chandra Yoga International
With two of my close friends and mentors at ECU
Dr. Todd Fraley and Dr. Liz Fogarty
With SER Instructor and Author Suzanne Scurlock-Durana
With SER Instructor
With Sam Mason, Director of the Tesla Science Foundation
Using the EMOTIV Brainwear