Kay's Journey: Bodyworker, Movement Expert,Natural Vision Educator

When I was a child, my mother use to get massages. I always assumed that everyone’s mother got massages. She was a very physical person, not like an athlete but more like she swam every day and played golf as much as she could in between 15 pregnancies and the safe arrival of 10 babies. I was one of them. When I was growing up in Cleveland, we belonged to the Jewish community center even though we were Roman Catholic for the simple reason that it had the best spa facilities: pool, sauna and massage.

I would often have to wait for my mother while she got her massages and as I got older and crankier she would buy me a session. I always asked the person working on me where they were trained and how one became a massage therapist. As a young adult I turned to massage therapy when I had a very stressful job but that was the long and short of it. I hadn’t made that leap into wanting to become a massage therapist.

I married when I was twenty, and moved to Middletown New York where I took a job in a large state mental institution as a psychiatric attendant. It was probable the only job available in the area but it really worked for me because in those days if you worked there you could apply to their nursing program and they would put you through school while you worked at the facility. That was the plan I going to become a nurse. It also worked because my marriage wasn’t working out and I could live on site while I did my nurses training.

So what happened? Well if you ever want to kill a desire to work in the medical field, working in a large under staffed state mental institution with bare bones care would do that unless you were Mother Theresa. The actual incident that ended my desire to be a nurse was an incident of patient abuse on my ward by a coworker which traumatized me and the administrations inability to do anything but reassign the abuser to a violent ward where the patients could fight back, that was what ended any interest I had in entering the medical profession. I knew that the entire system isn’t like that but I think I am thankful that I had that experience so I could move on to my true calling, which wasn’t nursing.

I did however spend the next 25 years perusing another career and at the same time looking for some other way to get into a helping profession without becoming a medical professional. I use to get “Mother Earth News” and I would read every page trying to see if there wasn’t a fit somewhere for me and then I would then continue working my existing job.

When I lost interest in becoming a nurse and working for the hospital I moved home with my mother who was now living in Florida and I went back to school for something entirely unrelated.

During the time that I lived in Florida I was having back problems probably related to school, there was a free yoga class on campus, and I attended. I spent the next ten years studying yoga with whatever teacher was available in whatever city I was living in and thought about teaching yoga but I couldn’t figure out how to make a living teaching yoga.

1978 I moved back to my hometown Cleveland and found a job in my field but I was still trying to get back into a helping profession without becoming part of the medical model. It was during that time that I faced a crisis in my personal life and at the same time, the company I was working for decided to close their facility in Cleveland. The crisis resolved over time but the job was a problem. Once again faced with what to do, I decided to do nothing for a while since I had some severance pay. Why not just relax.

One day at the end of summer, I was sitting next to a woman at a swimming pool and as we chatted, she mentioned that she had just become a massage therapist and enthused about how much she loved it. I asked for information about her school and, stirred by old memories, I contacted them the next day. They told me classes were starting the next week and that I needed to make up my mind about attending because if I didn’t sign up now I would need to wait a year. The school was in Akron Ohio and was run at that time 1982, by the Mennonites. I quickly said yes. I was also lucky that Ohio had just legislated a limited medical license for massage so I would be an Ohio state licensed massotherapist and I graduated in 1984. It was all good!

About half way through my year and a half training I started to work as a massage therapist and took to it like a duck to water, I had the hands for it, sometimes referred to as “a touch” and I also had the stamina. I love being physical with my work. I enjoyed it so much that when I graduated I went on to study at the East/West Center in Cleveland. I took every course they offered in many types of massage. The two techniques that I especially related to are foot reflexology and Shiatsu. I began incorporating those into my practice right away.

During those months, I heard of an elderly Chinese man on Coventry Rd. who started to teach Tai Chi in the back of his store at night so I took lessons from him even though he was hard to understand. It worked for me because there was about six of us in a small space but unfortunately, as he got a following and moved the class into a gym it was impossible for me to understand him so I began taking Tai Chi from a white western whose instructions I could follow. One day the instructor showed us a video he had taken of our class and I think that was the first time I became aware of how bad my structure was. The biggest shock came in my yoga class, which I continued to attend, when one day I was waiting for it to start and looked into the big wall mirror in the distance to the left side of me. There I saw a woman who had completely collapsed on herself. I looked around the room to see who it was. Oh my gosh, it was me! In spite of my surprise, it still wasn’t in my consciousness that I needed structural realignment. I was flexible. Wasn’t that enough?

In the first two years as a massage therapist, two significant things happened. I would look at my clients lying face down on a massage table and I would wonder why one shoulder was up and the other one down, why one hip was held up higher than the other and things that signaled misalignment but I didn’t know that at that time. Also, although I was pretty good at getting people out of pain, I seemed unable to make that relief permanent. It bothered me that clients needed to keep coming in once a week for me to work on the same problem. Surely, I could find a more permanent solution. I was curious about all of that and I wanted more answers.

Propitiously, just at this time, a friend of mine who wanted to become a Rolfer happened upon an ad in a health food store magazine for Hellerwork, which is an offshoot of Rolfing. He kept bringing me all this information about Hellerwork training so when I heard about the pre-training that was taking place in Marin California at the Westerbeck Ranch I quickly signed up. The pre-training was something Joseph Heller thought up that would get perspective students in a situation where they could get the eleven sessions of bodywork required in order to apply to the training, while at the same time providing his graduating students with people to work on. It was a win/win situation - except that we received two one and half-hours of bodywork sessions a day so that they could fit the whole series into a week. I would like to say that I would never recommend two sessions of bodywork a day to anyone and I think they discontinued it shortly after they started it. I can say that I felt like I had been pulled through a key hole at the end of the week. I did get to see what training looked like and I did want to train by the end of the experience. It also answered some questions for me about what I was seeing with my clients structurally. I was also surprised at my own misalignment. In those days, they took before and after pictures of each session and mine were enlightening to me.

I spent the next two years flying back and forth to California for a Hellerwork training. I was certified in 1986 and started my practice in Cleveland where I still lived. I had also discovered The Alexander technique when in California and that discovery was huge for me. I had had my first Alexander lessons, during my training in Hellerwork from Elaine Bell, and back in Cleveland discovered a certified Alexander Technique teacher who lived about five minutes from me. I took lessons from her on a weekly basis for about four years until I gave up my practice and moved to California to train as a teacher. During that time in an effort to get an Alexander training and remain in Cleveland, I worked with many different teachers and really experienced the gambit of teachers from different trainings and different thoughts about the Alexander technique.

One of the things that distinguish Hellerwork from Rolfing, even though it is an offshoot of Rolfing, is that there is an emotional component to the work. We were trained in a technique called “Voice Dialoguing” which was developed by Hal and Sindra Stone. There was incident in one of the first few years of my practice where I had a new client call me after her first or second session and say that she was going to quit seeing me. She said she didn’t think I was qualified to be doing the emotional work that I was doing and that she was uncomfortable. My response was that it was fine we didn’t need to do the voice dialoguing; she could just come and get the bodywork. It was then that she said that well actually, her father had just died and she was in a lawsuit with her employer over a sexual harassment charge and the truth was she just didn’t want to look at anything personal right now. Well enough said.

I had taken a course through the psychology department at Cleveland State University and they sent me the information to sign up for the next term. So I started taking counseling courses through the Education department and I didn’t really understand what I was doing until one day I realized that I was half way through a Master’s Degree in counseling and decided to finish it. I moved to California in 1991 to become an Alexander Technique Teacher needing three classes to graduate which I finished in California and graduated from Cleveland State University 1994 with a counseling degree and my focus was addictions and codependency.

My Alexander training was interesting. I arrived in California in 1991 to train but didn’t graduate until 1996. A certified Alexander training is three years long with three terms in the year. You study five days a week three hours a day. It was quite a challenge for me to train while I kept a full time bodywork practice going. The first training I attended was in San Francisco and the school director was Frank Ottiwell. The training was too big for me and too confusing for me. There were many different teachers who came from different styles of trainings and traditions and all with different ideas about The Alexander Technique. Although I didn’t stay at that training what did come out of the term that I studied there was an awareness of The Tomatis Method. The training at the time was very international. About half the class was Americans from all over the country and the other half of the class were students from other countries. One day I was saying good- bye to a graduating student from Ireland and asked her what she was going to do now that she was graduating. She told me she was going back to Europe to study The Tomatis Method and she gave me a cassette tape explaining the method. Well I was stunned. The description on the tape of “who needs The Tomatis Method”, listed many of the problems I was having that I had never resolved. Like low energy and auditory processing problems. I decide to look into it as soon as my Alexander Training was over.

In the meantime, I left the San Francisco school and went down to the Peninsula to a smaller school in Menlo Park run by Ed and Linda Avak. After the first term I decided that maybe I wasn’t suppose to become an Alexander Teacher. Their teaching was just too different for me after having 4 years of lessons from a MacDonald trained Alexander teacher, Helen Hobbs in Cleveland. Alexander trained a large group of people and certain teachers emerged with different ideas about what they were taught and formed different schools and my linage was Patrick Macdonald. So I stopped training and concentrated on being an exceptional Bodyworker and developing my practice and my skills.

In the meantime, I left the San Francisco school and went down to the Peninsula to a smaller school in Menlo Park run by Ed and Linda Avak. After the first term I decided that maybe I wasn’t suppose to become an Alexander Teacher. Their teaching was just too different for me after having 4 years of lessons from a MacDonald trained Alexander teacher, Helen Hobbs in Cleveland. Alexander trained a large group of people and certain teachers emerged with different ideas about what they were taught and formed different schools and my linage was Patrick Macdonald. So I stopped training and concentrated on being an exceptional Bodyworker and developing my practice and my skills.

To keep my certification as a Hellerworker I had to take classes each year and as I was finishing my Master’s in counseling I decided that maybe I wasn’t supposed to train anymore; but I kept hearing about an Alexander teacher in the East Bay and eventually had a lesson with him, Giora Pinkas. He offered to train me. At that time, he and another Macdonald trained teacher John Baron had decided to start a school in Berkeley and I was there first trainee and graduated as a Certified Alexander Technique teacher in 1996.

Actually, a lot happened after I graduated. Of course, I added The Alexander Technique to my private practice and began to teach. It is also not unusual after a training to stay in touch with your school and attend classes a couple times a week so I continued to work school for a while as well.

Now I had time to look into The Tomatis Method again and was surprised to discover that there was a tomatis center in Lafayette, fifteen minutes from my home. The extraordinary thing about that was, at the time, 1996, there were probably only about fifteen Tomatis center is the whole world and one of them was in Lafayette California. Pierre Sollier a Frenchman who studied with Dr. Alfred Tomatis in Paris had opened it in the eighties. I signed up for the treatement and it was probably the first therapy I have ever had that I didn’t want to understand how it worked or know more about it: strangely enough I just wanted to go in and be a client, leaving happy to have achieved some of the changes I was looking for.

I received the Tomatis treatment in about 1997 and in 1998, I started to lose my close vision. I had worn glasses for distance since I finished my first Master’s Degree in 1977. I had always planned to take a look at the Bates method of natural vision improvement but I wasn’t motivated enough until I started to think about wearing bifocals or trifocals. Dr. Quackenbush, the person most people studied with in those days, had just moved away from the Bay area but, as it happened, an Alexander teacher called me and said there was a Alexander teacher named Peter Grunwald who was giving a natural vision workshop in Santa Barbara using the principles of the Alexander Technique. Of course, I signed up immediately. The end result of that workshop, aside from the fact that over time I regained my vision and stopped using glasses in 200, was that I began to study with him and followed him all over the world for the next three years. It changed the way I taught the Alexander Technique dramatically. There were two other dramatic things that changed my work and how I look at structure.

This is where it starts to get complicated because I started a natural vision training with Peter and then something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. I was working with a Hellerwork client who one day, came in crying. She told me that her distress was over a consultation with her adopted son’s English teacher. This person had counseled her that she needed to accept the fact that her son just wasn’t very bright, which she knew wasn’t true. Then she went on to explain to me that the week before, his father was out watching their son at football practice when one of the other dads came up to him. “You know,” he said, “some of these kids are one and two plays ahead on the football field but your son is always at least three plays ahead. He is the smatest kin out there!”

This was how his mom experienced him and, recognizing the problem, I suggested The Tomatis Method to her. The family lived in Walnut Creek so seeing Pierre Solier in Lafayette was perfect. They had a consultation and Pierre left on vacation with the understanding that her son was to start treatment when Pierre returned. All good except that Pierre came back from vacation, closed his clinic and moved to Mexico. It was suggested that my client call Dr. Ron Minson in Denver Co. the next closest center to California. As it turned out Dr. Minson and his assistant, Chris Fadick, had just updated a piece of equipment that was engineered by Dr. Alfred Tomatis called “the electronic ear” and was starting a training course. So that is how I ended up training in the Tomatis Method. Jeanie Franke and I did the training together in Denver Co and opened up The Creative Listening Center in Concord. And also did another training with Advanced Brain Technology using their listening program. Let’s just say it wasn’t an immediate success. If anything, we were ahead of our time. The result was, that after trying unsuccessfully to sell enough listening programs to warrant the cost of renting our facility, I sold my interest in the equipment to Jeanie and she moved the business into her home in Walnut Creek. At that time I was working two jobs: one as a Bodyworker and Alexander Technique Teacher and the other working at the listening center. But I was also studying with Peter Grunwald in natural vision education! It was too much!

Why am I explaining all of this? The reason is that during the time I worked with Dr. Ron Minson I became aware of Jean Ayres work with reflexes and sensory integration, which connected me to a technique called Brain Gym. I started to take Brain Gym classes and it changed my thinking about how the senses relate to the structure of the body and how we move. Probably the work that I found through Brain Gym that I was most taken with was Bill Hubert’s Bal-A-Vis-X and the classes that I took with Bill is where I met Shirley Kelley another body/mind practitioner, who like me, understood and was drawn to the work. For two years we met once a week in a studio we rented in Berkeley to practice and we invited everyone we could think of to join us. We usually got one or two people and sometimes worked alone and then I would give Shirley an Alexander lesson and we would go home. About a year and a half into our practicing we started a class and we rented another studio in Berkeley and I think we got 4 people and taught two six-week sessions. I gave a demonstration of the work at an Alexander Congress held in San Francisco, then I was finished with it, and Shirley went on to become a Bal-A-Vis-X practitioner and still works and teaches in Rochester New York.

The other person’s work I became aware of through Brain Gym was Dr. Carla Hannaford who worked with the senses and the brain. I was lucky enough to take two of her workshops but ultimately Brain Gym led me to one of my most influential teachers Svetlana Masgutova who has a center in Poland for children with Cerebral Palsy and who also worked extensively with victims of trauma such as train wrecks and plane wrecks. She deveopled her own work and named it Neurokinesology. She took what I had read in Jean Ayer’s books about reflexes and sensory integration and made it practical for me. Her institute uses early developmental movement and reflexes and found ways to integrate the reflexes using early developmental movements. I took every one of her classes offered here in Bay Area. Shortly after that or maybe even during the time I was studying Neurokinesology with Svetlana I attended an Alexander Technique Congress in Urbana Ill. And at the insistence of a friend we took an early morning workshop on The Dart Procedures. I had heard that there were Alexander Teachers working with these procedures but I didn’t know what they were and I wasn’t very interested in them. In the class taught by an Alexander Teacher who was also a dance instructor at the University of Illinois she had us on the floor rolling around and I recognized many of the movements and associated them with the early reflexes. Dr. Raymond Dart was a famous anthropologist who had a son who was born brain damaged and he developed this series of movements to help his son recover. Once again, I had found something I thought was very valuable that was also connected to the Alexander Technique but it was also connected to the natural vision work that I teach. The infant develops their clear vision through movement and in particular eye movement and then head movement, which leads to the integration of the whole self.

Alex and Joan Murray were the Alexander Teachers who brought the Dart Procedures into the Alexander world so I called them and asked how I could study The Dart Procedures. They connected me to Marie Stroud who was one of their first trainees and trusted colleague. She came to California for many years from Boston sometimes twice a year and taught workshops for myself and a few other colleagues.

These are the origins of my natural vision training and my movement training. I take people with structural and visual problems back to early developmental movement to reeducate both the vision and the structure. The most important discovery for me is that at the end of the day this is all brainwork and that Alexander intuitively understood how the structure works.