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Illuminated: My experience of John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release I seminar

Updated on May 15, 2014

Yoda says it best

This weekend, I took my first continuing education course as a practicing massage therapist. My overwhelming reaction to the experience is best summed up by the wise Jedi Master, Yoda: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

The course was Myofascial Release I, part of the collection of seminars on the John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release Approach.

I had taken a course in myofascial massage in school. Unfortunately, like most of my classmates, I had enrolled in the 15-month program offered by my school--the one that had evening and weekend classes--because I worked full time while I studied massage. For most of us, Sunday was our only day off during the week, and my Saturday, most of us would be flagging. Our myofascial course had the misfortune of being scheduled immediately after lunch on Saturday, when most of us really just wanted to fall asleep on the table. So, although I did well in the class and thoroughly loved it, I did feel I had only managed to scratch the surface.

It's always fascia, fascia, fascia!

John F. Barnes is considered to be the leading authority on myofascial release.

What exactly is myofascial release?

Myofascial release is a therapeutic technique for releasing restrictions in the fascia, a connective tissue that surrounds every cell in the body. For any healthcare laymen who may be reading this, consider a piece of chicken with the skin still on it. When you peel off the skin, you'll find a filmy substance coating the underside of the skin and the meat beneath. That is a chicken's fascia.

Until fairly recently, the role fascia played in overall health was considered to be very minor, if indeed it played any role at all. Medical students who dissected cadavers probably only recognized fascia as the "stuff" that had to be cleaned off the muscles so that the "more important" structures could be observed and understood. Recently, however, what is being found more and more is that restrictions in the fascia are actually the root cause of a startling number of physical, mental, and emotional ailments--and that finding a skilled manual therapist to release the fascia can relieve and even eliminate many symptoms that stand in the way of health and quality of life. 


As any good learning experience should, this seminar provided me with a few surprises. The professionals in attendance were not all massage therapists. There were physical therapists and occupational therapists in attendance as well.

John Barnes himself was not there. DVDs of prerecorded lectures he had given at his clinic in Arizona were played for us instead. After each demonstrated technique, an instructor reviewed what we had seen, elaborated and answered questions, and then had us pair off to try the techniques on each other.

John Barnes and the instructor present were both physical therapists. They addressed and instructed us accordingly. This was not a bad thing, because we were all coming from a variety of backgrounds. Even within the same fields, the variations in experience and training can be startling. I have been practicing massage for less than a year, and I went to a school with a very holistic approach. Words like "energy" and "centering" were common, as were phrases like "fascial binding." Another LMT I spoke to at the seminar had been practicing for nine years, and had not been taught about myofascial massage in school. Another woman, whose credentials I did not know, had for forty years been told that the "energy" she felt from her patients was not real and had come to believe there was something wrong with her. She broke down into grateful tears, thanking the instructors for finally legitimizing what she had been feeling.

A great deal of emphasis was placed on getting out of "Channel Five,"--our left-brain, intellectual, analytical mind--and into "Channel 3"--the right-brain, emotional, visual, spacial mind. On the table, this left us open to the experience of "unwinding," where we let our bodies move in whatever way felt right, and allowed any emotions we may have been blocking to rise to the surface.

On the first day of the seminar, no matter how much experience we had, we were all nervous students, trying to get the techniques right. We were also afraid of the emotion we felt bubbling up. We didn't want to be embarrassed by an "emotional breakdown." But, as was emphasized to us, however uncomfortable they might be, emotions can't hurt us. Sometimes, the best thing to do to heal is to feel. In his recorded lecture, John Barnes recalled being a child and hearing his mother whispering with her friends about another woman having an "emotional breakdown," treating it as a shameful secret.

"What really happened?" he asked his students. "The woman cried!"

When the world is getting us down, who doesn't usually feel better after a good cry?

By the third day, we had begun to relax. When we were told, "Let go," we let go, and slipped with relative ease into Channel 3. By the time we were doing full treatments on each other, most of us found ourselves unwinding. Some people cried. Some people let out screams they had been holding in. Most everyone let their bodies move. I felt my right arm taking itself through a range of motion, perhaps unsticking itself from the positions I am prone to holding it in as I sit at my computer.

I was extremely satisfied with the experience overall, and I find myself eager for more. I highly recommend it for anyone in the healthcare field.


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