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Healing with Self Awareness

Karuna Healing Arts and Urban Oasis

Just so you know, holistic bodywork is about way more than incense, aromatherapy and New Age music. In fact, the more effective the practitioner, the less likely it is that your massage will be accompanied by hokiness or fluff. Case in point: here are two therapists who understand the old adage, “Healer, heal thyself.” Instead of perpetuating the myth that a massage can “fix” you, Jennifer Chien and Sya Warfield are ready to empower you to take control of your well-being through self-awareness, rather than treat your body as just another cog in the wheel of time and inevitable decay.

Karuna Healing Arts
Karuna Healing Arts is the centrally located yet cozily tucked away Castro alcove where certified massage therapist Jennifer Chien soothes and plies stiff muscles back into shape. Karuna, a Sanskrit word that translates to “compassion,” is an apt moniker for Chien’s practice, which is all about using bodywork as a vehicle for fine-tuning the body’s capacity to heal itself. Chien’s holistic approach combines intentional, precise bodywork with guidance for clients who wish to bring themselves back into balance. If you’re iffy about bodyworkers who trumpet the term “healer” willy-nilly, don’t worry -- while Chien’s bevy of clients can testify to her magic touch, she’s also willing to give them some of the credit. “I believe that the body has the inherent capacity to heal itself, if given the time, space, and energy to do so,” she says. “As a bodywork practitioner, I cannot ‘fix’ or heal people, but I can act as a facilitator, and help open the door to self-awareness and self-healing.”

Chien, who works with craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, Thai massage, anatomy and a slew of other modalities, began practicing massage close to ten years ago after studying at the National Holistic Institute. As a modern dancer, Chien thought that “massage therapy (would be) a good idea for a day job…it was a great way to use my knowledge of the body I had gained through years of dance, movement, and yoga.” Indeed, many of the clients she sees tend to be athletes and dancers looking for greater flexibility and faster recovery time after hard workouts (although she certainly has her fair share of “computer people” with your typical shoulder/neck/low back issues).

Something you won’t get from a session with Chien is complacency; she never makes assumptions about any of her clients, “even if I’ve been seeing them for years. I always check in with a client before each session. Every person is different, and the same person/body at different times will have different needs.” This means that you can expect a thorough consultation about your physical health and a discerning inquiry into your self-care practices.

Chien’s approach is equal parts knowledge (she did, after all, work at a chiropractic clinic before starting a solo practice), communication with her client, and intuition. If you want to talk shop about anatomy, she’s definitely your woman, but a lot of the work she does is tied up into that amorphous term, energy. Whether it’s through Reiki or polarity, Chien stresses that “a healthy body is one in which the energy is flowing freely.” But sometimes, energy depletion can arise from injury, overuse, or trauma, which can lead to blockages and decreased vitality.

Aside from Chien’s soothing rebalancing massage, she also provides private yoga lessons and “yogassage” sessions, which combine poses, Thai massage, and other methods of bodywork that improve flexibility and promote relaxation. These can be either vigorous or relaxing, depending on a client’s needs.

At bottom, Chien’s work isn’t just about treating the physical body, but about “realigning people with their most centered selves, and deepening the relationship between body, mind, and spirit” and coaxing individuals back into a state of natural harmony. It’s an approach that’s complemented by recommended post-session stretches and rest positions. Chien also can’t emphasize enough the importance of drinking water, as “dehydration often plays a role in muscular and facial tension and dysfunction.”

Another part of Chien’s mission, aside from empowering clients to never underestimate the healing capacities of their bodies, is getting them to be more body-aware in general. “The more we can observe ourselves in our everyday lives and movements, the better we will be at catching dysfunction before it turns into pain or injury, and the better we can be at healing ourselves.”

Urban Oasis
You can find Urban Oasis inhabiting a sunny spot on 22nd and Guerrero, nestled away in the Spiral Muse Healing Collective’s cozy Edwardian walk-up. This is where life coach and massage therapist Sya Warfield administers some seriously knot-loosening bodywork that’ll have diehard fans adjusting their budgets to make room for additional sessions.

Warfield’s seamless blend of Eastern and Western modalities -- such as Thai, Tui Na, sensory re-patterning, and hot stone--is based on a simple philosophy: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world. By redirecting our thoughts, everything around us changes.”

Her mind-over-matter métier is both rigorous and deeply intuitive. Aside from pulling an assortment of techniques and knowledge -- from anatomy to traditional Chinese herbs and liniments -- from her bag of tricks, Warfield makes it a point to listen to what each of her clients is saying and feeling. But healing is a two-way street, so she also encourages active communication and client awareness of what is occurring on both a physical and emotional level. “Many of my clients come to me neglecting their body and spirit,” she says. “I focus on relieving the tension while incorporating energy work, reflexology, and stretching.”

Considering that Warfield started out several years ago after studying Thai massage and herbal medicine in Thailand, it’s no surprise that her style is heavily influenced by time-honored Asian techniques. That includes Thai massage -- a yoga-like modality that sends the body into deep stretches while using rhythmic kneading and thumb presses on energetic pathways--and Tui Na, a modality associated with traditional Chinese medicine that uses various hand techniques to stimulate acupressure points and manipulate soft tissue. At the same time, no one technique is used to the exclusion of others. “The stretching affects the entire body by increasing flexibility, while the Western techniques influence the relaxation, as well as relieve muscle tension,” she explains.

A session with Warfield typically includes aromatherapy, which is a no-brainer because of its impact on the brain’s limbic system. “The limbic system is the home of emotions, motivation, and the regulation of memories,” she says. “In stimulating this, improvement of circulation and oxygen flow is the result.” You can also expect massages to be accompanied by deeply restorative and penetrating Chinese liminents, such as woodlock, a tingly balm that Warfield used in my session to move stagnant blood from points of injury.

Along with stretches to increase my awareness of my body’s limited holding patterns, as well as guided breathing that made me feel like I was an open channel buzzing with energy, Warfield was full of helpful suggestions to promote self-healing on a daily basis. These included self-massage, specific stretches, Epsom salt baths, and the importance of a balanced diet with supplemental herbs.

Warfield’s primarily female clientele can now experience her talent outside of the studio environment. Along with Costamagna Design, Warfield recently launched her Spa in the City business, which creates custom-designed spa and cocktail parties for everything from product launches to bridal showers. Aside from offering Warfield’s five-star therapeutic massage and an array of other spa treats, Spa in the City also provides event planning and management. As grudging as I tend to be when it comes to “sharing” my therapists with the masses, I can’t imagine a better girls’ night in for all the stressed 9-to-5’ers I know and love.