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New yoga series incorporates touch-based healing

By Christie Melhorn, October 24 2017 — 

Most of us are familiar with the concept that the mind, body and spirit are unified. But we likely understand the power of that unity and the value of strengthening it to a lesser extent. During my first year at the University of Calgary, I viscerally learned how experiences and emotions are imprinted into our bodies. I was an overwhelmed student working at Starbucks and had a bunch of family drama going on. With my consent, a coworker gently rubbed my back with sincere care and affection. The gesture was reminiscent of the way my mother, who passed away, rubbed my back as a child to put me to sleep. I typically avoid crying in public but I was dismantled by this  — in a good way. I desperately needed the release and to confront the longing for nurturance dwelling in me.  

Meaningful physical contact is a powerful healing and bonding mechanism used in a yoga series called “Wellness Comes from Within: Embrace” that I attended on Oct. 19 at Saje Natural Wellness in Mount Royal Village. It was created by local yoga instructor and massage therapist Jessica Ecclestone as a part of her larger series Touch and Release (T+R) — restorative yoga infused with massage and essential oils. On her personal website, Ecclestone describes how yoga makes her more flexible both physically and emotionally, bringing her fulfilment and self-acceptance. Her goal is to help others cultivate this and form a supportive, enriching community with her practice. Ecclestone collaborated with Saje to further spearhead the sessions.

I didn’t know any of this before showing up to Ecclestone’s class. I blindly signed up and came in with zero expectations — which worked in my favour, as one of the event’s themes was letting go of expectations. Upon walking into Saje, the store’s esoteric atmosphere immediately put me at ease. Soft light gently reflects off brown bottles lining glass shelves and warms the hardwood floor. A lush wall of dark green moss freshens the store and its glass walls provide an intimate view of 17th Ave.

Large cylindrical pillows called bolsters were evenly arranged across the floor with notebooks and pens resting against them for each participant. The store’s main lights turned off, spreading a calmness throughout the dim room. Ecclestone briefly introduced herself, her fellow instructors and the Saje staff present for the evening. She explained the purpose of the class’s touch element and ensured that all attendees consented to it.

I appreciated Ecclestone’s honesty as she explained T+R’s concept of embracement. She admitted to feeling stressed and disorganized leading up the class — the bolsters weren’t at Saje, she was late and felt generally nervous. But to manage the disarray, she dropped the unrealistic expectations and self-doubt weighing her down.

Eccelstone’s openness immediately established the class as a safe space to be vulnerable. This added depth to our class’s beginning exercise. In the journals given to us, we responded to self-reflective questions about habits and attitudes we want to drop or develop. This set our intention for the class’s “release” element — to let go of self-hindering tendencies and invite personal growth.

I was already emotional as I wrote about embracing my unresolved grief from losing my mother — about letting myself remember, miss and ultimately love her — which I have struggled with even before her passing when she first showed signs of illness in my early childhood. As we settled into our mats, I felt very present and embraced every trickle of street light pouring in beside me.

We began by lying on our backs and becoming aware of our breath. Instructors circled essential oils into the palms of our hands, which we were told to hover over our faces and inhale. Shortly after, an instructor silently lowered beside me and rubbed her fingers across my forehead to my temples and along my scalp. I was a little rigid at first but welcomed the contact wholeheartedly. When the instructor left, I impulsively wanted to reach for her to return. Instead, I embraced the soothing scent of the oils she left on my skin.  

Like most traditional restorative classes, we did about five or six relaxing poses throughout the session. Less conventionally, each were accompanied by a massage. At one point, we laid over the bolsters on our sides, allowing the instructors to knead our obliques up into our shoulder blades. As my back and my shoulders hold sensitive memories of my mother, this freed a yearning within me that was relieving to feel.

The session was also embellished with humorous, light-hearted moments. Bangs and crashes from the gym above Saje frequently rattled the ceiling and cut over Ecclestone’s voice. She happened to be massaging me during a particularly thunderous episode and whispered, “You just can’t help but laugh.” I appreciated the personal interaction. It dismantled the distance I often feel between authority figures in instructional settings.

At the end of class, Ecclestone encouraged us to bundle together in a tight circle. She wrangled us towards her until we were knee-to-knee. She extended a sincere, emotional thank you to everyone in the space. The gesture bridged us together, regardless of our role in the event.

Ecclestone received diverse responses after asking how we felt post-practice. Some people were refreshed, others at rest and some even felt heavy. This echoed the concept that we are all at different life stages but can share the experience side by side — or knee-to-knee. Despite barely speaking to each other, the emotional release and self-exploration facilitated by Ecclestone and her team brought the room closer.

Leaving the session, I felt relieved of the stress and anxiety I was carrying all day. A sense of groundedness and gratitude stayed with me for the rest of the night, giving me a deep, wonderful sleep.

Ecclestone’s next session, “Let Go”, will take place on Nov. 23, followed by  “Connect” on Dec. 14th. Both classes will take place at Saje in Mount Royal Village from 7:30–9 p.m. Sign up for free on Eventbrite by clicking the hyperlinked class names. Click here to learn more about Jessica Ecclestone and here for more about her collaboration with Saje.

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