"I will sometimes vector energy with my fingers into certain specific points, or move energy in the person's field with just my hands."
June 1st, 2011

Emily Huffman Body Worker

Emily Huffman has been practicing massage therapy and body work for the past six years. She recently started her own independent practice in San Francisco. Emily has been a good friend of ours for some time, and we were thrilled by the opportunity to delve deeper into things we've often wondered about her profession, like, what exactly is body work. In fact, that's right where we'll begin.

What is body work?

Body work is a term that houses massage therapy, as well as many other techniques that involve a therapist working on, with, or through the body of the client, for healing, making positive change, and increasing consciousness. A body worker is typically someone with a higher degree of proficiency and skill and personalized work, versus someone just giving a scripted full body massage that they aren’t creatively or sensitively engaged with.

But aren’t you a licensed massage therapist?

I am, but I do more than massage, so body work is a better term for me. Traditional massage therapy is essentially a physical practice. With massage, a therapist uses their hands to apply specific strokes and pressure to the fluids and soft tissues of the body. This works by increasing circulation and “turning off” tight muscles that are holding a contraction and have forgotten what it is like to rest. Massage therapists move and change soft tissue. I also work with the Craniosacral system and energy, where I often work somatically with the body, not just physically.

Can you tell me more about that, where the application of therapy is more amorphous. I understand the notion of massage therapy — where certain tissues are, how they interact — but how do you train yourself to harness energy?

Craniosacral is actually a form of body work more than a form of energy work. Through light touch and deep listening, the therapist feels for the Craniosacral Rhythm, which is the ocean-like pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid as it moves around the brain and spinal cord. This “wave” can be felt through any bone in the body, as a subtle movement. Places where it is not present, or is moving in an abnormal pattern, indicate a place of restriction, whether muscular tension, held trauma, or stored emotion. Through specific holds on the different bones, especially the bones of the skull, spine, and pelvis, the held tensions are invited to release. Since my connection is to the deepest fluid movement in the client’s body, it also connects me very clearly to their subconscious. By speaking with the client, or through visionary seeing, listening, and feeling, a lot of unprocessed psychological and spiritual material can be understood and profoundly integrated or released.

The two main aspects of energy work are intention and channeling. When working on others, there are many techniques where you don’t have to channel to move energy effectively in someone’s body. I will sometimes vector energy with my fingers into certain specific points, or move energy in the person’s field with just my hands. But generally, why use my own internal battery when I have access to much more voltage? The channeling I use most often is called reiki. It is an ancient system of hands-on energy work that has its roots in Tibet and is a very high vibration of Universal Life Energy, useful to all life forms on earth. My friend brought an ailing tree back to life in her front yard using reiki. My glasses prescription had to get minimized because of all the reiki I have been receiving and channeling in the last two years. It is also an amazing practice for clearing negative emotions or feelings.

Are such practices an innate ability, found in only especially emotional and empathetic individuals?

I believe everyone has the ability to transmit healing energy with their hands. Watch people when they put their hands on places where they are hurting. Sometimes this serves to rub away the pain or compress a wound, but often we are just touching where we hurt.

With reiki, one gets attuned to channel in a weekend workshop. There are lots of other specific energies to channel, and they take skill to hold your ground while channeling safely. Also, being able to see where and why energy gets stuck in someone’s system, and treat and heal the source, takes skills in therapy and vision, and the ability to facilitate the client to process what comes up.

All work entails some form of fatigue, and I’m curious in what form and to what extent that results with body work. Are there certain emotional effects unique to your practice?

This is a great question. I have found that my emotional effects serve as a gauge to let me know how clean and clear my boundaries and energetics were during the session; how grounded I was; and where I need to work to be an even more effective therapist. Whether it is a deep tissue massage where I am very physical, a craniosacral session where I sit in stillness for ninety minutes, or an energy session when I am channeling information and vibration, I too feel healed and balanced after giving it. If I give it from a place of trust, mental clarity, groundedness, and non-attachment to outcome, the work is enlivening. However, sometimes I struggle. Some days it can be a challenge to keep my mind present, and other days I have self-doubt, worries, and moments of questioning. Some clients trigger my own issues and emotional wounds because their process is so similar to mine. With other clients, I feel great empathy for where they are at, and as a fellow human being, it is not easy to witness that. If I am struggling with my own mind or my own emotions during a session and I can’t clear them enough, I am worn out afterward, and I can feel physically and emotionally fatigued.

In what ways does your work using energy and the body inform other areas of your life?

My awareness of my own body and energy has increased a lot, as has my perception of the human experience. I feel like the everyday has more depth, magic, and perceptible layers. The expression of the human body has influenced my artwork. I also eat better, take herbs, and get worked on myself too.

Is it by working with so many different clients that you are more aware of the depth and variety of human experience? Or is it because of your skills in things like reiki and energy work?

Both. My clients’ lives and experiences have shaped my perception of life greatly, as have the skills I’ve gained from doing this work. I feel and understand energy, and listen with the inner ear and see with the inner eye. There is a level of intimacy and specificity I’ve gained with parts of the human experience. For example, I have worked on women during and after pregnancy, which has given me a deep understanding of such a physical and emotional journey. I really value such knowledge as a woman, particularly during a time where there is so much fear and doubt surrounding pregnancy and birth. One woman who I worked with throughout her pregnancy ended up calling me during labor, and I worked on her at the hospital in between contractions. I was also good friends with the birth doula, and she saw how awesome it was for the mother to receive this care during labor. She actually asked me to stay, and I witnessed the birth.

My skills as a body worker have changed the way I communicate with people too, the way I listen. As a therapist, we listen with what is called the ”second attention,” listening to what someone is saying and intuiting what they need, or what is needing to be communicated. Sometimes this way of hearing translates into my daily life, and I am sensitized to how people use words and gestures. My intuition has improved greatly, and it is now a skill I use daily. I trust it wholeheartedly.