Your Body Can Heal Itself Interview with Rachel Jesien (Transcript)
LaShanda: You train with people at your house and also at their house too?
Rachel: So, since I actually broke my foot a couple months ago so it's been really kind of hard not being able to teach for two months and getting in and out of the city, but because of that…I started working with people via Skype and also I that I also at my home and students would come from New York and work here with me while I was kind of healing. And then you know from that, it actually really spawned this great little online yoga baby where I could work with people from all over the country and all over the world via Skype. You know it's all it's all been really integrative, transitioning from running all over the place being able to see people right from my own home, so its been a blessing. (laughing)
LaShanda: That's beautiful and that's definitely the trend of where everything is going and I just think it's awesome that I found you on the internet because I just came across the post of one of your clients, but it was actually one of your clients grandchildren, I think, that posted a picture of their grandmother that you had worked with…
LaShanda: And so I was just like I have to talk to this woman who help this woman transform her scoliosis and so that's how we connected and i'm so glad to do this interview because after I saw that picture I went and looked at your bio and the information you have online and then learned you had your own healing journey and maybe you can tell me a little bit about that in terms of what you're suffering from and what you were trying to do to help alleviate that condition.
Rachel: So you know part of the reason I'm so passionate about sharing this
work with my students is because I found this specialized yoga for back care program with my teachers in NY Allison Weston and Deborah Walk, who each own their own back care dedicated studios which is wonderful. I came to this type of yoga after trying thoroughly everything else. I mean it was it was a really profound experience for me because I had grown up being braced a child for scoliosis. I wore a back brace for five years for 22 hours a day. So you know a lot of my childhood was spent in and out of orthopedics’ offices and you know having to kind of deal with all the confusion surrounding scoliosis.
But I was relatively pain-free as a kid. And then when I got into college, I went to college for dance and musical theater and I think just because I brought that movement up to the max, I was in rehearsals for 8 hours a day and I was practicing at Radio city music hall with the Rockettes. That was kind of like my my big dream when i first moved to New York. That was really what my goal was to become a Rockette one day. Because of that, I really started taking dance super-seriously and I was going to classes everyday and for whatever reason that pain in my lower back and my SI joint specifically got excruciating to the point where I could barely walk and I would wake up in the morning I remember just being on the side of my bed every morning and feeling like I couldn't even put my head down like this without just getting the searing pain.
So it was really it was really humbling as a dancer just feeling like okay my body is my life and I know that I have this really strong connection with movement in general, but I wasn't able to express myself that way anymore because the pain was excruciating. So I started looking for alternatives. I probably went to at least five or six different PT’s. I was going to chiropractors and I did acupuncture for a while. I was also doing a lot of massage therapy and reiki and I feel like I had kind of tried everything but no one really had a specializing skill set for scoliosis and now you-forward I understand and I realized that scoliosis is just a horse of a
different color in many ways. Your body develops differently. Your ligaments develops differently if you have scoliosis, and you can’t work the same way you can work with a symmetrical body. Finally my massage therapist, Tara said to me, your scoliosis is something you really need to start to understand and you should go see Allison West and Deborah Walk because they specialize…
When I got to the studio in NY, I remember having this profound experience after my first class and I had finally come into a community that really understood it. Sorry…I’m getting a little emotional. It was interesting because i think probably for like the first month of classes, I would end up in tears at the end of every class because it just felt so good to have that space being held, finally after decades of no one being able to tell me what was going on with my back. After I met them, I didn’t turn back. I knew that this was going to be my life's work sharing this experience with other people.
LaShanda: That’s so beautiful.
Rachel: I was pain free after only a couple of months of working with them and that I went on to get my certifications and just regular you know general yoga with
llison west and then on top of that she offers certifications in back care and scoliosis and the rope wall and so I did all that I just jumped in the deep end and
before I was even out of teacher training, I already had students lined up, so it was really felt like the Universe was pushing me along this path and supporting all that
Since that point, I can honestly say that the more energy that I put into sharing this work, the more comes back too, so there's a there's a big… anytime I i I'm feeling like what do I need to do next , I need to share this work I sit and I meditate night you know ask for guidance and it's always there. I know that this is a big body of work that needs to be shared and so I'm excited to do that with you.
LaShanda: I just love your story and how inspired you are to do this work and your life literally transformed and your career transformed just by the process of healing yourself and so you're no longer pursuing the dance career and you’re now making this your life's work in terms of helping people with scoliosis.
Rachel: Yeah, it's funny too because it was it was such a big part of my path… I grew up in Rochester in upstate New York and I danced for 20 years of my life…I started dancing when I was 2, so when I kind of made this very drastic change I would go home to visit Rochester and they would ask how things are going with everything at Radio City?? Are you still pursuing that? And it feels almost like a separate lifetime, because it was just such a whirlwind that just swept me off into this…I actually work a lot of dancers now, working with similar issues with their SI joint issues specifically or if they have something going on with their legs or backs, and it’s been able to help and support themselves and their careers and job.
LaShanda: BeautifulAnd you have students of all ages and backgrounds and the work you did with Anna…I'll be able to post a picture for people so they can see who Anna is and her transformation. Were you concerned in terms of like her age or were you concerned in terms of like whether it would take longer than normal or what are your thoughts when you when you work with people who are actually older. That actually blew my mind in terms of those pictures. (laughing) I've seen all sorts of things happen when the body heals itself, but that's a pretty dramatic turnaround and it actually opened my mind.
Rachel: That's a great question, So my youngest student is eight and she actually turned nine yesterday and my oldest student is 87 (Anna). So we've got a whole
spectrum going, but there are some things that I feel like our kind of universal for people who are in back pain in general. When i first start working with them, one of the main things that I i address first is the fear factor, right. A lot of people who are in chronic pain are afraid to move and especially people in the older community who are working with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or disc degeneration. It can feel very scary because like I said there aren’t a lot of
people out there that can say okay you can safely do these actions. There isn't a lot of clarity being mapped out for people, which is what my work does and the work that my teachers do in the city, also helps to clarify the actual anatomy of the back care issues, so that we can start to see the movement patterns that are happening in people's bodies.
So with Anna, yes she has scoliosis. On top of the scoliosis, there was some osteoarthritis…she was having a lot of pain down her legs and into her neck and her shoulders but then on top of that a lot of what you're seeing in the drastic forward bending action of her torso is called hyperkyphosis. So everything that she was doing was in this position…cooking…she did a lot of sewing for her family and for church. She also spends a lot of time just in general, reading, etc. over time the weight of the head also exacerbates that issue.
When I first saw her, you know some of the first things that I work with people are just identifying which parts of the issues i'm looking at are structural and which issues are functional. So when she comes into this forward position and the muscles build up in that position and kind of keep her there but as soon as we start to little by little mobilize the shoulders and start externally rotating the upper arm bones and putting them back into the sockets and making her aware that as she's walking around her eyes aren’t on the floor and she’s keeping her eyes on the horizon so the weight of the head can come back up.
So half of it is me showing her these patterns via the yoga poses and half of it is me giving her little homework assignments through the week that she can work on no matter where she is. So it's just like hitting the reset on her body everyday so if she puts a little bit of time and whether that's five minutes or whether that’s a half hour, every day to just help remind her body where neutral is spine and where her ideal head placement is, where the shoulders need to be, and the more often she practices that, the easier it becomes. In those ways it's so gentle because you know as your website says the body heals itself, we just to give it the clarity to be able to make that transformation and I think that by clarifying the anatomy and taking out all the fear and confusion surrounding these back issues, is the way that the body does heal that's beautiful
LaShanda: That’s beautiful and actually so simple in terms of how it's working. You would think that something that dramatic in terms of her turn around would require dramatic techniques, but with you, you require your clients to kind of work on it daily and just with that gentleness.
I like the idea of removing the fear factor. I’ve had a bit of chronic pain myself in the past and it does become into like fear mode, like I don't want to turn this way or do this thing because it'll just trigger the pain so I can understand why people are afraid to move so that's beautiful that you guide them through that process.
The other question that's coming up for me is I'm also a understanding and a bit of there’s a mind-body connection in terms of all the issues that tend to develop and I saw on your website that you actually work a little bit with that in terms of helping people understand the emotional root causes or and could you speak a little bit more about that
Rachel: I went to an acupuncturist once, he worked with Japanese acupuncture and he said that…it was really enlightening. He said most people develop scoliosis in their adolescence because their heart endures some kind of trauma that causes
the spine to turn around and hide itself to protect the heart. I started thinking you know how many parts of the scoliotic body are being affected by emotions or affected by energetic holdings that we have in the body. It’s been really interesting because I see I mean how many spine have I seen thus far in my career probably hundreds if not thousands. You'll notice that when you're looking at back at least you know, there is a certain amount of trauma that the spine endures…
When I’m looking at students who have had spinal fusion surgery…after the surgery has happened there needs to be a certain amount of emotional processing that happens because surgery's the body is traumatic. An injury is trauma to the body so when we want to address our body in an almost a child-like way with tenderness and care and saying okay I know that we had this surgery and is it possible for me to let my body know that it's safe enough to then let go of that pain and that's always for me at least one working people first step because a lot of people in chronic pain will come in, and I’ll see them from a mile away walking into my studio and all they want to do is talk about I’m in this much pain and if that’s the case when I start working someone, I will put them in a restorative pose that just allows their back to finally, after how long of being in this fight or flight like state to breathe…to find some breath…can you deepen your exhalation so that we can start to let go of all these holdings that you’ve been carrying, and once the body feels safe, then it's possible to transform any number of issues.
So i think that when people are looking for teachers, it’s important for teachers to specialize in the back care issues they’re working with, but secondly, they need to look for teachers that make them feel safe enough to do the work. If a teacher’s coming into a room and they're confused and they’re not sure, then it will cause more fear and more confusion for their students. Teachers should seek out certification programs so they’re able to offer that safety net for students to be able to transmute their pain.
LaShanda: That totally makes sense and I totally support that level of safety and the other thing that is coming up to ask you is…I'm just curious, I’ve had a lot of clients on the detox journey and on their healing journey have a lot of literal emotional releases that have happened when certain parts of the body are opened up. Have you experienced that working with your clients where it's actually emotional releases that happen within the movement?
Rachel: As I mentioned before, I just recently started teaching students at my home and I’m going to say… a hundred percent of the students that I brought to my house have at some point have had some kind of emotional release whether that's their first session coming in and finally being able to talk about their pain and leave it here and let go of some of that confusion. For other people coming in it’s working through emotional traumas too. Yoga can hold the space for your body to work through anger and anxiety and depression, and there are separate poses for those issues. I wouldn’t even say that it’s just some of my students who have emotional releases…the majority of them are leaving that trauma, that fear, on the mat during their practice, for sure.
LaShanda: It's so intertwined and connected it's usually not just one or the other like if somebody's having physical issues, there’s something emotional so it's beautiful that you get to see both of those things happening in your practice and happening and transforming for people. Just curious, you don't require any diet changes for your clients, but you mentioned water?
Rachel: I don't require anybody to change anything about their diet because cultivating a daily yoga practice is a task in itself. I think a lot of times when people begin a drastic diet change or a drastic exercise thing, they'll do it for a week and then they stop. I’m super interested in making all this really accessible.