In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Farra Allen and Libby Outlaw have been teaching and practicing what they call Ollistic Bodywork for several years. They’ve combined several techniques — Lomi Bodywork, acupressure, meditation, and Tantric and Hatha Yoga — into “a wholistic model geared to increase awareness by releasing deep-muscle tension and emotional repressions.”
Farra, 34, grew up in Ohio, and got a law degree from the University of Kentucky Law School in 1971. He worked as a foster home parent in Washington, D.C., trained in bioenergetics and Gestalt therapy, and taught yoga before becoming involved in massage.
Libby, 29, grew up in New Jersey, and has a degree in economics from American University in Washington, D.C.
They have a five-year-old son, Ire.
Farra and Libby can be reached at P.O. Box 34, Hillsborough, N.C. 27278.
In next month’s SUN, an interview with Steve Rizzuto, a Chapel Hill practitioner of Touch for Health.
SUN: How did you become interested in massage?
FARRA: My father was a physical therapist, so I picked up on it naturally. I had been doing it for a long time, but after my first full-body massage, which just felt so good, I realized this is what I wanted to do. I started doing massage on some friends in the summer of 1974 and gained a lot of confidence. I just sort of went for it, and as soon as I made that leap of faith, everything started falling into place.
A local businesswoman hired me to do massage on her employees. The fifty dollars a week I got was enough to pay our bills. Then, I started doing private treatments, so we could go out to dinner. Then, a friend, Sara Sunwater, came here from California and we did a few workshops together. At that time, Libby was not interested in any of this. Then, about four or five months after Sara left, Libby started getting into acupressure.
SUN: Did you start by doing a lot of reading?
LIBBY: Pretty much. I had just had Ire. He was young when Sara was here, and I wasn’t really into massage, but since Farra has a bad back, I was always massaging him and so was able to learn. After Sara left, Farra did a couple of workshops by himself and we realized that there was a lack of feminine energy which Sara had provided and that I could probably fill that space. I just moved in and did it. I did a lot of studying through that next year. A year later, we studied Lomi Bodywork in Greensboro, N.C. with Reid Taylor. He had been to California and taken the Lomi work there with Richard Heckler and Robert Hall. He was going to pre-med school here and was doing private treatments in Greensboro. On three-day weekends over a period of about six months, he taught us the basis of the Lomi work, the deeper muscle work and also a lot of imaging and therapy. It changed our whole direction, gave us some training, and a deeper understanding of concepts that others were using. Much of it was reinforcement of what we had already discovered.
SUN: What concepts did you have before then?
LIBBY: I really didn’t have any. I just knew basic strokes. The Massage Book (by Gordon Downing, Bookmarks/Random House) style and Swedish massage. Working with energy.
FARRA: Relaxing, long strokes.
LIBBY: Most of what I’ve learned about massage has been through my own experience. All the acupressure that I do came from working on people and noticing places that were important and later reading about them and saying, “Oh, this is what it means!” Even with the muscles. We had been working a lot on the muscles, not knowing which muscle it was and what it did, but naturally going to that because of the way the body flows. Just by being in a space of openness to the person’s energy, you begin to just find these things for yourself. I’ve found that people are very similar at certain times. I’ll get three or four people who are doing exactly the same thing. Then the time will change and people will be doing something different. As you go through a year, you see all these different ways and, then, they come back in a cycle. That is a better way of understanding for me than say, Polarity Therapy, where you have all these charts and this is where the energy is and this is how you work it. I think someone could do massage for a period of time and not have any outside training and know everything that a person who has been trained knows, because it’s really logical. You work in a direction and you end up doing the same kind of thing that a Lomi Bodyworker would be doing. The stuff that was different from my own flow, I never used.
SUN: Like what?
LIBBY: Being standard about how you work. Working this muscle for this and that one for that. I can feel energy. I know what’s happening there and I have a lot of confidence using that. By being really centered you can see the changes in a person’s physical body as you’re working, from the bone structure to the muscle to tension in the muscle to coloring of the body itself, and through the energy that comes out of it as you put your hands toward it.
SUN: What sorts of techniques do you use?
FARRA: We started out doing Swedish Massage, which is more long, flowing strokes. You only work on the superficial muscles and the speed is a lot faster than deep-muscle work. Whereas, with the deep-muscle work you go down with direct purchases (using fingers and especially thumbs to press and hold on muscles or other areas of the body) and a slow deliberate iron (slow moving and steady pressure with thumbs, elbows, palms or knuckles). The Swedish massage is designed mainly to increase circulation and also relieve tension and for relaxation. Out of that, there have been some American twists — Esalen Massage, with George Downing’s book. We worked with those two as our main models and were also doing some Polarity. We would simulate two points on the body that would act as poles: a negative and a positive pole which would draw energy back and forth. If you stimulate different points or hold or rock the body in different areas, they will release tension and increase the flow of energy back and forth. So, it works on a theory of an electro-magnetic field where energy is flowing all the time, and by making contact in different areas you can release blocked energy.
Then, we started getting into the deep-muscle work, where we’re working much deeper on the muscles to give a much deeper relaxation, a much deeper release of tension. A person can wake up the next morning and still feel the effects, and sometimes it just blows out tension indefinitely. For instance, since I had my shoulders done, they’ve never been the same. I used to carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and when I first got into this body work I taught a friend in Atlanta who did me for an hour and a half or two hours. I was sore for two weeks, as if I’d been beaten, but it was a good trade-off. I was bruised because he had gone in so deep. He had torn loose the connective tissue that had formed around that muscle and tightened it. So, it does have that potential for permanent structural change, because it works directly on the connective tissues and the muscles.
SUN: What about Rolfing?
FARRA: This work is an offshoot of Rolfing. The guy who started it, Richard Heckler, studied Rolfing and Polarity and Gestalt therapy and started his own system, which was a combination of all three. He took a different approach than Ida Rolf. She works basically on a model of building a foundation of good postural alignment. This Lomi work is geared more toward alleviating deep-seated tension and working directly with an area of the body. Whereas with Rolfing, no matter what’s wrong with you, you get the same sequence. We use a lot of Rolfing strokes and a lot of the work we do is an overlap, such as the way that we work with our arms and our elbows and thumbs.
SUN: Tell me something about acupressure.
LIBBY: It is based on Chinese philosophy and their standard of medicine, which comes from acupuncture, and it’s just the same thing using finger pressure instead of needles. Acupuncture is a theory that the Chinese have developed from two thousand B.C. using specific points on the body, which if collected together run along lines called meridians. These points can produce a stimulus to the rest of the body to change what’s happening inside, in the digestive system, in the excretion system, in all the different systems. It works vaguely on a nervous-stimulus response, in which you stimulate a nerve and get a reaction which activates the lung or the heart or whatever you’re working with. Although in a sense it does follow the nerve patterns, there are other patterns that don’t follow nerves at all. To the Chinese, the body was just a small part of the whole, and it in itself contained the whole. Also, they believed in a universe that had an order, and this order came through the five elements, which are fire, earth, metal, water and wood. They believed these five elements created each other and destroyed each other, in a pattern of give and take, yin and yang. They saw the different things the five senses work with and the different connecting patterns in the world. They saw that there are organs in the body which are yin and organs which are yang, these organs having functions that would be the opposite of their structure. They began to play back and forth with this until they made a pattern that connected with those meridians. There are actually fourteen meridians, but only twelve work directly in terms of organs or systems. They go up and down the arms and legs. The Chinese have developed this just through experiment, seeing that this place on your body definitely had a reflection somewhere. And it developed till they found these pathways, which go with the form and contour of the body, and they work. The way that I got into this was by seeing that “Wow, this place in between these two bones, there’s something there!” And I would work on these different places and begin to see lines that even ran through the body. Just through touch, I could feel the energy moving in that direction. After I’d been working for about six months, I learned about acupressure and the different ways people work with it and it became very significant to me because I was already experiencing it, but without a name or concept for it.
The kind of acupressure which most people that I’ve studied have done, is an offshoot from acupuncture. Acupuncture uses pulse diagnosis. They can tell through your pulse which of your organs is overworking, which is underworking, so that they can rebalance. The whole purpose of what we do in using acupressure is not to cure somebody, not to say “OK, you’ve got this in your kidney, now we’re going to take it out.” It’s “OK, your kidney’s working too hard because there’s an imbalance, because it’s got all those excess toxins. It’s stopping up your large intestine. There’s a ripple that goes throughout the twelve organ systems.” Any organ that’s heavy on the yin or yang side will throw another one off too. There are no absolutes. There’s no way that someone can come to you with a kidney stone and you take point nine on the kidney meridian, which is the one that activates it, and know that it’s going to be gone. If you activate it, this is also going to activate some other part and on and on. But what most people do is take two or three points, which add up to helping two or three of the organs to shift back to a balance. They don’t really get into the flow of energy that runs through the meridians.
The other approach is to take the system as a whole — acupuncture, acupressure, the whole of what I call Oriental meridian therapy, where there are twelve meridians running through the body and three hundred and sixty-five acupressure points where you may be blocked. Blockage is sluggishness. If there is a block, it means that the energy of that organ is not working as well as it could be. Places where energy is much stronger, it can become too strong, taking away from something else. So, there’s a shift in the actual pathway of energy. The energy goes as in a circle. I work it by taking one part and placing myself at the beginning of the circle and then follow it around to the end. I work all the meridians, so I’m not questioning what is wrong with that person. I’m assuming that there is an imbalance and just work totally with the system, knowing that as I work, as I move the energy through one meridian into another, if there’s an excess, I’ll be pushing the energy out into the next one, which will be drawing it up because there’s a lack. If there’s a lack I’ll be working on it to stimulate it.
I don’t cure anybody. I’m there to be a vehicle for the possibility of healing. I’ll work the energy and work the points. There are three hundred and sixty-five points. I probably know a hundred of them and I would probably do fifty on a person. The technical knowledge can be used skillfully, just like a doctor can use surgery skillfully. It can work, but my interest lies not just in what’s happening in the physical body, but what’s happening in the spiritual, the mental and emotional bodies and how those things get integrated. So, if you see someone who has a lot of anger in them, you can work on that anger not just through therapy, but by working on their liver, which connects directly to their anger.
This is an idea which I call reflexology. There’s obviously foot reflexology, which we do on the parts of the feet which correspond to certain bodily organs. You can stimulate those organs by stimulating those points on the feet. There are muscles that do the same thing. The tension in the muscles relates, say, to the tension in a certain part of the digestive system or whatever system it works on. Again, there is also connection with the emotional centers.
SUN: Do you make suggestions?
LIBBY: I definitely make suggestions of diet, exercises, healing, affirmation. Sometimes I don’t even have to say, “You ought to eat thus and so.” They’ll say, “I just feel that I need to eat this and I just don’t know why.” Many people are aware of these things happening to them but what they’re not aware of is why. I’m interested in helping them make that connection between what’s happening outside and in here. The more I become aware of it out here in other people, the more I become aware of it inside myself. That’s pretty much the key to all of it — working on myself.
SUN: How do you handle private treatments?
FARRA: The private treatments are always changing, but basically what I do is first go through some sort of relaxation with the person or just getting centered. I like to be used as a mirror and a tool, so that when someone comes, if they have something that they specifically want, then I like to give them that rather than having a set program. Every treatment is totally different. It’s what I call custom-geared here-and-nowness treatments. The treatments are based on all realms: mind, body and spirit. I work with doing the meditation and then possibly some Gestalt therapy or what I call an eclectic style: a combination of Gestalt and other forms of therapy that I have picked up, depending on the person and what is appropriate. We may or may not have a long therapy session. We may go right on into the body work. In some instances we use the body work as an adjunct to getting more in touch with what’s going on within your emotions and your feelings. Sometimes people will come out with really strong revelations and become much more aware of themselves and what they’re doing and how they’re creating tension. I’ve had people tell me they’ve felt high for two weeks afterward. It varies according to the person and what they’re working on. Many times people will have flashbacks or whatever, which will enable me to get a feeling for where we need to go. We’ll work with the Gestalt model right on the table sometimes. My trend lately has been toward integrating the therapy and meditation and rapping with a person and getting to the source of what’s going on as opposed to spending the majority of the time with the deep muscle work, which will blow out the tension, in some cases permanently. But more likely than not, if the person is still doing those same habits, they’ll come back a short time later with the same tensions. For a while, I had the feeling that I was just giving people a natural aspirin. I try to give people something that they can go home and work with, and hope for a longer lasting improvement. I’m not really interested in doing massage just to alleviate somebody’s tension. If a person wants a massage I would rather that they go to someone who has learned it in one of my workshops. That’s one of the reasons why I teach the workshops.
Bodywork is like a dance. What I do with a person does not just depend on me, but on that other person. Certain people draw certain energies out of me. If someone comes to me with the feeling that I am a healer, it may draw that healing power out of me. Then, there are some people, who are pretty uptight, and my sessions with them will be a lot different. It depends on how much that person is open and how much you reflect with each other. But, I love everybody and like to work with all kinds of people.