Galina Denzel is a movement specialist who has dedicated her life’s work to helping people become free to move and enjoy life to its fullest. Her practice is focused on guiding people in acute and chronic pain to return to a life of functional movement after an injury, accident or trauma. Galina is a Nutritious Movement certified restorative exercise specialist. A somatic experiencing practitioner, nutrition coach, author and educator. She is the co-author of Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well, The Art of Real Food in Bulgarian, The Real Food Reset, and Man On Top in English.
Galina and her husband, Roland, have a health coaching practice serving online clients worldwide and locally in Orange County, California. Galina and Roland write and podcast regularly at EatMoveLive52.com. Their latest book, Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well: 52 Ways to Feel Better in a Week is available where all fine books are sold.
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Movement and Trauma Specialist Galina Denzel
Please welcome, Galina.
Hi. It’s so good to be your guest.
I’m so excited. You have such an interesting life story and just a true healer in every sense of the word. I am just very excited for this podcast.
Thank you. Me as well. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Galina, where are you from?
I’m originally from Bulgaria, which is in Eastern Europe. No one knows where that is. If you imagine Greece, because everybody knows where Greece is, Bulgaria is right on top of it. It’s like a hat on top of Greece.
It must be absolutely beautiful over there then.
It is fabulous. It is a very small country, but we have such a variety of nature, really tall Alpine mountains, like Switzerland does. We also have the Black Sea Coast, which is just beautiful and warm, unlike the Pacific Ocean. You can go in and actually be very comfortable without a wet suit. It’s just such a great variety of being close to nature, people in Eastern Europe live very close to nature. It’s just been such a great place to grow and develop. It’s also been a very challenging place.
Why is that?
I grew up in communism. For people of my generation and younger in the States, that’s a very vague thing. For me, it’s reality. That’s how we grew up.
What was that like, growing up in a communist society?
When you’re a kid, you’re a kid and life is normal. You have your mom, your dad and your extended family, and everything’s cool. You look forward to your birthdays. I was ten when communism went away. I have become increasingly aware of the fear that was in society at all times and the very difficult trying to make yourself small and keep yourself small to fit a model of society that was very much artificial and not very humanistic. Also, being very careful not to ruffle any feathers and not to shine in any way, like the opposite of what Western kids are taught.
As I’m in my late 30s, I’ve become increasingly aware that, that leaves an echo in your system. I have lots of compassion for how that’s been for me and for my parents. But also, it’s interesting because there’s an importance of what society does and what the state does in communism. There’s not that much of an importance of who you are, who you are created to be and being who you are. My life has been this pendulum swung the other way where I’m really increasingly curious both about myself and others and who they are. I’ve been in the States for just six years since my early 30s. It’s been a cool adventure.
How old were you when you moved over to the States?
I was 31.
I’m just curious, when you’re out in Bulgaria at the time, did you get a sense like you had to walk on egg shells? How did they get you to feel that way, to play small?
It’s very interesting because you don’t really know that as a child, but your parents know it. Recently with a friend who is from Romania, which is the country right next to us, they suffered similar political circumstances. Her phone rang. When she hung up, she looked at her phone again and then she looked at her phone again. Then she looked at me and she said, “Do you check your phone three times to make sure you’ve hung up?” I’m like, “Yeah, five times.” Because our phones were always listened to. As a kid, you’re like, “Hung up the phone. Did you hung up the phone? Hung up the phone.”
As a kid, you just grow up in it. You don’t really know that it’s abnormal, but then you’d become an adult and you’re like, “I am just hyper vigilant all the time. I don’t feel safe.” That shows up in your body. That shows up in your bodies, in your dreams, in the ways that we do life, in the ways that we are creative and bring our work into the world. It’s really neat though, it’s really neat having this wide range of human experience. It also makes you more aware that there’s many different worlds. Often people in the west, there’s this sense here that this is the world and this is not the world. There’s many worlds out there.
Galina, how did you get into healing?
Through my own pain, the classic path.
What was going on with you?
I was a dancer. I started dancing when I was five. I was a classical ballet dancer in a very strict Russian classical ballet lineage that was incredibly demanding on a little body. It so happens that I have the kind of body that should you push it really, really hard, it starts to hurt. There’s people who have a lot of buffer there for pushing themselves. We see them in the Olympics. You wouldn’t see someone like me in the Olympics. I was eleven when my back pain started. Then shortly after, shoulder pain started. I think I had probably a good 20 years of chronic low back pain and shoulder pain.
It was really a challenge for how much I love moving, for how much I love being out in nature and running. I was an exerciser as well. Exercise was a part of my life. I always wanted to be in good shape. I had great role models around me. It was just heartbreaking that if you looked at me from the outside, I looked like I was in shape, but on the inside, I wasn’t healthy. I was sixteen years old when I rented my first exercise studio. I was teaching group exercise class after school.
At sixteen, you were teaching classes? That’s amazing.
I was sixteen years old. My rent was $30 a month, I remember. It was crazy. However, that wasn’t my education life path that my family had envisioned for me or I had envisioned for myself. No one ever took it seriously. It was like, “Look how cute. She wants to teach exercise and she’s sixteen.” If I had a sixteen year old now and I saw them doing what I did then, I’ll be like, “Wow, how can we find the best exercise physiology program or a somatic movement program? What is it about movement that you love so much?” I would try to see how I can guide that.
Eastern Europe is a weird place. There isn’t much space for people who teach exercise and movement. We are a country that really values intellect and being highly intellectual. There’s something about working with the body that culturally, has been frowned upon. It used to be maybe like that in America 50 years ago, I don’t know. But I didn’t really start early. I went to a university, majored in English. I got my bachelor and masters in British and American Studies. It’s just like Literature and Linguistics.
Were you into it or you just did it just to get a degree and go to the next chapter?
I loved English. Next to movement, the thing that I love the most was English. I just loved the language. I found it’s so much easier to express myself in English. I found it was shorter, it was sweeter. I loved writing poetry in English, much more so than in Bulgarian. Really, I started writing poetry when I was in the third grade. I’ve always wrote poetry my whole life. I just found it an easier language to express myself. It’s very strange.
That’s very interesting.
To this day, as somebody who writes, I write articles, blog posts and books, I would so much rather write in English than in Bulgarian. My Bulgarian editors hate my writing. It’s like, “What is this? This isn’t even Bulgarian.” It’s been really an interesting path. I fell in love with English. I also wanted to not do law. One of my goals was not to do law because I grew up in a home with a lawyer mother. Seeing how hard that was on her, she does criminal law to this day, it’s an incredibly hard life. I just didn’t want to have that. I didn’t want to have that. I loved English, I went all in. When I love something, I’m all in, I become totally obsessed by it at the time that it owns me. I was in it for several years, graduated and then taught English, did translation and interpretation, translated movies. I was miserable doing it. I was just not feeling alive. I fell in love with going to the gym. I took a year between my third and fourth year at university, I spent a year working on a tourist boat in the Caribbean.
It must’ve been amazing.
It was fabulous. I was 22 and carefree. It was amazing. One of the men that I translated for in Bulgaria, I translated for some of his business contracts. He had a business in the Cayman Islands and I was sharing with him that I’m trying to choose an English speaking country to practice my English for a year and to take a break from school. He was like, “Why don’t you come to the Cayman Islands?” I was like, “Sure,” so I went.
I realized there working on his boat, that I was really physically weak. I didn’t have a concept of strength. I knew I could run, I had incredible cardio endurance, I could do some body weight stuff that was cool. I could do the splits, I could do pistol squats, all the circus stuff, but I couldn’t pull an anchor out of the water. I’m really, really, really weak.
What’s interesting about that too is people go to the gym and they work on their muscles and they think they’re physically fit. Then they go to a yoga class or Pilates and they just can’t hang at all because it’s all core and everything like that.
I was like the other way around where you do all this cool coordination calisthenics stuff. When it was time to apply some force and have some power in your movements, I honestly felt like a hummingbird. It was crazy. I was surrounded by these beasts. All of my colleagues were people who lived in the Caribbean because they didn’t want to be in Canada or in the States or Latin America. It’s a really interesting lifestyle because you only work half a day. Then you have the rest of the day to lift weights and lay around on the beach. Everyone was in beast mode, that was just like, “What? I just can’t do that.” I started lifting weights and just fell in love with it. I just loved it. I thought it was so empowering. It’s like I had tapped into an ability that I didn’t know was in the human body.
Was this helping your back pain at this point?
At this point, it started helping my shoulder pain tremendously. I would get such incredible shoulder inflammation, I couldn’t put my clothes on. For three months out of the year, I had to sleep with ice packs. It was brutal how much inflammation I had in my shoulders. Going back, I probably shouldn’t have been eating grains and I probably shouldn’t have been vegan for years. But I did it all, it’s awesome. Then I started lifting and I just fell in love with it. I remember this woman coming up to me in the gym and saying, “I think you seem like you know what you’re doing. Can you help me with my arms?” I did something with her. I think we did tricep extensions or something ridiculous like that. It was so empowering for her. She was like, “Thank you. I finally get it.” I was like, “I like showing people what to do in the gym.”
I came back and went to the sports academy in Bulgaria. I spent six months there and got as much education as I could there. That put me on the personal trainer path. I taught English in the morning and I did personal training in the afternoon. After a while, I was like, “Oh.” I dread my mornings and I loved my afternoons. It was one of those classic, became a personal trainer, worked at someone’s gym then opened their own gym. I had my own gym for years with a partner. It was fabulous. We opened the first personal training facility in Bulgaria. I can proudly say now that the really good personal trainers who have their own facility back home then worked for us and we trained them. We started this whole trend that’s just eliminated the country, it’s very cool.
That just took on its own life. You can probably see it with your patients, your interest grows with your patient population. We were getting more and more people with pain, we’re getting more and more pregnant people, we’re getting more and more special populations. Our trainers were ex-Olympians. They’re like, “I don’t care. I’m not dealing with this lady with back pain.” There was so much fear in those athletes that were our trainers that they didn’t want to deal with it. They didn’t have the emotional impact of it either. I just loved being with people in pain. It made me feel like my life was serving people beyond what they look like. I just felt called in a way to be a larger support than just abs and biceps. Not that how you look isn’t important. To some people, that is what gets them through very difficult times, is really being focused on something outwardly.
I’ve always been very empathetic. I’ve always been able to feel with people their pain. I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing. I can actually do more of this.” I did just special populations. I was very lucky to have both my coach, who’s a physical therapist here in the States, we distance worked for years, and my physical therapist in Bulgaria really support me in learning how to work with people in pain. Because you don’t learn that as a personal trainer. I think if people knew how little personal trainers know about health, gyms would just empty very quickly. We have an illusion that because they look healthy and they function better than we do that they know something, but they don’t. You see all of us trainers as patients, you know the shape we’re in. That was that. Years and years and years of working with people in chronic pain and acute pain, I just loved it. There was this portion of my life, in my late 20s that I exclusively worked with pregnant people. I worked with probably hundreds of pregnant women and was teaching in a pregnancy school. That was amazing.
What techniques were you working on these pregnant women with?
I think that at the time, what I knew was mostly just your run of the mill physical therapy or corrective exercise, modality.
Got you. Which does still work wonders.
It does really work wonders. Even if you look at the classical Janda’s postural guidance, a pregnant woman doesn’t look that much different from somebody who has an excessive anterior pelvic tilt and is in that scissored out position with the ribs flared and the rib cage posteriorly tilted. You have in a pregnancy what you have in a normal body. It’s just magnified. It’s like you’ve put a big magnifying glass on the tendencies that the body had anyways. If somebody wasn’t right rotating in their rib cage when they walk, they get pregnant, they don’t right rotate even more. It just gets bigger.
From what little I knew at the time compared to my broader scope and lens and bird’s eye view right now, I was doing a pretty good job. I had really good support. I had great physical therapists at my side that I could ask. I think that’s always been something that’s allowed me to learn, is I have always felt like others can be a support in the areas that I feel I can grow. Asking questions, emailing, constantly being online. In Bulgaria, I was the only person that had ever dared put a pregnant woman in a gym. Constantly online, constantly on a forum with other physical therapists and other trainers who know how to do it, constantly emailing my teachers and just really being curious. I was mailing x-rays to the States. At that time, there wasn’t any technology that I could email an x-ray. I had to actually physically mail it. I was just dedicated to figuring things out. It’s great.
I think what makes you so good too is because I feel a lot of people are either scared to ask for help or they just want to do it by themselves, like, “I’m going to do this by me.” I think where you really grow is you have so many resources around you and so many people that know. If you sit down and pretty much talk to anybody, you can learn a lot about anybody. You used all those resources your entire life to help you get where you’re at.
I think that’s the part that it makes it really a benefit, being from a part of the world that’s so knowledge hungry. We didn’t have books growing up or education materials like kids do now. When you could get your hands on something, it’s gold. At university, we were studying from copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of illegally xeroxed material because that’s the only way you can pass your exam. Sometimes we had to read in Russian because the literature is not in my language. It makes you really willing to get to information. I’m also very client focused or patient focused for you. To me, it’s not my work that’s important, it’s the path of the person that’s important. Sometimes I’m not the right person at the right time. Unless you know what else is out there, you pretty much are not in a good position to support the person.
Now, you’re working with pregnant women in Bulgaria doing the physical therapy. How did you grow out into what you do now? How did you find all that interesting stuff?
As you can probably guess from just my personality, I threw my candles in the fire. I worked owning that facility, teaching, writing, traveling, learning. I was married at the time to my first husband. That was, in its own way, a challenge. I just really worked myself sick. I was 28 years old when I finally got so sick that I couldn’t work. I had to take a few months off. Just the stressors of life, I was going through a divorce and my personal training business, my partner and I had some disagreements. That was all it took to tip me over the top. It was the tipping point. I had to make some very difficult decisions and choose not to be an owner at the gym anymore, pull my interest out, just train people for a while and then I was like, “I can’t even do that.” I had so little left inside of me. I took a few months off and then had to regroup and see, “Now that I’m going to be going back into it, what do I want to do?” That next year, I met Roland, who’s my husband now. We met at a fitness conference and we had an idea to write a book together.
You guys met for the first time at the fitness conference and then just really hit it off and then stayed in touch?
We knew each other for about five years from before that. We were in the same online communities, but we met for life for the first time the next year. We had this idea to work on a book together. I came to the States and drafted our first book, Man On Top, together that winter. That put me on a different path. I was like, “Wow.” Even though I’m really young, I have so much experience. There’s actually things we can start teaching people. That really opened the door to writing and writing more. A few years into that, I think at the same time that we’re writing Man On Top, I met Katy Bowman, who’s my mentor and dear friend. She’s a biomechanist. She’s somebody who’s really interested in movement ecology. She’s an incredible communicator. She’s really interested in how humans and movement interact biologically and bio mechanically and how our health is really dependent on our environment and how we, as people, since hunter-gatherer times, we have these structures, these physical structures that our lifestyle can no longer support.
Since I was still doing quite a bit of work with pregnant women and she did quite a bit of work with the pelvic floor and the pelvis in her dissertation, I joined her to learn more about pelvic floor health and how overall body movement affects pelvic floor health. Not just what pelvic floor physical therapists do, which is the more local work, but the more global work. How does your ankle affect your pelvic floor? I was just fascinated. I became her student. By the time I moved here in 2011, it was time to certify with her and to graduate after my two years of learning.
Is that where your movement specialist, is that where that comes from?
That’s where I did my restorative exercise specialist work with her. Graduated from the Restorative Exercise Institute, which is now called Nutritious Movement Center. At the time that I was certifying with her, jumped right on the path of starting to teach other teachers with her. I was just in the right place at the right time. I tell my colleagues there’s nothing that I’m that exceptional about, it’s just Katy was growing and she needed more master teachers and here we are.
It’s been an incredible privilege learning with her, learning from her, growing the work and integrating restorative exercise and her view of movement ecology into the other work that I do. It’s just been amazing. The thing that really warms my heart is that not only have I been able to get that body of knowledge and other pieces since I came to the States in the last six years, but it’s been a really quick integration into my practice. I’ve really been able to benefit from everything I’ve learned.
You absorbed it all really fast and you started applying it right away?
I do. I don’t struggle with that. People struggle so much with it. I have other areas of struggle, but that’s not my area of struggle. Then we have now, currently, this year, in the Netherlands, we’re going to certify another group of teachers together with Katy and my colleagues who teach. We’re going to have twelve restorative exercise specialists in Bulgaria.
To me, if that’s the only thing I ever do, that’s enough.
You pretty much revolutionized the way they do movement specialties and physical therapy in Bulgaria. That’s amazing.
I think it’s really cool. I can’t take any credit for it, but I can take credit for introducing the idea and really loving each of those people who has shown interest and really honoring the way that they’ve shown interest. I am so grateful to them that they’ve seen a spark in my work that they’ve been able to put up and just make a fire out of. It’s so cool.
Galina, what type of patients do you see? Who comes to you? Do you see a pattern in your patients or is it just very global in how they come in?
I do. My work has so much been led by who comes to me. Four years ago, I went on this path of learning about the nervous system and trauma, and how trauma plays out in pain and in patterns.
I’m very interested in the trauma therapy too.
Last year, I finished my somatic experiencing practitioner work and education. I did a year of specializing in touch for trauma therapists. Now, I’m on my next leg of the journey. It’s like you’re going around the world and you just have to stop, take a breather and then hop on the next plane. That’s how I feel, all this learning feels like. It’s awesome. I’m on this next path that’s dealing with the very early trauma that happens, whether it’s physical or relational or attachment, to us between 0 and 70 years of age and how that affects pain patterns and especially chronic pain and things like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, the really mysterious autoimmune conditions.
What type of traumas would people experience at such a young age that would stick with them and present itself in like the physical pain body as an adult?
It’s a very good question. It’s very interesting because in society, trauma is such a new thing. Even PTSD, ten years ago, it was like, “What?” Now, everybody knows what PTSD is. Developmental trauma is becoming that next thing that’s going to be the next PTSD. It’s going to be the next DSM, so more and more practitioners and psych therapists, psychiatrists and other people who work with mental health will be able to diagnose it better. I would say the most prevalent is medical trauma. Some sort of an intervention that happened either while mom was still pregnant with baby or right after birth. That leaves a mark on the nervous system. Forever and ever and ever, the nervous system has this until you come in and do some healing work.
The nervous system has these patterns from really, really early life. For example, somebody who was a premature baby and had to be NICUd, had to be separated from mom is going to have a very different response when there’s a loss in the family or there’s divorce or they’re in a minor car accident than somebody who has had more of a smooth transition out of mom into the world. Because the very transition of coming out into the world is not an easy thing to do. You have to go from a warm environment into a scary new environment. You have to make a survival effort coming out. That survival effort has to be successful. If it’s not successful, if somebody comes in and intervenes, if you’re oxygen deprived, something happens to mom and you don’t get to breastfeed, all of that, there’s so many moving parts and it’s also tender and painful to people when they remember about it.
Do you think that could also go the other way too? I was born three months early and I was born in the neonatal unit. I was two pounds fifteen ounces. I feel like I react to stressful situations pretty well. I’m wondering if you have to figure it out at such a young age, you’ve been separated and it’s like a survival instinct, do you think you could go the other way too where it has to make you a little more prepared and makes you a little more prepared for situations that do involve a lot of stress and everything?
It may in some areas make you just super human and in some areas still have you really vulnerable. You may physically be very resilient and you may emotionally be less resilient. You could do great if all these other pieces are in place.
But you’re definitely lacking something.
Something might show up somewhere and it might show up in your parenting. It’s a very interesting area. It’s also important to define what it means to be doing well because there’s so many people who deal with stressors by not dealing with them. They’re like, “I’m fine,” and then 20 years later, you have irritable bowel syndrome and it’s like, “Hmm, all right.” There aren’t rules in all of that. Everybody’s going to figure out how to make a body their own way and how to handle environment their own way. Some of the most resilient incredible humans have had horrible histories of trauma. We see that throughout history.
Post traumatic growth is a field of study that’s very interesting. Whenever you’re looking at the kind of population that I deal with, which is pain and chronic pain, I have people who come to me that are like, “This has been hurting for 30 years.” Seriously, that’s a part of the system now. The pain itself is playing its own role in your system. Then we have to look and untangle and see where it is that what we’re seeing are patterns. Now, it’s the shoulder and then it’s the knee and then it’s the hip and then it just keeps going around.
Like peeling back layers of an onion. Just like you go through one thing and then the next thing presents itself.
That’s not really normal. What is happening in that system that it can’t find a place of function that is stable and there’s homeostasis where people aren’t symptomatic. What I find happens when you’ve had a lot of stress as a little one or even in your adult life is we learn to cope. Things show up and you don’t pay attention to them. It’s easier to disregard pain and symptoms and then become this really overiding personality that’s always piling more on, always doing more work, always taking another project because that’s just how you do. There’s this saying, the Bedouins in the desert, when they go very, very far or they go very quickly, they stop so that their soul can catch up with them.
In modern society, we’re always going. You get a lot of people who don’t have incredible physical resilience who are going, going, going and then they fall apart. They put themselves together, they go to you, they go to me, they go to acupuncture, they go to an osteopath, they go to their Reiki person and they go to yoga. They pull themselves together and then they do it again. That’s just horrible, detrimental for the body long term, but you don’t know any other way. That’s how I have functioned most of my life.
You were lucky enough to get it right the second time and not fall back into that pattern.
It’s a long term process, it’s a lifelong process of being willing be aware and self-aware and go, “I just did 40 clients this week. That’s not normal.” Just being able to look at yourself and go, “I’m doing that thing.”
You’re not spending ten minutes with people. You have hour and a half sessions. 40 people is a lot.
I have crazy days and there are lovely days. I love my clients. It’s those patterns that we get into. I think that metaphor of the wounded healer is not a metaphor at all. I think all of us doing this work, we have so much of our own growth to still keep doing. That’s what also makes us human and makes us get to know our clients quickly. You know where I work. My studio is inside a chiropractor’s office. Your lovely colleagues, Dr. Hafer and Dr. Tom, they deal with the most complex stuff. By the time you go to Upper Cervical Chiropractic, you’ve pretty much tried everything.
You’ve seen everybody, yeah.
It’s an unconventional method, the investment is more than in other methods. You have to be willing to dedicate yourself to a long process of becoming symptomatic again possibly. By the time their patients that I take care of come to me, they’ve been to 20, 30, 40 different practitioners. A lot of them have lost faith that anything can be done. I was just finishing up a ten session series with somebody who had plantar fasciitis for eight years, who is in physical therapy twice a week for eight years and didn’t give up hope. He just kept going. I was like, “Dude, you’re amazing. That persistence alone is what’s going to get you better.”
By session six, he was pain free not because I’m a genius, but because nobody had looked where I looked. He has some serious abdominal challenges. He has an abdominal hernia that’s rather large. His core stability is heavily compromised. Nobody had looked there. Nobody had looked above the man’s ankle. We’re going to be becoming, as professionals, as healthcare providers, more and more global, more and more holistic, more and more interdisciplinary. My last class that I took in biomechanics just two weeks ago, we had PTs and OTs and OAs and Chinese medicine doctors. Wow, that’s amazing. Trainers and massage therapists and more of the hippie voodoo kind of stuff too. We were all one community that was learning together. We were all learning about biomechanics, how cool is that?
One of the most interesting things that I appreciate so much, what you did for me was when I broke my elbow, I was so concentrated on the elbow itself that I didn’t even think to look at the shoulder and the actual bone that had the trauma, the humerus. When you did that bone work on me, because when you said I banged my elbow that the bone just tightened up. I felt that release when you did just that little touch on the bone and when you just externally rotated my shoulder, the elbow pain just dramatically went away. It was all about stretching the shoulder. I feel like a lot of people concentrate too much on the exact area pain where it could be in the head or the ankle or the knee.
Totally. That’s why I love watching my clients walk so much. Walking is the most complex activity that you can do. It can be beautifully graceful and it can also look like really, really, really not graceful. You can look like a pirate. When people come to us, they oftentimes look like a pirate. I have people with two knee replacements and one hip replacement that walk better than a lot of the people that come to me. It’s like, “Why is your body so hell-bent on being on the other side? Why does it want to put load over here?” Usually, we’ll find that it’s not the symptomatic side, it’s the other side that has not been able to load because of something that happened 20 years ago. It’s interesting, my touch teacher, Kathy Kain, who is just phenomenal, she’s the person who created Touch for Psychotherapy. It was not a thing in the world. It is now a thing. It’s fabulous. She did that.
Can you just explain that really quick, what that is?
You can check out Kathy Kain’s work at SomaticPractice.net. Kathy Kain is a body worker. She was in Australia and psychotherapists there needed a body worker to teach them how to touch their patients when they were going through something difficult. Little by little, she developed, over the last 20 years, this really incredible body of knowledge and practice called Touch Skills for Trauma Therapists. What Kathy’s done is she’s taught us how to work with systems, how to work with bone, how to work with fascia, how to work with muscle, how to work with a joint, how to work with the endocrine system, how to find out through touch if a liver and a pancreas are talking to each other, if they have communication, and if a liver, a pancreas and a spleen can work together. It’s quite incredible. Touch is like a weapon. In its most benign form, it’s such an incredible tool because it allows the two brains to talk to each other.
The intention while touching. I’ve learned that from you. The intention while touching somebody can be very powerful.
Intention and attention are the weapon’s bullets. You have these incredible hands and you can touch people. The intention that you touch them with and the attention that you put in a tissue changes the game tremendously. I was just working with somebody with severe adrenal fatigue the other day. His main symptoms are pain in his legs and adductors. We were working on something completely different then his legs flared up. I felt like giving some support to the legs might be a good path to explore. It’s almost like you ask the body a question. Every time you do something, you ask the body a question and you just see what happens. You keep open curiosity, you don’t have any ideas about what’s going to happen. You have to stay free of your own ideas, otherwise things can get boggled down pretty quickly. I was like, “I’m going to put my hand on your quad and your adductor. I’m just going to stay at the skin level. You just tell me what you feel.” We just had this conversation. It’s like I’m having a conversation with his tissues, but I’m also having a conversation with him.
Not much was happening at the skin level. It was warm, but I think nothing much was happening. It was a little bit buzzy, nothing much was happening. I was like, “We’re going to move one layer down.” All I did is I moved my attention into the fascia. The moment I did this, you know how when you put your hand in a river and you can feel the current? It was like, “Swoosh.” I was like, “Okay, we might be in the right layer. We might be too much in the right layer. I might need to pull out a little bit.” You can put 100% of your attention and totally overwhelm the system, it can shut down. I played with how much attention I put in there. I was like, “50% of my attention in there feels about right.” He was like, “Are you pressing harder?” I’m like, “No,” I’m like on top of his jeans. I’m not doing anything. He’s like, “So much is happening.” I was like, “I know, because your body wants to have a conversation.”
It’s crazy how you can do it through the jeans too. Whatever it is that gets through there, that’s amazing to me.
When I was learning this global way of touching fascia, I had a very interesting experience. I think I was standing and my hands were on someone’s lower leg, shin area. We’re just sitting there, I was just paying attention to their fascia and I was just waiting. My brain was completely empty. Meditation has done wonders for emptying my head. I was just standing and open awareness. I could feel my own fascia around the posterior shoulder capsules pull back and spiral out. I’m sitting there, I’m like, “My fascia is pulling on his right now. I’m not doing anything.” It was the wildest experience. I was like, “I think my body knows what to do with his body. I’m just going to watch this.” It was like the Discovery Channel. I was like, “What is happening right now?” It was so crazy.
Galina, do you every absorb people’s energy too? Do you feel someone that’s very tired when you’re touching them? Do feel like you’re getting tired? If someone’s in a lot of pain, do you absorb that as well?
I feel like in order to help people heal and to help people find wholeness and function again, we need to join them in their pain. If you are with a friend and you’re very sad and you’re friend doesn’t get sad with you, it’ll take a while longer for you to get better. My gift is resonance. I can feel in my body what people feel. Sometimes people see images. Everybody who works in the healing world has their own way of languaging their work. For me, it’s resonance. I can pretty much feel what people feel both in emotions and in physical sensations. That’s my tool. If I don’t feel with you what you feel, then I can’t join you in integrating it into the next phase, which is chaos to organization. The important piece is that, that’s not my thing and I’m very aware that that’s not my thing, it’s not my body’s thing, it’s not my process. I am joining you in your process as we both come out.
For me, however, that means that I have to have incredible presence, I have to be super present, I have to be super grounded and I have to be super aware. My core consciousness has to be really on line, watch and know who I am and who they are so we don’t meld. That’s a very important piece. You know how when a cat lays on you sometimes and you just become one? That’s not what happens, we need to keep that separation of who I am and who they are. You don’t want that to happen. But you need to dip in and need to take the swim with them in order to know, because it’s your brain essentially helping the process along.
How do you keep that distance? Just being fully present?
You have to be fully present, just like when you’re meditating, “Here’s a thought,” and it goes away.
Don’t hold on to it.
You know who you are in your open awareness. That’s where your identity is, that’s where your present time awareness is. There’s things that are coming. Tara Brach has this great analogy where she says, “You are the ocean and the things that are happening are the waves.” You’re watching the waves, but you are your own ocean. They are their own ocean and you don’t need to meld your oceans.
There’s the other piece where that means my self-care has to be super on board. If I’m tired, if I haven’t slept enough, if I didn’t eat, if I had an argument that I haven’t resolved, I cannot stay present as much as I need to be. My work doesn’t feel good. That’s where I tank and I’ll be working with somebody who’s very symptomatic and they’ll leave. I have to lay on my floor and sleep for half an hour because I cannot keep my eyes open. That’s how much it zaps me. That’s a sign that I’m behind on my self-care. That’s a sign that I should’ve called my clients that day and canceled all my sessions. I do that. When I don’t feel good, I will call and cancel all my sessions.
It’s beneficial for both of you. If you’re not there helping them treat then, yeah.
Absolutely. It’s also teaching them how to do self-care.
That’s what’s beautiful about what you do too.
It’s setting an example of, “I’m not going to be good support for you right now and I’m not going to make myself go and do something that’s not going to be beneficial to you, that’s also going to zap me for the 30 other people that I have this week.” It’s a beautiful process, it’s an art. We’re all human and in our humanness, we are constantly making mistakes, we’re constantly imperfect, we’re constantly forgiving of them and keeping going.
That’s what’s great about what you do and what I do. We don’t want people in the office four times a week, we want them being their own doctor. If something goes wrong, we want them to know how they can fix it and help their own self rather than people being dependent on, “This person is going to make me feel good. I need to come here.” That’s not okay. There’s not a lot of healing taking place in that moment, I feel like.
I completely agree. I think that one of the things people lose with having a medical issue and in the medical system as a whole and even in the alternative healthcare field, is their agency. They lose their agency and their ability to know themselves and to know that they have the ability to organize back to function. When you have to constantly come in and I need to keep putting your neck back in, what does that tell you about your own body’s ability? It’s like, “I can’t do it. Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?” It sends this whole other message.
If we can empower people to understand their bodies, to understand pain. Pain education should be a thing in school, to understand pain and how pain works. Just because you have pain doesn’t mean that blood is gushing somewhere, you’re cut open and you’re falling apart. Pain is in the brain. Your brain is making a decision right now to keep you highly alert. It could be your mother in law, it might not be your elbow at all. Learning about pain and the new science of pain and all of these things is so important. I know you do a lot of education and I do as well to empower people. I don’t want to see the same person. I want to see you for the time being that I can be your teacher and then go learn with someone else, keep growing. Keep growing your understanding.
That’s great. How important is nutrition? Do you guide people in nutrition when you’re working with them? Because I know you’ve written books on nutrition and everything.
One of the reasons I have is because I don’t want to be a nutrition coach.
Read the book and figure it out.
Read the book, here’s my book. My husband and I have an online program, it’s like a course that anyone can take. It’s a 30-day course that anyone can take and learn how to eat better for less inflammation. Nutrition is very important. You have to be living under a rock to believe that you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the drive-thru and not be in pain. I think where nutrition really becomes interesting and specialized is where now you’re eating real food and you have a wholefood diet. Now, you’re trying to specify what’s the greatest food for you, what really nourishes you, what keeps you pain free and really to find out the great offenders. Whether it’s dairy or it’s alcohol or it’s coffee. Whatever the great offenders are, to keep them to a minimum so that you’re not getting slammed. Because people have such great lives to live and it’s just sad to see them taken away by a piece of pie.
I think a lot of people don’t realize that not eating healthy can not only does it affect your physical body obviously, but it can definitely mess with your emotions.
Oh my God, everything. Just feed your kids some sugar and see what happens. For those people who don’t believe that nutrition matters, give your kids cotton candy, watch them run around and then cry and throw a tantrum. We, as adults, cry and throw tantrums as well, they just look differently.
That’s very interesting. Galina, thank you so much for coming on.
This has been fabulous.
This is one of my favorite episodes. I learned a lot.
Thank you for being curious.
Actually, I have one more question. I noticed it after you told me. When you were working on me, my stomach started growling, that somatic gastral response. Can you explain what’s going on there?
People know about fight or flight. Then the other side of that is rest and digest, that’s the simplest way to describe it. Every complex system in nature goes from chaos to organization, from chaos to organization, from activation to deactivation. Your heart rate does it, your blood pressure does it, the sun does it with the rotation of the earth. When you are in a stress response or in a trauma response or you’re running trauma physiology, usually you’re in one of those more activating responses. Your body can’t rest and digest. Your body has its resources pulled in to the extremities, arms and legs, and really trying to have all of your nutrients going to the outside and activities going to the outside so you could run away.
Or if you are more in a freeze response, it’ll be more frozen in your gut, that’s all the Vagus work. Your dorsal vagal portion of the Vagus nerve can really keep digestion shut down for survival purposes. In your case, as your body was able to let go of some of the activity in the arms, it was like, “I no longer need to be tightening up for that impact.” Because we’re working with the impact to your elbow, which was still looping in the background, all this activation like, “We must brace for impact.” As that went away, your body goes, “I can totally start digesting my food right now,” so you could hear your belly go, “Blop, blop, blop.” It was starting to make some sounds. My clients call me the belly whisperer and it’s not because I do everything with their bellies.
I started noticing it in my patients. I would just be doing neck work on them and stuff and their stomachs would just start rumbling. I remember you telling me something about it, but I just didn’t know what exactly was going on. I thought it was really interesting.
Just tell them, “It’s a good thing. Look at that.” I love it all.
Thank you so much, Galina. Do you have a personal website and a place where people can find you online?
Galina, I’d love to have you back whenever because you are a wealth of knowledge and a lot of things. Thank you so much for doing this. I really love this episode. Thank you.
Thank you so much. Good luck with everything you’re doing. You’re just so at the cusp of creating this incredible practice on the East Coast. I know your grand opening is coming up soon.
It’s coming up in July.
Just really know, sending you really good thoughts and gratitude for all the incredible work that you do in the world.
Thank you so much, Galina.
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