Connecting through community

grooming-macaques Matt Webster

Japanese snow monkeys have got the right idea. Image: Matt Webster

The success of a recent event has got me thinking about the importance of community. Redfest, a free, one-day festival takes place in St George’s Park, Bristol, each August. This year I had the pleasure of leading a team of holistic therapy practitioners who came together to create the wellbeing area, an environment in which festival-goers could experience a range of different (traditionally expensive) treatments in exchange for a small donation. This made wellbeing more affordable and therefore accessible and accessible wellbeing, in whatever form it comes, is something I’m incredibly passionate about.

The human ape

As a Holistic Massage Therapist I am an advocate of improving wellbeing through nurturing touch. We are social animals, primates wired up to give and receive touch just like snow monkeys and chimpanzees. Grooming – stroking, scratching and massaging – is an integral part of primate life. It strengthens friendships and familial bonds and releases, in both the giver and receiver, endorphins and oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ hormones associated with pain relief and love.

But the human ape now lives in a different world. Life is lived through tablet and smart phone touch screens while all the time we become more and more removed from the animals we once were, the animals that held and reached out for each other rather than the nearest Apple device. I am all for progress but the potential for disconnection, for the absence of supportive communities that facilitate nurturing touch gives me cause for concern.

I think I might be the luckiest person alive because facilitating nurturing touch is how I make a living. I provide a safe space in which people can relax and connect with their bodies in the moment in a way that is ultimately healing. And the space in which that healing takes place is, I think, as important as the healing itself.

The power of togetherness

My vision for the Redfest wellbeing area was clear. I wanted anyone from any walk of life to feel empowered to take some time for themselves for the first time in a long time or perhaps even ever. In order to do this I had to create a calm, supportive environment in which people could easily feel safe and held. By working with practitioners from across the holistic community and providing opportunities for massage, yoga, mindfulness, ear acupuncture, reflexology, tai chi, reiki and even plant spirit medicine I’m pleased to say that this goal was achieved. And it was such an enriching experience!

Our little holistic community was holistic in every sense of the word. Not only was each practitioner concerned with the wholeness of a person but we worked together as one, striving towards a common goal. Together, we held a space in which healing could take place. This was a wonderful feeling. At one point I was moved to tears by our collective strength and the powerful energy we created.

Upcoming supervision

For me, a supportive community of peers is priceless and so, as of Tuesday 29 September, I will be running monthly supervision sessions for massage therapists of all experience levels. The sessions cost £25 and will take place between 5.30pm and 8pm on the last Tuesday of every month.

Supervision provides a space in which therapists can share concerns, ideas and lessons learned as well as the opportunity to practice hands-on techniques. I will facilitate the space so that everyone who attends has the chance to voice their needs and get what they want from the session. I have room for a maximum of eight people. If you (or perhaps someone you know) would like to take part, please get in touch and register your interest by 15 September.

Imagining a different way

We live in a world full of communities that say workloads, deadlines and the latest iPhone are the most important things. But imagine if, as communities, we said that our wellbeing and the wellbeing of everything and everyone around us were the most important things. What a different world it would be! It’s an ambitious wish but I’m going to try my best to make it happen, one wellbeing area and supervision session at a time!

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