Mind and body as one

Sandra Nunez came to Seattle from her native Spain almost a decade ago. She quickly became a licensed massage practitioner here, as she had already been in Madrid (she's a graduate of the Escuela de Masage de Madrid), and settled down to helping folks relax and feel better with her strong hands and helpful nature.

For quite a while Nunez was satisfied with her massage business, first in Lower Queen Anne and then later at 600 W. McGraw St. (282-5386) atop Queen Anne, where she still is today.

"For me massage was connecting with people, getting to know the person, by reading their body more than by them telling me what they do," she explained, in her clear but still softly accented English.

But Nunez isn't someone to stand pat. Over the years, while continuing massage, she became a certified medical interpreter and a registered counselor in the state of Washington.

She also started focusing on something she saw happening over and over on her massage table.

"During the massage I started seeing people having an emotional release. Through massage people were re-connecting with old emotions in the body. They would scream, cry, some would get really angry, some would be laughing very hard. There were others who would go through a cycle. They would start laughing, then cry, then laughter, then tears again," Nunez remembered.

It wasn't simply emotional release that Nunez was noticing, though: "What interested me in working with these people was that after their emotional release many of them were also relieved of some of the chronic pain they'd carried around for years."

Her discoveries led her to energy work in the field of mind-body integration.

She started doing energy work with a veteran practitioner of mind-body integration.

About nine months ago she phased out massage to focus solely on energy work.

Nunez said she knew it was risky; for eight years she'd built a large loyal following as a massage therapist in Queen Anne.

But she felt she wanted to go deeper than massage, and energy work is where she thought she had that chance at this time.

"People in this society are looking for the quick fix, versus doing the work for themselves," Nunez said. "I compare this kind of work with someone lifting weights for physical therapy. Massage is something palpable; there is an immediate response. This takes longer."

She went on to compare the results of mind-body integration with a practice like yoga, where the gains are usually steady and long-lasting, but not necessarily flashy.

"Many people aren't connected with the energy in their body, really," she explained. "Unless they are in pain, if you ask them how their lower back feels they often say they never really think about their lower back."

Nunez said the gentler work she is now doing with her hands and emotions get to "a subtler level in her clients and in their lives": "There is a scientific backup with massage. With energy work science doesn't know [exactly] what's happening. But energy activity in humans, and even plants, is measurable."

She also mentioned studies about the efficacy of prayer, which a few years was considered unprovable until Larry Dossey's books became popular.

Nunez stressed that she isn't a "healer" per se: "I am sort of like an emotional guide. We all look for the most complicated ways to solve our problems, physical and emotional.

"That's why some people resist believing you can look better by simply faithfully practicing something like yoga. But it happens over and over. This energy work helps a person, over time, to build new positive habits of approaching their world."

Nunez cited an example from her own life.

"Whenever I talked to my Dad before I started seeing somebody doing this kind of work, he would be going into some [conversational] areas, and my lower back would start hurting. I wasn't even aware of it. But I learned, through energy work, that when he would do this, and I wasn't speaking up for myself, not saying what I should be saying, I had problems. I spoke up.

"Before energy work I couldn't recognize this pattern. For me, experiencing this personally showed me what a powerful force listening to your body can be since it affects every aspect of your life," she said.

But Nunez is leery of some New Age-y claims in related fields which she thinks might keep people from trying mind-body integration work.

"I am not a psychic," Nunez said. "I'm listening to what their body is telling me and helping people to learn how they can use these tools for themselves.

"This knowledge needs to be out there more. Some people come on as if they are 'healers.' I am not a healer - I am a guide. There is a freedom in this, for my clients and for me. I've learned a lot from my clients," Nunez said, "while they are hopefully learning from me."

Nunez hasn't been surprised by the effectiveness of mind-body in-tegration work. She knew it would work.

"It is what I expected. I've already seen people get relief from chronic pain without deep-tissue work. I believe changes are happening at the cellular level," she said.

But it all hasn't been beer and skittles.

"I've been surprised that some people won't even give this a chance. Their attitude prevents me from really doing the job. That's sad to me because they really could have a different life.

"Our emotions affect our bodies. Money and love aren't the only stressful things in life. This is work. You can't just take a pill," Nunez concluded, "but mind and body integration is a very effective therapy that could provide people with the right tools to connect their minds and bodies and allow them to learn how to alleviate and even prevent health problems."

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