How does one write about the body, about those who work with integrating body and spirit and community, and do justice to complexities that cannot be expressed in words?
by: Leslie Rachael Nydick
Since interviewing Melinda Hunt, Massage Therapist and co-owner of Durham Bodywork, as well as Founding Member, Hayley Booterbaugh, I’ve struggled with how to best convey the wonder of their world-in-progress.
Why do I say world? As one born into the Boomer Generation, where one’s role in the workplace was usually separate from one’s role in building community and nurturing spirit, I am awed by the way the members of Durham Bodywork are transforming the way we see our world. You can go to their website, and see that the mission has four aspects: integrative bodywork, community connection, personal sustainability, and empowered healing. That kind of business model alone would strike anyone as not only ambitious, but also transformative in its depth and breadth. Can eleven members, including co-owners Melinda Hunt and Megan Jones, do all this and survive, let alone thrive, financially and spiritually? If you meet them and the other owners, see them glide through the Bodywork clinics that they lead at the Living Arts Collective, on Geer Street and the other spaces they grace with their presence, you know that the answer is “YES!”
Co-owner Melinda “Mel” Hunt shared that the members’ vision is to provide accessible body work to all and to shift our cultural perspectives. At the clinics, one can pay on a sliding scale, and there is a community fund for those who cannot afford the fees. The members also strive to change the way we view touch and relaxation. You go to a clinic wearing loose clothing and not, as is the cultural norm, in a state of undress. Mel emphasizes that this shift allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable, promoting relaxation and centeredness. As she says on her personal tumblr site, the skin cells are the entry into the nervous system , so gentle touch promotes inner relaxation and enables us to integrate “rest” into all aspects of our lives. Rather than focusing on productivity as a goal, the mission of Durham Bodywork is that rest and healing should come first, and anything else will flow from these states of being. To some, this is a radical vision of how we lead our lives. To others, like the members of Durham Bodywork and the throngs that follow them, this flow is as natural as a clear stream running down a mountainside.
Another part of the mission is to provide sustainable work opportunities for the massage therapists and other team members. The goal is to provide a living wage for all and opportunities for collective work by team members. When you enter the Living Arts Collective building, you’re greeted and slowly guided to a lofty, peaceful room, with hardwood floors and subdued lighting. Several massage therapists are working at their own tables simultaneously, as individuals identify the part of the body on which they’d like therapists to work. After this relaxing experience, you are guided to the floor and encouraged to rest in any way that is comfortable on a mat-a meditative pose, lying down with knees to chest, eyes closed and under a blanket, or whatever you choose for personal relaxation. After a time, a guide again leads you out the door, where you write an exit interview. As folks leave, they appear to have entered a different plane of existence, where the spirit and body are glowing with the feeling of being well-cared for.
On the surface, this may appear to be just slightly different from the typical combination of massage, yoga, and meditation. But the mission of this collective ranges into a totally new realm of awareness. The members intentionally agree not to use familiar labels, like “mindfulness” or “yoga pose” that categorize bodily experiences or movements. Mel makes clear that the group has prioritized creating an impact that goes way beyond the time of the “clinic” experience. The key, she says, is managing the transitions. How are we guided into spaces? How do we maneuver from one activity to the next? How do we move from our inner state to our outer world? The mission is to restfully integrate ALL our experiences into our body and to integrate our body restfully into all our experiences. And if you watch Mel or Megan move from space to space in the course of the day, you can see them embody this mission. And if you check out Mel’s amazing tumblr site (link above), you can better appreciate how this amazing woman perceives the world and how we can better navigate through it.
Hayley Booterbaugh, a founding member, talks about how Durham Bodywork was formed and how it is constantly evolving. It has been a slow process, but one that emphasizes respect, cooperation, and support among all members, not just in passing, but as part of a conscious “team member agreement”. Durham Bodywork isn’t about the product—it’s about the process of community building. The members commit not only to the business, but also to care of oneself and others. As part of the agreement, the members ask for rest, when needed, and agree to offer each other feedback with a spirit of trust and kindness.
As Hayley spoke to me, I looked into her eyes, and they danced and sparkled. The excitement was infectious. I felt like the clouds were lifting, and it hit me: she’s reshaping my vision of what is possible! She’s transforming the way I see the world. THIS moment!
The women who run Durham Bodywork inspire me. Yes, I said to myself after my session and after seeing them around town in the weeks before and after. I CAN shift my perspective! I CAN rock my world and the world around me! Thank you, Durham Bodywork, for giving us all hope-and rest.
Check out the website for the next clinic dates. You’ll see the clinics and members are now in a time of stillness, but also a time of incubation, generating new ideas that will surely flourish come March, when they reopen for business.
Please note: Gabrielle Laurent is also a founding member of Durham Bodywork.