Mastering Massage School (like life) is a Process: The spotlight is on recent college grad Sarah Dettmer of Northern CA

September 2021: By Hope Katz Gibbs, LMT

My classmates and I are now entering our 7th week as Bodymechanics students at the new Santa Fe school as I ponder what we’ve learned so far and what is on the horizon.

Since we last talked, our class has grown by two students — Sarah, who you will meet in this article, and Angie, the mom of a pair of teens in Los Alamos, who you’ll meet in November when we talk about “Reclaiming Your Life.”

My first classmate, Nick, and I have bonded even more in the last month as our diligent teachers have worked to onboard Sarah and Angie, so we will all be up to speed by the start of Month 3. While it’s clear that opening a new school has been a process for the Bodymechanics team, their journey is ours, and we are all in this together!

That’s why it’s so fabulous to introduce you to Sarah Dettmer, 21. Not only is she embarking on a year of studying massage, but she is working to manage her life in the months after graduating from the prestigious St. John’s College here in Santa Fe.

A native of San Anselmo, CA, Sarah (wearing the flashcards that identify the regions of thee body, right) explains: “I graduated from college last summer and wanted to stay in Santa Fe for another year. I needed to do work that was important to me, and I have always been interested in how the body functions and how to touch is healing. I contacted Bodymechanics and had a beautiful conversation with our former school manager, Akasha, about how massage taught her to have boundaries around giving herself to people. I wanted to learn that too. I’m interested in the clinical parts of a massage, and especially interested in the way the spiritual and the medical interact with each other in this form of healing.”

Here’s the rub: “I don’t want to hurt anyone. Ever. In any way,” Sarah says. “I think I’m likely to do that if I lose my grounding and stop paying attention, which has been something I’ve worked on since I was a kid. Honestly, I’m a little afraid of myself in the role of the massage therapist. My goal for this program is to learn how to stay grounded and present with myself and the client. I don’t know if I will still be afraid of that when I graduate, and if so, I’ll have to decide my next step. As Hypocrites said, I will do no harm. I am on a spiritual journey, which is not solely dependent on what I learn in massage school. I know this is an inside job.”

Sarah shares that her process toward healing herself began when she was a child. “I grew up with good parents and three wonderful younger siblings in Northern California. I did martial arts and yoga when I was a kid. This gave me a great deal of intuition and awareness about my body. When I moved to Santa Fe to go to college at St. John’s, I knew I’d fly into my head as this is a Great Books program: We studied the Western Canon and history of western science and math in seminar-style discussion classes. It was an incredibly fulfilling intellectual experience. While I thought I would go into a science career afterward, I’m no longer sure. I’m filling this year with a different kind of study while I figure things out.”

Bodywork was the modality that helped Sarah overcome her experience with scoliosis as a child. “Thanks to a great masseuse named Riikka, who worked with me for years — and years — I healed the sideways curvature of the spine that most often is diagnosed in adolescents. Not only did her powerful hands heal me, but Riikka also taught me how to truly take care of my body, as well as my emotional and spiritual self.”

What’s next for Sarah? “Oh, I have no idea. I know I’m so young, and so educated, so this is a transition period for me. While I haven’t decided whether to go the route of massage therapy as a career, I do hope to practice for a while so that I can become really intimate with all different kinds of bodies and learn how they work. This feels like important knowledge to me.”

Here’s what Sarah knows: “I believe strongly that traumas are held in the body, and that at its best and most powerful (and maybe combined with other modalities), massage therapy can heal and release old traumas, holding patterns, and habits. It has been insanely powerful for me to start addressing these things in myself in just these few weeks of class. I genuinely think that if everyone were to undergo this sort of physical self-examination in a space of love and care like massage is, so much of the violence in the world would vanish.”

What are our observations so far? Sarah and I are not so different. While she’s a contemporary of my children (Anna, 26, and Dylan, 22), I believe the journey toward healing ourselves and others is not limited by our age or experience. As Sarah said, it’s an inside job that each of us is responsible for accomplishing at every stage of our lives so that we can love and heal ourselves before we can truly be able to love others and help them heal themselves.

Two parting thoughts: 

  1. What Sarah and I learned this month — Study, study, study! While our teachers were doing their best, many were students and teachers from the previous Santa Fe School of Massage. The approach and requirements are different from the curriculum at the Bodymechanics schools in Washington state, so the key for our class is to study hard on our own, work together to learn the curriculum, and know that we will be successful as a group because we pull together.
  1. What we want other students to know — Like Sarah, I know that massage therapy can heal and release old traumas, holding patterns, and habits. The process of becoming a massage therapist, though, is deep and personal. Being touched, almost daily, is powerful and challenging, especially in these years where the world is dealing with the impact and fallout of a global pandemic. Together, though, we learn and let go. It’s truly an inside job, one that my classmates and I will be stronger for going through together. Like everything, it’s a process.

Next month: Our fellow student Nick and I look forward to sharing observations and experiences about Month 3 about Bodymechanics Santa Fe! Until then, wishing you endless health and wellness!