Til Luchau: Hello, Til Luchau here, very excited to be with my colleague, Whitney Lowe, in our first episode of The Thinking Practitioner podcast. Hey, Whitney, how are you doing?
Whitney Lowe: I’m doing very well, how are you doing today?
Til Luchau: Excellent. Like I said, I’m excited. We’re going to take some time and actually get to know each other, we decided. You and I have been professional colleagues for many years, but we’re going to dive in, as I understand it, to ask each other some questions and get to know some of our backgrounds and what we might be bringing to this venture we’re trying out.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah, and I am certainly looking forward to this. As you’ve said, we’ve been doing all kinds of work together in the field for numerous years, and had a few interesting discussions. This podcast kind of came about by us having some of these discussions and saying, “Hey, we should really be sharing these things with other people.” I know for me, one of the things that was particularly interesting was getting a sense of a lot of the things that we had in common in our backgrounds, as well. And I’m looking forward to diving into this a little bit today to hear more about where you came from, how you got into this, and where our paths are crossing again.
Til Luchau: Yeah, I agree. What do you think? Shall we jump right in? Can I ask you some questions?
Whitney Lowe: Well sure, yeah.
Til Luchau: All right. Well, tell me something about what you were doing before you started doing this work. What’s your background, what were your interests? How did this start for you, and what were you doing?
Whitney Lowe: These are always fascinating stories with everybody, how people got into this field, because it is so diverse. I was actually in graduate school studying psychology back in the mid 80s, and was planning to be a counseling psychologist, and was quite interested in the whole mind body health arena. At that time my ex-wife was just getting ready to start massage school, and she got going in massage school, and was coming home every day telling me all the fascinating things that they were learning about client-therapist relationships and health and integrating things, and wonderful experiences that people were having. And I was still in the early stages of my graduate school program learning about rats running in mazes, and I thought, “There’s something really odd about this, because she’s doing what I really want to be doing, and they’re doing this in massage school.”
Whitney Lowe: And I had always been really interested in the whole mind body connection, and that kept going on for a while, and I was getting really burned out in my graduate school program, and finally at some point I said, “You know what, I want to stop, or at least take a break from this program, and maybe go learn about the body a little bit.” And decided I was going to go to massage school. Also, because it looked like a great, easy way to have a job that could be very flexible with a schedule around what I was doing in school. And I thought I was just going to take a short break from my graduate school program to go to massage school, become a massage therapist just to help pay the bills, but it turned into a 30 plus year break from that.
Til Luchau: That’s fascinating, I knew the brief outlines, I didn’t know the details.
Whitney Lowe: And how did you get into this? What was your initial starting point?
Til Luchau: That’s why I’m grinning, because I got a couple different stories I tell when people ask how I got into this. But really the one that’s probably truest to my heart is, I was studying to be a psychotherapist a Gestalt therapist at the Esalen Institute, and we were strongly encouraged to go learn a body discipline, too, because it’s a body centered approach, Gestalt therapy. And there I as at the Esalen Institute, which is one of the places that launched a lot of the massage and body work interest in the U.S. back in the 60s and 70s, and so there was a lot to choose from. And that’s what I did. I started learning some stuff, and I enjoyed it so much that it became a parallel track for me.
Til Luchau: So yeah, we share that starting with psychology and then being interested in the body and branching out to that. Yeah, I actually worked as a psychotherapist for about fifteen years as I continued to practice body work.
Whitney Lowe: See I didn’t know that either, that’s fascinating, too, that we were having those similar tracks earlier on. So what was your initial, not massage necessarily, because I know you were doing a lot of stuff in other, what was your initial manual training like?
Til Luchau: My first manual therapy training was a craniosacral approach, and I didn’t realize at the time how sophisticated it was, and it seemed really obscure. It was a little hard for me to get my head around at first, but once we got into it made a lot of sense. It was subtle movements in the body with our touch, and encouraging their amplification or resolution. And it turned out that this teacher, Ryan Koperud, who I was studying with, was in the lineage that included Ida Rolf and Frit Smith, and some other founders of work, like Ida Rolf’s work, Fritz Smith’s work, Zero Balancing, as well as the cranial approach. That was my first body work training, I had no idea how, in some ways, how sophisticated and advanced it was.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. That’s always interesting, too, as we look back at those time periods. Because during those times, so much of the way a lot of this teaching was transmitted was through that lineage process. There was really a lineage model of education, there weren’t that many schools, there weren’t that many training programs, and so it was really important who learned from whom, and where did that stuff come from, and who did so and so study with, and that person study with, so and so. That whole lineage model was really pervasive, and it still is to some degree, a big undertone in the educational realm of where we are, but it’s changed quite a bit now with the huge proliferation of training programs, schools, and other ways that people get into doing this kind of thing.
Til Luchau: Yeah, well it was in the curriculum back then, it was stories. And I didn’t know who these people were, Ida Rolf or stories, and I’d hear these things and, “Okay, great, that’s why we’re doing that.”
Whitney Lowe: Yeah.
Til Luchau: You’re right, it was an oral tradition indoctrinated into a lineage. And I tend to leave that out of my training now, but it’s fun to think back about that.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. And so as you began doing that, was there a point at which you felt like you were moving in the direction of more orientation towards manual therapy, or how did that phase out away from doing the psychotherapeutic work?
Til Luchau: Well, no, it was very much a dual passion for me. And you mentioned making the choice for body therapy because it could pay the bills, I think that’s what you said, that’s what it was for me, too. I was going back to school to continue my training as a psychotherapist, but I was having body work clients at the moment who were helping me make ends meet, so that chapter was very much alive for me. And it was something I loved, but my continued psychotherapy work and studies were very much about the body mind direction.
Til Luchau: What happened was, I started traveling so much to teach that it didn’t make sense to have a psychotherapy practice. And it got to be the place in my own career where I said, “I got to get good at one of these, I got to really focus on one of them.” And my chips fell with the body direction, and still, I’m really glad to have because I’m still loving it.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. That’s fascinating, that last thing you said about your chips falling in that direction, because there was a point, I remember this day very specifically actually, I was at a place early on in my career of trying to get a sense of what I was supposed to be doing with all this stuff, because I was still debating, was I going to go back to graduate school and go back and finish my master’s degree and start doing counseling stuff, and I felt somewhat ambiguous about it because I was still quite drawn to what was happening in massage. And I said, “Okay, I’m going to sit down in meditation and just be very quiet, and silent, and listen, and see what is the message that I get about what I’m supposed to be doing.” And it was really striking for me. I got this voice in my head saying over and over again to me, “Learn about the body. Learn about the body.” And I realized, okay, I guess that’s my path. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. And that was a significant turning point of sending me in the direction of studying in the massage and body work field, as opposed to going back to doing the stuff in counseling.
Til Luchau: There you go. Now that’s important, just listening to that inner sense.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. And I think it was something that was aligning me more with who I am and the kinds of stuff that I’m really interested in, because it was really shortly after that that I began to get very interested in more of the medical and healthcare applications of massage, which really was a lot more about science and research, and studying a lot of stuff about biomechanics and physiology, and all that kind of stuff, which took me way away from the whole psychotherapeutic perspective that I had had originally. But I will certainly say this over and over again, I’m so glad that’s the way I got into this, because it became the foundation for understanding the client-therapist relationship and how incredibly powerful that part of what we do really is. And it’s colored my work, it’s colored every bit of my work since that time, as well.
Til Luchau: That’s fascinating, because I do think of you as a science-based guy. The technical aspects, focus on orthopedic approaches, that’s just how I know your work, so it’s great to hear that you started in the relationship, the interactive dimension.
Whitney Lowe: And I don’t talk about that a great deal, but some people are actually surprised to hear that. I did a lot of study in energy work and transpersonal psychology, and all this really out there stuff, early on. And that has really helped me become a more holistic practitioner, to see things from a variety of different perspectives, as well, even though I recognize what I really am oriented to is more of a clinical and orthopedic perspective right now. It’s still colored very much by those pieces of it, because I see people, not conditions or clients. I really like to see people as whole.
Til Luchau: Well that’s why I like talking to you, because I share that, too. It turns out that the people part of it is probably what makes all the technical stuff work anyway. Turns out that that background of interaction, understanding how people experience stuff, is what provides the context for a lot of this orthopedic, clinical, technical stuff we do. And I love that stuff, too, being a total geek in that department. But that provides the background or the matrix for all of this stuff to be effective.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. So tell me, what are some other key events, or teachers, or ideas and turning points along your career path that either took you off on a diversion in some way, or set the path for where you are now. Are there significant things that might have brought you there?
Til Luchau: Well, just chronologically, I worked for several years at the Esalen Institute, I worked in the preschool there, I worked on the massage crew there, I worked on the teaching staff there. And when I got to the place that I wanted to take it further, I said, “I want to go to the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and learn Rolfing, structural integration.” And got a leave of absence from my preschool teacher’s job, and my massage crew job there, and went and studied as a Rolfer. And that was deeply influential, I’ll put it that way.
Til Luchau: First of all, because it’s a whole paradigm shift. They were essentially asking me to put aside what I knew at that point. I had been a practicing body worker for several years at that point, put it aside and learn that new approach. And that was a good exercise, good discipline for me. So certainly, my time at the Rolf Institute, where I later got a job, Tom Meyers hired me a few years later to be his assistant in a program he was teaching there. I ended up as the director of that part of the program for about ten years, ended up working for that program about 20 years. So being in that field of Rolfing, structural integration, and the work the Rolf Institute was pretty formative. Pretty key, in terms of a lot of my influences and thinking.
Whitney Lowe: That’s really interesting. It’s probably a great moment to break to our half-time sponsor, Books of Discovery. Here’s the author of Trail Guide To The Body, Andrew Beil himself:
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Til Luchau: Yes, big thanks to everyone at Books of Discovery. Before the break, I got to talk about some of my early training and teaching. How about you, Whitney? You have some Boulder in your history too, don’t you?
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. An interesting thing about that, too, this is part of a whole different story, but I had grown up, professionally, if we can call it that, I did my initial training down in Atlanta. I was in Georgia. And had intended to move out to Boulder because I had perceived that area being such an incredible talent vortex, and there was so much happening in the body work community at that time, this was the late 80s, early 90s for me. And I was originally planning to go out, I wanted to be enmeshed in that, I wanted to be a part of that whole thing. We might have crossed paths at that time had I stayed in Boulder, but there’s a whole other long story about why I ended up not staying in Boulder and ended up going to Oregon instead.
Til Luchau: How did you end up going to Oregon? What happened?
Whitney Lowe: It’s kind of crazy. My former wife and I had left Atlanta with the idea of moving out west, going to Boulder to the body work mecca, was basically the story. And we had no money, very few possessions, everything we owned was packed into this pickup truck that we drove out there with, and this little trailer behind us. And we got out there-
Til Luchau: And by the way, I lived in a teepee the first time when I was here in Boulder.
Whitney Lowe: Oh, did you? We had packed up everything we had, and we had a cat with us. And we could not find an affordable place to live in Boulder. As you know it’s very expensive there, and we wanted to be in the heart of it. And were sitting around a hotel room after being there for several days, after again having driven all the way across the country.
Til Luchau: Oh yeah.
Whitney Lowe: Just not being able to find a place to live, and like, “What are we going to do?” And I had been on this backpacking trip about ten years ago, or ten years before that, this was back in the early 80s, and had fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest. And she said to me, “Well you’ve always wanted to go back to Oregon, why don’t we just go to Oregon?” And I was saying, “You can’t just go all the way across the country with no idea where you’re going and where you’re heading.” And she said, “Why not?” And I couldn’t come up with a good reason why not to do that, so it wasn’t working in Boulder, so we just thirty minutes later got in the car and drove to Oregon. We had no idea where we were even going to end up, where we were going or anything like that. You can, obviously, you can.
Whitney Lowe: So we ended up in this tiny little town on the coast of Oregon, and again, just to make a long story short, I didn’t look into the Oregon massage licensure law before I left, because I wasn’t planning to move there, and didn’t realize once I got there and had signed a lease on a place to live that I wasn’t going to be able to work for over seven months because I had to wait until the next licensure test came around.
Til Luchau: Ah-ha.
Whitney Lowe: And so now I was really screwed because we had gotten this place over on the coast of Oregon, this beautiful, absolutely stunningly beautiful place, tiny little house over on the Oregon coast where there’s no economy of significant for a person who doesn’t have a job, and I was going to build a massage practice in a nearby town, and it just was not going to happen because I couldn’t get a license till the next licensing period came around seven months later. And that actually turned into what started my education business, because at that point I was saying, I had been teaching in massage schools for many years, and had always wished that we had more significant educational materials, and I had never had time to start producing them and writing them. And I said, “Okay, I’ve been given several months now to do this before I can get a license, I think we’re just going to live off our credit cards for seven months and I’m going to start writing and producing educational materials.”
Whitney Lowe: And that’s how that whole end of the business got started for me.
Til Luchau: Fascinating. So if you couldn’t practice, you could teach.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah.
Til Luchau: So catch me up a little bit, what had you done up to that point? You had been to massage school…
Whitney Lowe: So I had been to massage school, and from the late 80s on I was teaching in massage school and also working. And this was a big part of my interest in educational materials, because I recognized after I left Atlanta how incredibly fortunate I was. You don’t often see that when you’re in the middle of something, but I was in the middle of an incredible, what I call a talent vortex, at the Atlanta School of Massage. There were just some unbelievably talented individuals there at that time, and that always spurs new ideas getting enmeshed, and percolated, and brought up. I lived just down the road from Emory University Medical School, and this was in the pre-internet days where if you wanted a medical journal article, there was no going online to get it. You had to go to the library to get stuff.
Whitney Lowe: And so I would go spend all my spare time that I had, which was actually quite a lot of time back then, because I didn’t have a lot of work, I was spending a lot of time in the Emory University Medical Library just reading stuff. Because I love learning and reading and studying, and all this kind of stuff, and to me it was just a gold mine. I started digging into this stuff, I said, “Oh my God, if the massage world knew all this stuff was here that’s so pertinent to what we’re doing, this could be hugely beneficial for us in doing things.” So I was at the same time doing a lot of independent study and research on this stuff.
Whitney Lowe: I had also, ironically, during that time gone back to graduate school again, this time to start another master’s degree in sports medicine and biomechanics. And so that was part of the whole study process as well. And then I was teaching in massage school. So those were the things that had driven me in the direction of looking at education and the world of orthopedics. I ended up getting a job with the Emory University Orthopedic Clinic, which is another incredibly lucky thing. This was a state of the art orthopedic clinic that was affiliated with the medical school, and they were kind of innovative at this time, and decided they wanted to bring massage therapy in there. And were using massage for treating all kinds of post-surgical cases and accidents and injuries, and all kinds of stuff. We didn’t know what we were doing, the whole staff, we were kind of doing a lot of experimentation, like, “Will massage work for this?” “I don’t know, let’s try it.” “Well, it didn’t work there, will it work here?”
Whitney Lowe: In the meantime, every minute that I wasn’t working on a patient there I was following the doctors around and the PTs around and bugging the hell out of them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that? Tell me what you’re doing there? What are you doing here?” So I was learning a whole lot about all these different clinical and orthopedic approaches. So that’s what really set a lot of the groundwork for a lot of the stuff that I thought needed to be brought into the massage profession.
Til Luchau: That makes a lot of sense. You had a view out into the orthopedic world, into the medical with your massage background, and your hunger for learning, and you could build some bridges under that.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah, and so for many years after that, this has been an incredibly lucky opportunity and experience that I’ve had, I want to share that with as many people as possible, so that turned into a lot of the work on the education side of everything, to try to get some of this stuff out to as many people as possible.
Til Luchau: That’s great. That connects some dots in my mind.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. Right. So tell me about your path during this time, too. Now you’re starting to do a lot more practice and teaching, you were teaching
Til Luchau: At the Rolf Institute, yeah, this is in the late 80s through the 90s. Teaching at the Rolf Institute. And my focus there really was training people from the beginning into the skills they needed as a practitioner. The touch skills, some of the anatomy, but especially the therapeutic relationship. That became my focus, probably because of my psychology background and because of my personal interest, that’s really where I focused. And Rolfers and body workers in general didn’t have the best reputation at that point for really nurturing that relationship along, or for being sensitive to each other. And the culture was changing, there was a lot more awareness of abuse and trauma coming out, and so the time was right, the situation was right, for me to really start thinking deep about how hands on body workers could be more effective in the body-mind realm, and found a forum there at the Rolf Institute to do that.
Til Luchau: Because Ida Rolf herself was always interested in the ways that the body informed our feelings states, and our attitudes, and our impressions. She focused on the physical, there are some famous quotes from her saying, “Of course psychology exists, but the body is what I can get my hands on.” So she was super practical, and that’s what was her focus. But at the same time, beginning Rolfers needed to understand how to have a fruitful conversation with their clients, some of the ethical considerations, boundaries, and also how to facilitate whatever personal transformation their clients were going through, from within their scope of practice and what they’re doing as Rolfers.
Til Luchau: So that became a great laboratory for me to work with those questions, and the parallel practice as a psychotherapist helped me make those distinctions, too, between when is it psychotherapy and when is it body work? And what tools from each realm can help across that divide?
Whitney Lowe: So were there times when you were doing them both together? Let’s say like working in the treatment room with somebody, doing work that was psycho therapeutically oriented, and doing the manual therapy at the same time?
Til Luchau: I would try everything. Esalen was the experimental, everything was tried at. And it came from that experimental milieu or attitude, it was like, “Sure, let’s try it, yeah, this is cool, we’ll do that, too.” But at some point, not only would it sometimes, me as a practitioner not be clear what map I was following, it could also be confusing for the clients. And so it got a lot simpler, perhaps, as is this body work or is this psychotherapy? Because I had two kinds of practices.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah.
Til Luchau: And that cleaned it up a lot, and that actually helped me think through the scope of practice questions, too, and teaching others.
Whitney Lowe: So let me ask another question here, because this is something that I think comes up a lot in our field, and I’m speaking predominantly about massage therapy as a field. We work in such a close, intimate way with the individuals that we are treating, that things happen in the treatment room that many people are unprepared for. A client may have a sudden emotional reaction to some aspect of touch and begin crying, or something comes up that is has a strong psychological element to it, and many practitioners are really pretty unprepared for that kind of thing. So what do you think is really a good strategy, or any helpful suggestions that you’d give to massage therapists in terms of, what do you do in those kinds of situations?
Til Luchau: Our first how-to question!
Whitney Lowe: Yes. like it’s a big doozy.
Til Luchau: Right, in a sentence or two. I think it’s, if I had to do this one, and to answer, maybe we can do a whole episode on it, who knows, maybe it’s a whole series. But the quick answer is, we don’t have to do anything. Other than essentially keep someone company and reassure them, it’s not about trying to get them to cry, it’s not about trying to stop them from crying. It’s about helping them just feel what they feel until it runs its course.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah. Yeah.
Til Luchau: Go head.
Whitney Lowe: That’s that whole part about just being with people. I think that is really what’s needed from us. We don’t have to get in and feel like we have to do something. And I do have some concerns about some of the practitioners’ approaches or teachers that I see out there that do seem to be out there that there’s a process to go through to push people in those kinds of directions, and that always looks a bit troubling to me.
Til Luchau: Well, the release terminology invites that thinking. I do myofascial techniques, people think I do myofascial release, and they think that has to do with other kinds of release, and I think things do relax and let go. But I’m not trying to push for any sort of expression or “release,” making room for it is part of the process for some people. Other people, not. Certainly it was really amazing to me that when I was practicing in Esalen, most people had an emotional experience. And then when I moved to Boulder and I started practicing here, only a few did. And in my mind I was doing the same thing. But I think a lot of it, in that case, was context. People went to the Esalen Institute to work on themselves, to get their feelings out, and this was the early 80s, just pound the pillows, and yelling, and screaming, and getting it all out. It was cathartic experiences.
Til Luchau: And in my practice in Boulder, it was more, you could say orthopedic, or people would come to me because their knees hurt from running or hiking or something, and they never shed a tear, and that was fine, too. So a lot of it was the context, it was the expectations, and why people were coming.
Whitney Lowe: Yeah, those fascinating things that do end up coloring our experiences of where we are now and how we continue to look at things. It’s been good getting started on this conversation, let’s pick it up in our next episode.
Til: Sounds good. Before we go, thanks are due to our sponsor, ABMP.
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Whitney: Yes, big thanks to ABMP. Be sure to stop by the podcast site for show notes, CE credit updates, and extras: www.thethinkingpractioner.com. Or, at Til’s site, what is that Til?
Til: It’s Advanced-Trainings.com, or you can find me on social media @TilLuchau. They’re on your site too, Whitney. What’s the address?
Whitney: AcademyOfClinicalMassage.com, or social media. We’d love your thoughts or questions at [email protected], or via social media.
Til: Rate us on Apple Podcasts and wherever else you listen, and tell a friend! Thanks Everyone.