At the age of 19, Val Guin suffered severe injuries to her left arm and back after being struck by a drunk driver. Partially paralyzed, she was forced to abandon her career in physical therapy due to her weakened state. But at a friend’s prodding, she decided to enroll in a massage-technician course. Guin has now been a massage therapist for 25 years, and for 22 of those years, she has been practicing her Forearm Dance technique.
The Forearm Dance, developed by Guin to cope with the limited use of her left arm, relies on a practitioner’s forearm and olecranon (the bony prominence of the elbow). Early on, Guin discovered the massage concepts she learned at school were not ideally suited for her condition. Sometimes she would completely lose the use of her left arm and be forced to give an entire massage with her right arm. At night, she would experience pain from overusing her right arm.
The first day she worked without the use of her left hand was a busy one. She had clients during the day and a class to teach in the evening. Desperate to stave off further pain, Guin decided to engage her right forearm, and only her right forearm, for the massage sessions. Her clients were thrilled with the result.
“They had no idea that I was working with only one arm,” Guin recalls. “I was flowing around, moving up and down the body.”
Deep work, pain free
Thus, the Forearm Dance was born. The technique provides the same results as a general massage, such as flushing the tissue and moving the blood and lymph, but it also adds aspects of a deep-tissue massage, such as separating muscle fibers and releasing tendon attachments.
A major benefit of the Forearm Dance, says Guin, is that the pain usually associated with deep-tissue work is absent.
“The reason it does not hurt is because the movement comes from your feet, and then you lift up with your pelvis,” she explains. “You are lifting the tissue as opposed to coming up and over and smashing the tissue down.”
Client Tara Clair Candoli has visited Guin on about a dozen different occasions to receive Forearm Dance sessions for her tight neck and aching lower back. Familiar with a number of different bodywork techniques, Candoli favors the Forearm Dance due to its deep, yet tender, nature.
“It feels healing, relaxing and soothing,” she says. As far as the unconventional technique, Candoli adds, “I’m so relaxed, I’m not even conscious of what she’s up to.”
Working with only one arm, Guin learned to enter the tissue in a unique way. Most practitioners, notes Guin, push down with their hands. She, instead, lifts tissue up—an action she believes is more comfortable for both client and practitioner.
“As massage therapists, we tend to create stress injuries in our bodies over time from our work,” Guin says. “[The] Forearm Dance offers a technique to not only stop stress injuries from occurring, but it can also help alleviate strain already in the practitioner’s body.”
Case in point: Guin says she has a better physical structure now at age 47 than she had when she was 20 and that her bone density and spinal alignment have improved significantly.
“After my accident, when I was 19, I had paralysis, low bone density, bulging disks, degeneration, bone loss—it was scary,” she says. “My most recent X-ray compared with the one from my 20s looked like [that of] a completely different person.”
Since learning the Forearm Dance technique a year-and-a-half ago, Emily Johnson has noticed improvements in her body as well. Prior to relying on her forearms—which she now uses 90 percent of the time—Johnson had developed back ailments from giving four to fivemassages a day at upscale hotels in Beverly Hills.
“The Forearm Dance really helped me,” she says. “My back is a lot better now.” Her clients are happy, too, she says. “I turned a corner in my bodywork,” Johnson adds. “I feel as if something clicked, and it all has come together gracefully and easily.”
The technique in action
While teaching at a conference, Guin simplified the Forearm Dance due to the large number of students and short amount of time. She started by having participants stand in the bow stance, the horse stance and the table lunge, introducing them to the concept of using their feet and pelvis to help engage their bodies.
Within a half-hour, recalls Guin, the students reported they were more energized and felt less pain in their bodies.
“Many students expressed that they were able to incorporate these simple concepts into their work immediately, which was evident in watching how relaxed they were while working,” she says. “They did one stroke and realized that not only did they feel better holding their bodies in proper alignment, but by grounding their movements in their legs and lifting, they could replace any other tool they had been using with their forearm and olecranon to perform a stroke.”
While the Forearm Dance was designed by Guin to lessen the stress on her hands, extremities can be incorporated into the technique. For example, a massage therapist can perform effleurage with her hands, followed by forearm sawing and forearm effleurage. If needed, specific work involving a practitioner’s thumbs can be substituted with the olecranon.
While massages using the forearm and olecranon are typically associated with deep techniques, Forearm Dance is versatile. Depending on the client’s needs, the practitioner can use the technique in a superficial manner or go deeper if needed.
“The reason that the forearm and olecranon are usually associated with a deep technique is because the practitioner tends to come up and over the body and drop down into the tissue,” explains Guin. “What I teach is for the practitioner to come up under the tissue, lift the tissue and ‘fluff’ the tissue.”
Nami Ishimori, who credits Guin’s training with landing her a job as a massage practitioner, says the technique has earned her praise from clients. “I constantly get compliments,” she says.
“Val’s concept of deep tissue is not to smash the muscle; it’s about working through the muscle and helping it move again,” Ishimori adds. “This form allows you to penetrate in between the muscles in a gentle, yet very effective, way.”
Using this principle, the forearm can be used for a range of applications: superficial, wide, expansive or gentle. The Forearm Dance has the potential to impact a number of physiological structures and systems. It can be used with superficial and deep muscles, or joints, to invigorate the circulatory system and to flush the lymphatic system. Because of their restricted blood-and-lymph flow, pregnant women, post-surgical cases and burn victims are ideal candidates for this technique.
In addition to its versatility, another benefit practitioners receive from the Forearm Dance is a boost in energy levels. After all, its name is derived from the fact that Guin’s technique looks like a dance. “You truly do dance around the table, you are always moving, even when it looks like you aren’t,” says Guin. “You are not static at any time.”
Ishimori has noticed a sense of renewed vigor since learning the dance. “I’ve experienced greater energy levels. I feel great in my body, because I’m constantly moving,” she says. In fact, the dance is so harmonious that Ishimori compares it to the rhythmic swells of the ocean. “It’s so fluid, and you’re moving with the client. It’s like a wave-like movement,” she says.
Training in the technique
The training required to master the Forearm Dance technique consists of a series of three classes. First, there is an introductory course which lasts six hours. Next, is a 12-hour intermediate course. Between the first two classes, students are asked to develop their own choreography based on what they learned in the introductory session.
In the intermediate course, students are taught deeper work, including use of the olecranon. They then create another choreographed movement, implementing the deeper olecranon focus, before attending the three-day (18-hour) advanced training. Upon completion of the advanced course, the student is officially Forearm Dance certified and can use the training on his or her résumé and with clients. Students receive continuing-education units for their training.
Massage therapists with the necessary training can immediately incorporate the Forearm Dance into their sessions. Some choose to supplement tools and concepts they already know with the Forearm Dance technique. Others elect to use only the Forearm Dance for entire sessions.
Guin's company, Team Ohana, is designing five-day seminars in which students will not only be certified as Forearm Dance practitioners and earn CEUs, but also develop other applicable skills. The goal, says Guin, is to have students learn skills specific to their needs and bodies as practitioners.
“We want everyone to feel joyful and creative so that they can take their Forearm Dance knowledge and have the confidence to create any choreography for any type of body terrain,” she says.
Chelan David is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington.? For more information on Forearm Dance training, visit Val Guin's Web site, www.ohanaproductionsinc.com