Becca Holohan is a certified, licensed massage therapist at Full Compass Massage in Decatur who moved to Atlanta in 2011.
Trained at the Asheville School of Massage & Yoga, Holohan focuses on postural alignment and myofascial release. Her massage approach highlights the relationship with all connective tissue in the body and releases long-held tension created by daily habits and posture.
A graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where she studied American studies and American social history, Holohan said her professional work connects to her college studies because she focused on systems of oppression and historical movements, giving her the tools to deal with a diverse clientele.
She is involved with programs at Congregation Bet Haverim, such as the Chant Retreat, and works with SOJOURN. She is part of an informal Rosh Chodesh group and participant in Limmud. She worked as the founding after-school community director at Jewish Kids Group for two years.
She talked about massage therapy and her work’s Jewish connections.
AJT: Tell us a bit about your general health and wellness outlook.
Holohan: In general, I want to help people with body awareness so people can become reconnected with body and mind. For example, when I was socially and politically active in college, some of my classmates and colleagues were limited in dealing with others due to their past experiences in discrimination and prejudice. So I am very interested in offering my services to people working toward social justice so they can continue making a positive impact. For my part, I plan on continuing to bring my tools to communities and individuals currently lacking access and resources to therapy’s benefits.
Massages are often stigmatized as simply relaxation and spa-type environments. That can be true, but it can be, more importantly, therapeutic mentally and emotionally and can connect you to more than many initially realize.
AJT: What drew you to these issues?
Holohan: In summer 2009 I began doing yoga while living in Savannah. I went to a studio whose motto was “just show up,” and that was really appealing. Our instructor had recently lost her father to a drunk-driving incident, and yoga was a healing process for her grief. It was at that point that I began seeing yoga and massage therapy could be used to process emotions as well as help your body. In fact, during one class, which was a three-hour hip-opening session, toward the end of it everyone was crying because we realized the connections that were made. Your body is extremely connected to your mind and overall state of being.
AJT: What are some resources people can easily access?
Holohan: Everyone can benefit from moving your body and becoming more aware and paying attention even to just your breath. Overall exercise, walks and yoga are great. Also, both King of Pops Yoga in the Park and Herbalista Health Fair are free, and I highly recommend them. For those interested, some yoga studios have discounted classes for beginners.
While I am not a nutritionist, I personally follow the 80/20 rule: If you eat healthy 80 percent of the time, your body can handle the rest. Also, you can easily balance your blood sugar: Don’t skip meals. You can also pair sugars with proteins and fats. We should be advocates and proactive with your health, and it’s important to remember basic functional nutrition: There is no one diet that works for everyone. Find which one works for you. It may not be vegetarianism or veganism.
AJT: What are some of the main benefits you’ve seen in your clients?
Holohan: Reduction of physical pain. My work is focused on therapy, so it’s crucial that clients feel calmer and more relaxed. But it’s also good for their bodies; oftentimes, people need emotional relief as well. This can help change your posture for the better.
AJT: What are some aspects you are studying now?
Holohan: I am learning about postural analysis — how to see and understand patterns of tension and holding in the body. I’m also learning constantly about mind-body connection to heal trauma along with yoga and consuming information and literature from experts about how to engage the body with healing. I want to know how everyday stress impacts the body and emotional stress impacts physical stress.
AJT: How has your work informed your life in general? Or is it the other way around?
Holohan: I had my own health crisis in 2013 brought on by stress and realized certain food sensitivities negatively affected me. I ate somewhat poorly and didn’t think of my body, but I learned to cook and drastically changed my diet, which in turn changed my whole body. I cut out carbs, sugars and processed foods. My body was able to heal in part through change in diet, yoga and massage. Additionally, I changed my mental being and began to more realistically and comfortably balance and schedule my day. For instance, I asked myself fundamental questions: How many clients can or should I see in a day? How can I best pace myself? I cleaned house in general: When I physically felt better, my mind felt better, and vice versa.
I always try to be in my body, listen to it and respect it. There is a real split in mind and body with my patients, and I try to explain and show them that they are one and the same. Their chronic pain can often be alleviated when people pay attention to their bodies more. People do better when they feel better. My work is meant to make people feel and do better.
The work has informed my life; it’s everything I needed to learn. My job forces me to confront myself all the time: I must be properly hydrated and completely present and in the moment. I trust my hands and body to do the work on someone else’s body. Our bodies are always trying to find equilibrium, so I always ask myself, “What does balance look in my life?” An expert on trauma and PTSD says, “Our capacity to destroy each other is matched by our capacity to heal each other.” This gives me so much hopes and excitement.
AJT: How has your Jewish identity informed your work?
Holohan: The work feels very spiritual for me. If I was drawing only from my own well, I would not be serving people to the best of my ability. I can’t force someone’s body to change; they also have to be willing. There is a divine presence between and among myself and the client.
The concept of tikkun olam fits here well, and this is one of my contributions toward that goal. I’m reading a book called “Jewish Dharma” about an Orthodox Jewish woman who combines Judaism and Zen Buddhism after her father passes away, and it’s incredible. I also teach a monthly class at Congregation Bet Haverim called “Shalom Yoga,” which focuses on how we pray with our body.
AJT: What is next for you, professionally and personally?
Holohan: I want to grow my practice and continue to deepen my knowledge of trauma-sensitive yoga. Accessibility and prevention are very important, so I want to combine social justice with bringing yoga and massage therapy to communities and individuals lacking resources and access and to increase health and wellness in the world.