When massage therapist Becca Torns-Barker was having problematic postpartum symptoms after the birth of her daughter, her healthcare provider recommended that she try a type of massage she’d never heard of: the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy. After just a few sessions, she became a convert. “I found the work to be fairly life- changing,” says Torns-Barker. “It really resolved a lot of the discomfort that I was experiencing. I thought to myself, ‘I need to learn more and share this knowledge!’” She now specializes in this type of abdominal massage at her practice, Bodyworks Massage in South Windsor, Connecticut, joining a small but growing number of spas and wellness centers around the country who offer the modality.
The techniques are named for Rosita Arvigo, DN, an herbalist who developed the practices after apprenticing in Belize with renowned Maya shaman Don Elijo Panti for over a decade. Arvigo introduced the technique to the U.S. in the 1990s, and opened the Arvigo Institute in 2000 to train professionals in these and other healing arts. This little-known modality has been steadily creeping into the mainstream thanks to its unique health and wellness advantages.
The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy, also called Arvigo Maya Massage or Arvigo massage, are based on traditional healing practices of the Maya people in Central America. The therapy has many components, but it centers upon a noninvasive yet penetrating abdominal massage aimed at realigning internal organs that have moved or are otherwise out of balance. Therapists gently guide these organs to an optimal position, thereby enhancing the body’s five systems of flow—arterial, venal, nerve, lymph and ch’ulel (Mayan for “life force”)—improving organ function and minimizing symptoms of dysfunction.
Like many alternative therapies, there aren’t a lot of scientific studies that affirm (or refute) its health benefits, but plenty of people swear by its effectiveness. Women are increasingly turning to Arvigo Maya massage to help ease a variety of female problems and symptoms, including uterine prolapse, unexplained infertility, irregular or painful periods, frequent urination, and pelvic pain associated with endometriosis, fibroids or cysts.
Kim Bachmann, certified Arvigo massage therapist at Urban Oasis Massage Therapy Spa in Chicago, sees about 5 to 10 clients a month for this treatment, and the majority of them come in for concerns associated with reproductive health. Bachmann’s clients report a range of benefits, including more regular, less painful periods as well as increased libido.
Although the modality principally centers on women, it can also help relieve some male problems, including low testosterone levels, certain impotence issues and perhaps even prostate swelling—if started early enough. “Once the prostate is enlarged, massage can’t do much,” says Torns-Barker. “But if we can improve the five systems of flow, we can keep those organs healthy and hopefully prevent inflammation from happening.”
Arvigo techniques may also improve stomach issues in both women and men. “I’m seeing people suffering from diverticulitis who are trying to prevent another attack by keeping their digestive system as healthy as possible,” says Torns-Barker. “Some of my clients experience indigestion and pain when they eat, and nothing else is working so they want to try this.”
Arvigo abdominal therapy is not for everyone, however. Marcia Lopez, owner and massage therapist at True Healing Bodywork in Los Angeles, cautions that it’s typically contraindicated in early pregnancy and after abdominal surgery, as well as for people with certain cancers and IUDs. “Everyone should follow the advice of their medical practitioner,” she advises.
A Typical Session
Arvigo massage always begins with an in-depth health history intake, whether in person or via telephone. “I require a 20- to 30-minute phone consultation before guests come in,” explains Torns-Barker. “I find out what they know and don’t know, and help them get up to speed. I want people feeling comfortable when they walk in the door.”
The client then lies back, partially or fully undressed, and the therapist palpitates the abdominal area, gently but thoroughly seeking to soften tight areas, reduce puffiness, reposition organs, dissipate blockages and increase the systems of flow. The practitioner may also massage the lower back, hips and sacrum to loosen muscles around the lumbar plexus, as well as tendons attached to the sacrum and uterus for female clients. As the session comes to a close, therapists teach self-care massage techniques to enhance the treatment and empower guests to proactively manage their symptoms.
Because each problem—and body—is different, so is the length of time it can take to see results. A single visit may resolve an issue, or multiple sessions may be required. Lopez opts to combine Arvigo Maya massage with complementary modalities, such as cranial sacral therapy, acupressure or reiki, to create a more profound session and speed beneficial outcomes. “Clients tend to experience a positive shift after one treatment,” she reports.
To administer Arvigo massage techniques, licensed massage therapists or other licensed healthcare professionals must, at a minimum, undergo a 2.5-day Self-Care course, then a 5.5-day Professional Care Training course with the Arvigo Institute. These classes not only teach bodywork techniques but discuss providing herbal, nutritional, emotional and spiritual support. The official Arvigo Institute website (arvigotherapy.com) offers a listing of all courses and registered practitioners around the world.
Spa owners and managers interested in adding this service should be prepared to educate potential clientele. In addition, Lopez points out that spa owners should do their research about different cultural views of reproductive and abdominal healing, and examine their motivations for adding the treatment to their service menu. “I encourage owners to be sensitive and honor the culture from which the modalities come,” she says. “It shouldn’t be seen merely as a service to increase revenue—the treatments won’t be as effective
in that case. It’s important to look at this work as a change from our commercial perspective of healing.”
–by Barbara Diggs
This story first appeared in the March issue of Dayspa magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.