Shera Johnson, owner of Massage Intervention in Durango, is encouraging the community to be curious about the wisdom, truth, trauma and love stored in their bodies.
She unveiled her Somatic Immersion class about six weeks ago. “Somatic” means of the body, and the class uses contrast therapy and breathwork to get participants out of their heads and into their bodies.
Contrast therapy helps students learn to regulate their bodies through extreme heat and cold temperatures. In Johnson’s class, participants spend five to seven minutes in each station: walking meditation, hot yoga in the sauna, red-light therapy, cold plunge, hot tub, ecstatic movement and massage.
According to contrast therapy experts, those who can remain calm, centered and regulated through controlled stressors such as cold plunges and hot immersions, can habituate the regulated behavior through uncontrolled stressors in their lives such as traffic or relationships.
Johnson says breathwork is the key to regulation.
“It is the most important component,” she said. “It’s what brings it all together.”
Before the pandemic, Johnson ran a women’s group in Durango.
“I remember in the circle (women’s group) a lot of times people would be in their heads talking about their story: ‘My boyfriend did this’ and ‘They did that,’” she said. “But there wasn’t a lot of time to go into the body because there was so much emphasis on talk therapy.”
When COVID-19 shut the group down, Johnson began exploring breathwork, which she said put her in her body in a whole new way. Her inspiration to share this newly discovered grounding was the first step in the development of the class.
“The breath is bringing us into the body where there is a lot of wisdom, a lot of truth, but also a lot of trauma that we don’t really feel into because we’re so busy talking about it. Talking about it is just the first step,” she said. “Part of it is getting into the body and releasing the stuff that’s been stored.”
The class tends to bring up intense emotions for participants, Johnson said.
The hardest part for students is making eye contact with each other, she said.
“I really encourage people to make eye contact as they go through the stations,” she said. “It was one of the most resisted things and one of the most transformative.”
She wants her students to be curious about where in their bodies is resisting making eye contact with their neighbors.
Johnson thinks everyone could benefit from her class, but thinks it is especially needed in the Durango community.
“I see a lot of division. It doesn’t matter what it is, people are in their head. I want to bring people into the body where they can access the wisdom part, the love part, the truth,” she said. “I have a selfish ulterior motive that in my hometown, it would be nice to find a burrito without people fighting about it.”
Johnson is aware that many may be apprehensive about the class, particularly the cold plunge. She argues that being so adverse to the plunge is a key indicator that people need it.
“We used to not have the benefit of going from a 70-degree bedroom to a 70-degree bathroom to a 70-degree car to a 70-degree work,” she said. “We used to have to regulate our temperatures ourselves.”
The class takes place on the second story of Massage Intervention in what Johnson named the Contrast Room. The room is a small, dark, womb-like area, and Johnson keeps loud thumping music playing throughout.
The Contrast Room murals were painted by local artist Parker Ledford. Johnson worked with Ledford to design the concept, which is based on an intense dream she had about a jaguar and horny toad.
“The horny toad isn’t necessarily a good spirit animal, it signifies dysfunction,” she said. “That’s why I highlighted the horny toad in the concept because its like, you’re in the cold plunge, you’re really being forced to be with yourself, and you’ve got the horny toad that’s making sure you’re not hanging on to the same old stuff.”
In Johnson’s dream, “the jaguar was an invitation to the higher self.”
Those interested in trying the class should be in relatively good health. Johnson does not recommend the class for anyone with pre-existing heart conditions.
Classes are held Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m. sharp and Johnson says being on time is essential. Students should bring water, a swimsuit, a towel and a robe.
“Being curious about the body – we really subject it into this thing that’s separate from ourselves,” she said. “We subjugate it almost, like a rented mule. Your body is going to be around forever, maybe make friends with it.”
For more information about the class, visit massageintervention.life/classes.