In our mission to find the world’s very best somatic and massage practices and share them with everyone, we are delighted to bring you the following interview that we were fortunate enough to get with Dr. Ocean, an internationally acclaimed therapist. Please enjoy the transcript of our discussion:
OLSON: My guest today is Dr. Ocean, who has a very successful and internationally-renown somatic practice. Thank you so much for being here today.
OCEAN: Thank you so much for having me.
OLSON: I know our listeners will be very excited to hear about what you offer and what makes your offering so unique. I think everyone knows who you are, but can you tell us how old you are?
OCEAN: Well, Mark, I don’t often get asked about my age, but I understand why a lot of people are curious about that. I like to tell people that I’m older than the hills…and that’s all I’ll say about that.
OLSON: Fair enough. And when did you start getting into this work?
OCEAN: Well, I’ve had a life-affirming role for a long time, but I didn’t really get into therapeutic work until quite fairly recently. I wasn’t looking for it at all—it basically found me. And I wasn’t working with people at first either—I worked mostly with other animals for a long time prior to working with humans.
OLSON: That’s so interesting. And how do you think your work with animals relates to your work with humans?
OCEAN: Oh, it’s clearly the same. There’s really no difference at all.
OLSON: That’s really interesting. You’ve been lauded all around the world for a long time for your work. In fact, I know a lot of massage therapists who only go to you and no one else. Would you agree that you find that your work is consistently effective in reducing pain and anxiety and helping your clients become more embodied?
OCEAN: Yes, this seems to occur in almost every session. Some more than others.
OLSON: Can you tell us more about the modalities and techniques that you practice that makes you so effective?
OCEAN: Well, Mark, I first have to say that what I’m doing isn’t special, and it all has to begin with safety.Everything that I do could be offered in an unsafe way that would negate the value of everything else.
OLSON: I’d like to know what techniques you use that create such great results. I think it’s fair to say that you’ve provided more therapeutic sessions all around the world than anyone in history. So, I’d like to get a sense of what your particular goals are with each client, what your techniques are, and if you’re working mainly with fascia or muscle or lymph. And what’s the name of your modality?
OCEAN: OK, well, I certainly don’t have any agendas or goals. In fact, it’s very important not to have any of those.
OLSON: So, you’re not aiming to bring a client’s body into balance?
OCEAN:Oh no, absolutely not.
OLSON: OK, but your clients come to you with pain and they leave feeling better so even without balance as a goal, you must be creating more balance to get these kinds of results, right? Something was broken and you fix it somehow.
OCEAN: No, I’ve never fixed anything. That’s not even possible.
OLSON: Ok, maybe I’m not understanding. Let’s say a client comes in and their neck hurts and you see that they have anterior tilt of the pelvis or one of their shoulders is higher than the other…do you focus on these imbalances?
OLSON: But do you end up improving these postural issues?
OCEAN: That’s a loaded question because it assumes that there is a problem. My clients feel better without focusing on any of those things. I just welcome their bodies however they are.
OLSON: That’s very intriguing. So, what’s the technique that you employ? What are you releasing?
OCEAN: I’m not sure what you mean by releasing. That’s a tricky word. I’m certainly not releasing tissue in the way it’s often thought about, but I often provide clients with sensations or feelings that they might describe as release.
OLSON: And what’s your technique for accomplishing that?
OCEAN: Well, I’d say the main thing that I do is provide sensations of various kinds.
OCEAN: Yes, for example I provide various temperature sensations, and I do this collaboratively with my colleague, Dr. Sky.
OLSON: Like warm sensations or cool ones?
OCEAN: Well, it doesn’t really matter. Any temperature will do. Normally I provide cooler temperatures and Dr. Sky provides warmer ones, but any combination will work. Cool/warm. Cool/cool. Warm/warm. Warm/cool. They are all effective, especially if there is a high contrast between them.
OLSON: I see. What other sensations do you provide?
OCEAN: I provide constant vestibular input. Always moving my clients in multiple directions, in a wave-like fashion. A lot like swinging or rocking a child but for all ages.
OLSON: OK. Any other sensations?
OCEAN: Yes, there’s also tactile inputs, with each wave often slapping the client’s skin in some form. There’s also proprioceptive inputs because my clients are always moving all of their joints during the entire session. And there’s also an element of constant but changing auditory inputs.
OLSON: And are those movements passive, active, or resistive movements?
OCEAN: All three are happening all at once.
OLSON: All three at once! That’s amazing. Any other sensory inputs?
OCEAN:Yes, there’s also interoceptive inputs that arise from changes in breathing and blood pressure and indirect effects from all the other inputs as they induce autonomic changes.
OLSON: OK, so there’s a BUNCH of sensory inputs. Are you doing any deep tissue work? Don’t you find that some of your clients need that to feel better?
OCEAN: No, I’m not doing anything with their tissues other than what their own bodies are doing through their own movements.
OLSON: So, you’re not changing muscle lengths or changing their fascia during the session?
OCEAN: No. Not in any permanent way, no. That’s not actually possible.
OLSON: So, it sounds like movement is key. Is that because it helps produce synovial fluid?
OCEAN: No, this isn’t about synovial fluid. This is about creating sensory inputs, of which proprioceptive is one.
OLSON: So, your work works just by providing sensation?
OCEAN: That’s a huge part of it, but it’s probably not quite that simple. It’s important that the sensation is compelling enough to bring a client’s attention to the sensation, or just into the present moment. Because my clients are actively engaged with me and often need to direct their attention to what I’m doing and how they are going to respond to it in a timely way, so their attention moves into the present whether it’s on a sensation or an action.
OLSON: So, are you saying that your work is based mainly on creating sensations or are you saying it’s mainly about focusing attention into the present?
OCEAN: I honestly don’t know which of those is more important. I think both are important, but clearly it’s essential to give clients new sensations since their current sensations aren’t favorable to them. It would be difficult to tease these two effects apart. All I know is that people keep coming back.
OLSON: Some people say that our job is to help people in a way so they don’t need to come back. What do you think of that?
OCEAN: I’ve never had a client think that their desire to come back over and over indicated that I wasn’t being useful. Some of my clients see me every day and wouldn’t have it any other way. This idea that more visits means one is less effective only makes sense if we were fixing things, but we’re not fixing things, so it doesn’t make sense.
OLSON: You mentioned that clients are there because their sensations aren’t favorable, but aren’t some clients there because their ROM isn’t favorable, too?
OCEAN: Yes, that’s true. On the surface these seem different, but the ROM is intimately tied to sensation. If you anesthetize someone, they instantly gain enormous ROM even though their tissues haven’t changed at all. Some clients have restrictions because of tissues, but there’s nothing we can do about that. All the ROM issues that we can do something about go back to sensation, so whether we’re focused on pain or ROM, we’re still aiming at changing, or modulating, sensations.
OLSON: Well, this is so fascinating. So, your work is really very different from what other manual and somatic therapists are doing, wouldn’t you say?!
OCEAN:Oh no, not at all.
OLSON: Really? But you’re saying your work is about sensation and attention, while everyone else is working with tissues and trying to bring blood flow to them or creating more balance. Wouldn’t you say that’s very different?
OCEAN: Well, yes, those two things are very different, but that’s not what’s actually happening. The way that I get good results is the same way everyone gets results. Various types of sensation. Changes in attention. Feeling safe. And believing that it’s going to be helpful is part of it, too. I’m not changing tissues. No one else is either. But it’s easy to take a new feeling one has in one’s body and think it’s related to a change in tissue.
OLSON: I see. So, do you yourself have a favorite modality that you find to be more effective, other than your own of course?
OCEAN: No, there’s really no such thing as a modality. None of us are changing tissues. We’re all just providing sensation and focusing attention. That’s basically it. Some clients may want it cold and others hot, some wavey and some calm, and so on, but those are just the client’s sensation preferences—these aren’t important differences.
OLSON: So, there’s no difference between what you offer and what others offer?
OCEAN: Well, there is one important difference that actually makes manual therapists potentially better that what I offer.
OLSON: Better than what YOU offer? How could that be?!
OCEAN: Well, manual therapists add a human, relational element that I don’t provide. Humans are social creatures, so the sense that one is being cared for by another has tremendous impact, especially when it’s done well.
OLSON: That’s really powerful, and I hadn’t really thought about that. Usually we’re just talking about tissues, and the relationship aspect isn’t emphasized very much. I wonder why that is.
OCEAN: Well, I mentioned before that it’s easy to mistake changes in how one feels with changes in tissues, so as a result we’ve focused a lot of attention on learning about the tissues and fluids that we think are the basis of these experiences. Basically, we’ve gotten thrown off course and that’s also so easy to do because tissues are just simpler to think about since we can see them and imagine them and think about them as distinct from ourselves. It’s easier to teach about tissues. Relationships are much more nebulous and complicated, so we don’t focus on this as much.
OLSON: That’s a good point. So, would you say that most people are doing it all wrong since they’re focused on tissues?
OCEAN: If people are doing things in a safe way, they are not doing it wrong. The results speak for themselves, but results do not explain the basis for those results, which are rather complex. No one is doing anything wrong just because the ideas aren’t totally accurate. I used to have lots of very effective sailors sailing around on me while thinking the world was flat—they were still very skilled at what they did. And once they updated their understanding, they got even better!
OLSON: Excellent point! It’s a good thing we don’t have to understand everything.
OCEAN: Yes, it’s far more important to be present than to have things figured out.
OLSON: Indeed. Well, is there anything else you’d like to offer our listeners before we finish?
OCEAN: Yes, I’d like everyone to realize that you can get great results just by providing a safe container and being attuned to your client. You don’t need fancy tools and techniques. Just safe, sensory input and effective relating. We don’t need to play into client’s beliefs that there’s something wrong with them or that we can fix them either. That sort of pathologizing isn’t helpful, and since it’s incorrect, it’s actually unethical to promote such ideas.
OLSON: Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. You’ve given me and our listeners a lot to think about. I imagine if these ideas gained traction it would represent a sea change in our industry.
OCEAN: I do like making waves…
OLSON: Yes, well you really made a splash today!
OCEAN:Perhaps we can do this again and take a deeper dive.
OLSON: Yes, that sounds great. Thank you so much for talking with me today. It’s truly been wonderful having you with us.
OCEAN: Thank you again for having me.