Justine Alton is no stranger to health issues. Since she was 19-years-old, the born and raised Yukoner has had a keen interest in psychology, bodywork and holistic health and wellness, but it was her own 10-year struggle with deep seated physical health issues that led Alton to discovering the profound benefits of massage therapy.
Alton’s childhood was spent in Dawson City, where she grew up wandering the tailings piles of her father’s gold mine. During her twenties, Alton explored her interest in alternative medicine techniques, experimenting with cranial sacral therapy, massage, Trager, Rolfing, Reiki, energy work and Traditional Chinese Medicine. After meeting her partner and moving to Nova Scotia in 2010, Alton met a massage therapist who opened her eyes to the power of massage therapy.
“I had periods of being happy, healthy and wild, and other periods, where I was going to emergency off and on for months,” Alton says. “It was scary.
“After a few surgeries, hormone therapy and endometriosis, I had given up and was really struggling.”
It was massage therapy that helped turn her health around.
Alton went on to complete the 2,200 hour Massage Therapy Program at ICT Northumberland College in Halifax, where she graduated with honours in 2014, despite battling a concussion and shoulder injury in her second year of training. During her studies, she was introduced to a massage technique called John Barnes Myofascial Release. After discovering this innovative treatment method, she was hooked.
So what exactly is “myofascial” and why does it matter?
Alton explains that “myo” is the abbreviation for muscle and “fascia” is the three-dimensional connective tissue system of the body. Fascia connects all the internal structures like a spider web, even permeating down to a cellular level. It supplies structural support to the body and aids the body’s ability to function and move. When injury and trauma occurs, the fascia loses its elasticity and becomes restricted.
Traumas such as repetitive stress injuries, car accidents, surgery or long term poor postural habits can accumulate over time and cause chronic pain, decreased range of motion and dysfunction.
Alton found that Myofascial Release not only provided clients with longer lasting results and structural improvements, but allowed a mind-body reconnection following trauma. The philosophy is that cells and tissues act as a storing ground for our lived experiences, and if not properly released, these micro and macro traumas can be stored deep within the tissues. Alton says the Myofascial Release technique results in a deep release of such experiences.
“I thought, this is everything I have been searching for,” Alton says. “It literally seemed to be able to do the impossible.”
While there are several different styles of this technique, Alton explains that the John Barnes method is a very specific form in that it is gentle, and works with the tissue rather than against it.
The approach involves finding “the money spots” and sustaining gentle pressure and holds on these areas for five minutes or longer. By releasing restrictions, the entire fascial system is able to let go of stress and tension.
Alton borrows her mentor John Barnes’ metaphor to explain.
“Say you get in a fender bender, do you want someone to just massage your hood where the dent is, or do you want them to pull the dent out?”
As a massage therapist, Alton discovered that massage alone wasn’t enough, and she wanted to take things to the next level. She has completed four John Barnes Myofascial Release courses, including an an unwinding and fascial pelvis course. Alton is the only practitioner in Whitehorse who focuses on this method exclusively and at this level.
It is now Alton’s mission to give back to others who struggle with health issues. On May 23rd, she realized this vision by opening up her own massage therapy clinic, Birch Tree Bodyworks.
While every body responds differently, Alton says that people can expect to see decrease in chronic pain, anxiety and stress, and physical and psychological issues as well. She hopes to assist people in reconnecting to their bodies and to provide the tools so people can properly care for themselves without discomfort and pain.
“Talk therapy can only go so far. If there is other trauma going on, the body needs to release, as well,” Alton says.
Though she sees massage therapy as treating mind, body and spirit, she encourages clients to balance talk therapy and bodywork, if needed.
Birchtree Bodyworks is located at 208 Alexander Street in the former East West Clinic. Alton shares her clinic with naturopathic doctor, Gordon Smith.
“You walk into this place and get slammed with good energy,” Alton exclaims, attributing this to East West Clinic founders Dr. Xiu-Mei Zhang and the late Dr. Jim Zheng.
“I’m so gung-ho. I want to give back to people because I had a team of wonderful people who supported me throughout the years to get to where I am today,” Alton says. “To be able to be that person for somebody and to help them through that dark place, was always my dream. I truly want to make that difference and help individuals live a pain free life.”
Birch Tree Bodyworks is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Alton suggests booking appointments one to two weeks in advance, particularly if clients want to engage in a series of bodywork. Appointments can be made through her website www.BirchTreeBodyWorks.ca. She can also be reached through the Facebook page or by calling 867-332-0347.