The Bodyworker Who Brings Harmony to the Body - OJ Catbagan
Welcome to ON BEAUTY, a monthly feature highlighting creative, like-minded people who inspire us.
We’re always intrigued by the various ways in which different healing mediums puzzle together to create a holistic approach to health. When scent is one of those puzzle pieces—even better. And OJ Catbagan knows firsthand that scent can impact our autonomic nervous system. Co-host of The Way of Healing podcast and bodyworker who uses myofascial release, energy, and Zone Therapy to balance out the body, OJ is also co-founder of the soon-to-be-opened Next Level Holistic Healing in Santa Monica. Ultimately, he believes that the body is connected energetically. If you touch one thing, it affects the entire system. Here, he discusses how scent plays a role in his vocation, the benefits of the parasympathetic state, and why doctors aren’t the only means for healing the body.
Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to get into bodywork and myofascial release?
I was a mixed martial arts fighter, so my body was pretty beat up at one point. At that time, I had really bad posture. I eventually started teaching Bikram yoga because it felt like a natural transition. While in Bikram training, I developed sciatic pain. I would do yoga five days a week, twice a day, and then sit in lectures. When I started doing bodywork, I began to look at the body in terms of balance. I was stretching the heck out of my hamstrings and I was tightening the front of my hips. When I started foam rolling, which I did for five minutes a day for two weeks, my hips began to open up and my sciatic pain went away. Its been four years and I haven’t had it since.
After that, I worked for four years in a postural alignment clinic that combined the philosophies of chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy, personal training, nutrition, and other modalities to create a one-stop-shop for allowing the human body space to heal itself.
The cool thing about essential oils, holistic therapies, and manual therapies is, instead of relying on a doctor or someone else to give you a pill or a treatment, it’s more of an opportunity to check in with yourself.
Fascia is a wellness buzzword, and integral to your practice. But…what is it?
Fascia is the connective tissue located throughout the body that attaches, encloses, and separates muscles, bones, and other internal organs. It also aids in physical movement and helps stabilize joints. There are different lines of tension, or slings, of fascia throughout the body that store and release elastic pressure. These tension lines support proper movement and form when walking and working out, leading to less stress throughout the entire body.
Think of fascia as a bodysuit. If I’m wearing a bodysuit and fascia is tight in one area, then essentially that bodysuit is going to pull you. So one thing affects everything else.
What are the benefits of mysofascial release?
Essentially, myofascial release is a deeper form of foam rolling. Your body has a defense mechanism and it doesn’t let in that amount of pain. But when someone goes in and digs for you, they can get a lot deeper.
When you leave a bodywork session, usually you feel lighter, looser, and like things move a little better. But if you keep doing the same thing to your body day after day after day—for example, sitting at a desk for eight to ten hours—no amount of myofascial release is going to help. It’s really about paying attention to these habits to get your body to open up and really, the only person who can do that is you.
How does myofascial release differ from massage?
Myofascial release and bodywork allow you to go into a parasympathetic state, which conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. That’s where healing happens. We’re so used to being in fight or flight. One of the ways you can check out is getting into bodywork, or myofascial work, or even massage.
There’s a very specific amount of pressure that your body fights back with. When I touch and palpate, I can feel where tension is—it feels more like a wall as opposed to sinking in. That’s the difference between something that has been opened and something that hasn’t. I’ll use different tools: fingers, hands, elbows, and forearms, depending on what fits best and what your body needs.
As for massage, a masseuse goes in and moves stuff around for you and your brain never really has a chance to register what’s going on. But if I push, hold, and wait, I’m letting your body, brain, and nervous system start to talk to each other and communicate. I’m giving you a consistent stimulus and your body is the one that’s doing the work. Your body is the one that’s going to get you out of this tension. It’s going to give up and relax—eventually. Sometimes it takes 30 seconds, sometimes it takes three minutes depending on the body part and how much tension someone carries.
Tell us about Zone Therapy, one of your signature techniques.
There are six points on the back of the head: the glandular, elimination, nervous, digestion, muscular, and circulatory points. But if a zone is out of balance, the signal it sends from your body up the spine and to the brain is going to be off—so the healing can’t happen. When I palpate them, the most tender spot is the primary zone that needs immediate balancing. I stimulate the spinal cord at specific points to reset the zone in the brain, balancing the body, and activating the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
I should mention that it’s normal to be healthy. A lot of people think aches, pains, and dysfunction are normal, when, in fact, it’s possible to have perfect health.
Nothing against western medicine doctors—they have their place, for sure. But, unfortunately, that system doesn’t allow for compassion or for them to look outside their scope of what else might be going on.
Our founder, Julie, likes to say healing is an inside job. What does that mean to you?
There’s a part of us that innately knows how to heal. We’ve been conditioned and disempowered because we’re so reliant on, “Well, the doctor said this.” Nothing against western medicine doctors—they have their place, for sure. But, unfortunately, that system doesn’t allow for compassion or for them to look outside their scope of what else might be going on.
Doctors don’t ask questions like, How’s your sleep? How’s the home you’re living in? Healing can only happen within yourself. The modality, the drug, the treatment—all that matters less, in my opinion, than the belief that you’re going to heal.
Underneath the surface of the skin, everything is connected. So, on a physical level, if you touch one thing, it’s going to affect another.
Can you go a bit deeper on how the body is connected energetically?
The body is connected in a physical sense and an energetic sense. If you think of the body as a big bag and in that bag is muscle tissue and bones, and you pull on the bag, it will pull on another thing. Underneath the surface of the skin, everything is connected. So, on a physical level, if you touch one thing, it’s going to affect another.
On an energetic level, if your body is made up of trillions of tiny cells, all these cells work together. If one thing gets information of change, it’s going to tell the next cell and the next cell and the next cell.
On a nervous system level, if we touch something in one spot and you perceive pain, that pain doesn’t stay localized. For example, by affecting the hip, we’re also affecting that shoulder, which affects the neck. So the body essentially is like a huge chain where everything you touch or move also alters something else.
Tell us how scent plays a role in bodywork.
The cool thing about essential oils, holistic therapies, and manual therapies is, instead of relying on a doctor or someone else to give you a pill or a treatment, it’s more of an opportunity to check in with yourself. How does this scent make me feel? How do these oils change my vibration and change what I am feeling on the inside in a positive or negative way? I like alternative medicine because it helps you check in with yourself—and really, in the long-term, that’s when the healing can happen.
My favorite ritual is 7 a.m. Jiu-jitsu. For me, Jiu-jitsu has become very meditative. Physically, there’s nothing like moving to wake the body up and check-in with how you’re feeling. I am put in situations where I have to be 100% present physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That connection to myself and what’s around me sets me up for an amazing day.
Rose Geranium is my favorite scent. My grandma’s rosaries used to smell strongly of rose. That scent reminds me of her.
Do you have any tips for long-haul flights?
I recommend getting up and moving around as much as possible. Aisle seats are great, so you don’t inconvenience your neighbors too much. The more you can get up and move, the more open you’ll feel when you get to your destination. Hydration is also a must. We lose approximately 2 liters of water during a 10-hour flight. Eight ounces for every hour you’re in the air is ideal.
What’s your favorite beauty food?
Dark Chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Cocoa contains antioxidants that may improve wrinkles, skin thickness, hydration, blood flow, and skin texture.
What’s your vice?
Ice cream. If the kids want it, I can’t say no.
Do you have any charms or talismans?
I love crystals. I have two necklaces that I alternate. Azurite has a calming effect and is great for meditation and enhancing creativity. Moldavite has a much more intense vibration and helps with spiritual growth and expanding consciousness.