I first met Dr. Rosita Arvigo when I did my professional training in Maya abdominal massage (MAM) in Estes Park, Colo. Everything about the training moved me very deeply.
Holding the integrity of an ancient lineage and combining it with an international school for professionals is nothing short of miraculous. Rosita carries the torch of light within her heart and touches anyone who decides to incorporate MAM into their work. It has been the missing link to my work with women who have abdominal and reproductive issues.
Can you share a bit of your background, training and how you ended up living in Belize?
I am a doctor of naprapathy, which is an offshoot of chiropractic medicine. I lived for seven years in Mexico during the Vietnam War. My boyfriend at the time was a draft-dodger, so we went to a very remote area in Guerrero, Mexico to hide out. I learned Spanish, survival techniques and organic gardening. I returned to America for a couple of years, but just never felt right again until 1976. I moved to Belize in search of medical freedom, a year-round growing season and racial harmony. I am happy to say that I found what I was looking for.
In your book, Rainforest Remedies, you mention Don Elijio Panti, a shamanic practitioner and master herbalist. Can you tell us more about working with him and your training?
Once in Belize, I needed to find a mentor who could teach me about medicinal plants, because herbal therapies were a large part of my practice. One day, an elderly Maya man came to my clinic in San Ignacio because he had heard there was an American herbalist in town. He wanted to meet me, but he was also in search of linden flower, known to him as flor de tilo. He said that he and his deceased wife always used it to help them sleep and now that she was gone, sleep was even harder for him.
I poured out some of the dried tea for him and commented on how difficult I was finding it to keep it from molding in the damp tropical environment. He shrugged and said, "Well, you can't store herbs in glass jars here. They need to be in paper or cloth bags and then put out into the sun regularly to keep them dry." A simple enough statement, but it solved a huge problem for me.
When he told me that he was Don Elijio Panti of San Antonio, I nearly dropped my jar of linden flowers, as he was the very man I had been searching for. He was the most famous Maya healer in Belize, and he had no apprentice. I started visiting him in his village once a week to help out and exchange life stories. After a year, he agreed to take me on as his student. That relationship lasted for nearly 13 years until he passed in 1996.
So basically, you have formalized a lineage in a tradition that up until now has been completely oral?
Don Elijio represented an oral tradition of Maya pulse doctors that was probably about 5,000 years old. It seemed criminal that he should possess the knowledge that he did and yet have no serious student to whom he could pass the torch. I decided that it would be worth whatever sacrifices I had to make to capture that torch before it extinguished. There was just too much at stake and, of course, I would learn the medicinal plants I needed to take care of my own patients. That process took an amazing seven years before I felt comfortable enough to start collecting plants on my own, and then administering to my clients and family members.
Can you give us an overview of MAM?
This was most of Don Elijio's practice, along with his spiritual healing. Women and girls would wait for hours to be treated by the master, who did all of this with tremendous grace, patience and humor.
The basic tenets of MAM involve a deep-tissue massage over the entire abdomen, from rib cage to pubic bone. The upper work releases diaphragmatic tension that squeezes the opening through which the esophagus, vena cava and descending thoracic artery pass. When these vessels are constricted due to internalized negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, resentment and anger, they do not get enough blood supply to function the way nature intended. This massage can alleviate and prevent all manner of gastric upsets such as with digestion, assimilation, absorption or elimination.
The lower abdominal massage is mainly to reposition the uterus, which has a tendency to become misplaced inferiorly, posteriorly, laterally or anteriorly. The deep massage helps the uterus get back into place over the bladder (but not on top of it) and in front of the colon (but not leaning against it). It stretches the 12 ligaments that hold the uterus in this optimal position. These ligaments have reflexogenic qualities and respond well to treatment. Once this is achieved, hemodynamics and homeostasis do the healing.
MAM has helped women with painful or irregular periods, PMS, anovulation, infertility, varicose veins and relief from 36 common symptoms of a prolapsed uterus. So, we see that there are many manifestations, but only one cause. For men, the massage is very important to prevent prostatic swelling, inflammation and eventual downslide into prostate cancer. We do not, however, treat clients with cancer, but see ourselves more as a preventative therapy.
What do you think is the best way to promote one's health?
I can give no single answer to that, but we promote self-care a great deal in our workshops. Practitioners are taught to include self-care into every session so that the woman can perform these anterior massage techniques on herself at home. We encourage women to do this for the rest of their lives to prevent disease and malfunction of all the abdominal organs.
If I had to name one thing, I would say a conscious awareness that our blood stream is like a river that irrigates gardens and fields. It needs to be kept clean, flowing without obstruction, and it must have proper drainage to prevent stagnation and toxicity. Water, water, water and food as clean and natural as you can find or, better yet, grow. Emotional poise is important to prevent internal tension, so express your feelings. Don't bottle things up inside yourself, as it leads to sickness of body, mind and soul.
What components of MAM have you personally added that were not necessarily taught to you by your teachers?
I spent 12 years with my teacher. I then spent another 15 years studying and researching the anatomical and physiological basis of his massage technique. I knew about the groundbreaking discoveries of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, who showed that internalized, unexpressed emotions play havoc on hemodynamics and homeostasis by causing tension in the tissues. This then congests the flow of arterial and venous blood, leading to disease. I also knew it was important that the lumbar and sacral areas of the body be in proper alignment, so I added an entire series of posterior applications to correct hip rotations and pelvic misalignment, which further distress the flow of internal fluids.
When we perform MAM, we are working within the emotional storehouse of the body, as well as the deep tissues. There are often emotional releases that take place during a session. It was important to teach students how to deal with these releases in a safe and compassionate manner. Having treated hundreds of clients with Dr. Reich's system of releasing emotional armor blocks, it all flowed nicely into the MAM practice.
What is the greatest discovery you've made when treating people?
How our repressed, internalized negative emotions can be released through a loving touch with deep-tissue massage. How incredibly improved clients are after an emotional release. And especially, that halo of pure, golden light we can see around their faces when they have finally finished sobbing and shaking out their feelings.
What is the first thing you look for when diagnosing someone?
I always do a long intake with each new client. In the very first moments, I notice posture, skin color, hair quality and voice. All of these give me an indication of the person's vitality. An hour or so later, I have filled in 100 other pieces of this human puzzle, and can then make responsible suggestions. I like to explain to clients how they got to where they are today with their health; what we can do to turn it around; and just what will be expected of them in this partnership.
If you were to impart one piece of knowledge to a student, what would it be?
Study, study, study. Never stop learning. Love your clients because at the end of the day, it is love that heals them. You are not the healer. Only our own bodies can heal, but we facilitate and remove obstacles.
What should be required of any healer?
Be compassionate, take your own medicine, follow your own advice and be just as kind, loving and forgiving to yourself as you are to those who seek your aid.
Most of the readers are acupuncturists. Can you share with us how you think combining MAM with acupuncture can be useful?
The combination of MAM and acupuncture, along with moxibustion, is a very dynamic way to restore health, especially in women with infertility or dysmenorrhea. Once MAM repositions the uterus, removes the obstruction or restriction of blood flow (venous drainage) and repairs the nerve flow, acupuncture restores the qi within and there is a great promise of healing in store for those lucky clients. It is just a great combination treatment that we often recommend to clients and practitioners.
Can you share with us how the herbs you use are harvested and chosen, and how they may differ from traditional Chinese herbs?
We harvest raw materials from areas of the rainforest in Belize that are already scheduled for clearing. The intention may be to put in pastures for cattle, grow orange trees or to clear a single acre for planting corn and beans. We also purchase medicinal tree barks from lumber mills. Some of the plants that go into the formulas are crafted from my own tract of land, where they are encouraged to grow in the wild. We spread seed and let nature take over from there with great success.
Click here for previous articles by Jennifer Waters, LAc, Dipl. Ac.