By Sara Vos, Photography by Hilary Nichols
I heard of Julie Jaffray Kouyate before I ever met her. Or rather, I heard of her and her people.
Several years ago I was walking through the U-M Diag one warm summer evening and stumbled upon swathes of barefoot dancers undulating to the rhythms and harmonies of a large drumming crew. I was in awe of these powerful dancers and drummers, and the ways they all seemed to harmonize with joy, pleasure, and sincere effort that flowed from their hearts and was expressed through their limbs.
I found out that Julie has helped to organize that ongoing drum and dance class on summery Thursday evenings on the University of Michigan central campus. In case you’re interested, the class is open for new participants—all are welcome (contact Julie for specifics). Both the drummers and the dancers make very strenuous work seem humorous and playful, with 1,000 watt grins and a palpable back and forth between the ones who move to the beat and the ones who create the sound. Shoes optional!
Fast forward some years and I had the opportunity to connect with Julie in her role as a healer (aren’t many wise, strong, dancer women healers of some kind?). She told me that working together would be different from therapy or bodywork, but a kind of combination of mind-body-spirit-energy work resulting from what presented in the moment. Even before we started, our session together had opened me up to new possibilities.
Julie’s work takes place in a beautiful space on the second floor of an unassuming office park in west Ann Arbor. Stepping into her office is a healing experience. For those who are seeking to connect with the qualities of the Divine Feminine and Mother, those energies were apparent to me, in a felt-embodied way, when I walked through the doors of the richly-hued center.
Within five minutes of sitting down to talk I could feel myself on the verge of tears. Thoughts and feelings that I had been suppressing for months and years were bubbling to the surface. I could feel them asking for expression through my belly, my heart, and my throat. Julie guided me through a gentle exploration of questions with curiosity, masterfully reading my body language, pointing out ways I was gesturing with my hands, holding my head, and making eye contact. She illuminated long-held tension patterns of which I was previously unaware, but which were obvious to her immediately, just by observing my structural alignment and mannerisms.
I found myself processing long-held grief—for my mother’s death from drawn out lung cancer, for my sister-in-law’s sudden and tragic death from undiagnosed heart disease—and grieving even more the ways that I, and we collectively, do not know how to tend to our relationships with those who have passed beyond this world. In a nonjudgmental way, Julie allowed me to work through what it was that I thought I needed, so that my own inner wisdom could guide the session. As Julie listened to my heartache, she provided gentle suggestions for action steps based on what needs were arising in the moment.
Through it all, I felt safe to move through and express my needs and my unresolved emotional pains, which is huge for me. Because of Julie’s expertise with the ways we hold and carry tension in our bodies, she was able to cut right to the center of some of the pains and stresses I was carrying. I felt seen and understood. I felt held. And once the talking portion of the healing session had reached a stage of completion, it was time to move to the table for bodywork.
As she anointed her hands with rose oil and began meticulously rubbing the rose oil into different pressure points around my heart and upper chest, I had the distinct sense that she has been doing this kind of work for lifetimes. Whether or not that’s true, I observed years of grief melting under her hands and being resolved through the release around my heart and lungs that she was guiding with her hands. When the session was over, she left me with a clear action plan of what steps to take next to continue the grief release, including feeling the space in front of and behind my heart like a wide, spacious tunnel.
I walked out of her office with a new gait, feeling very surprised but also elated. How had I, someone who thinks of herself as relatively guarded, felt safe enough to process years of grief with a relative stranger? How had she been able to listen and respond so effectively to what was arising, moment to moment?
I noticed myself taking deeper breaths, walking taller, with colors in my immediate surroundings appearing more crisp and vibrant, as if their outlines “popped” a little more than before the session. Is this what Julie meant when she said, “Learning to live with our heart open changes our world”?
Is this the power of skilled professional healing? How much inner preparation work do we need to do in order to be ready for immediate shifts while healers hold space for us? My session with Julie showed me that I cannot talk my way into an open heart using only my mind and thoughts, no matter how badly I want to be embodying open-hearted living. Based on my experience, it seems possible that this applies to others, too. It seems that we need to be able to embody an open heart physically and energetically, and that when we do, the ways we perceive our world change fundamentally.
Because it was only one healing session, my description may seem excessive or exaggerated, but heart opening is one of the gifts that Julie offers. Perhaps the conditions were ripe in my life for me to have the results I did, and to see and experience Julie as a steward of the Divine Feminine. I can’t say for sure that everyone will have similar results. Regardless, I’m still walking taller. I am breathing deeper. I’m in continuous conversation with my beloved ancestors and family members in a way that I was not before my session with Julie. I’m experiencing life through the portal of a heart that is more deeply open to love, which is different, fun, and a bit vulnerable.
I was curious to learn more about why Julie chose this path, so I asked her about how she came to cultivate her craft and calling.
Julie is a licensed massage therapist and alumna of Irene’s Myomassology Institute. She graduated in 1998 and has been in practice for nearly 20 years. She became nationally certified soon after graduation. She has completed much continuing education to maintain her license. Recently Julie completed a year-long program with the founder of BodyMind coaching, Laura Wieck, and became certified as a BodyMind coach in the process.
“I’ve spent 20 years in the field doing therapeutic body work and have witnessed the stories of thousands of peoples’ bodies, including how stress and dis-ease translate into the tissues. BodyMind coaching is different than straight up massage work, because we get super connected to what emotions are there, where they live, what they are doing to the body, what they are trying to communicate to us, and how to use them for our transformation into our best selves,” Julie said.
She went on to describe how her process moves the energy of the emotions to shift habits and patterns from a stress response to ease, and to help people shift out of old belief structures into new ones by literally rewiring the body and the mind. She also offers BodyMind coaching and personalized action plans to help keep clients accountable for creating their desired lives.
“The uniqueness of BodyMind coaching is that it’s not all about only creating a mindset shift. Touching the body with expertise and awareness is a different experience, and more impactful to the work of coaching,” explained Julie. “Transformation is key to evolving each and every day. Taking that step with the assistance of a skilled BodyMind coach makes the journey playful, enduring, and impactful to the client, but it also ripples out into their families, their work life, their sacred connection, and to the whole world. When one person connects back into their wholeness and contribution to the world, the world and her peoples delight in the birthing of that person’s vision.”
Find Julie at Kouyate Healing Arts, 1829 West Stadium, Suite 300, Ann Arbor (corner of Pauline and West Stadium). Julie offers 3, 6, and 12 month programs, as well as signature playshops, retreats, VIP days, and dance classes with live drumming. Learn more about her offerings, including the BodyMind coaching program, at kouyatehealingarts.com, or call (734) 330-7903.