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  • by Michael Cooper

Spotlight on Gabrielle Zeitlin

A blast from the past..From March/April 2017

Healing Path Turns the Spotlight on Gabrielle Zeitlin

Gabrielle Zeitlin, Certified Massage Therapist #49142

of Breathing Heart Healing Arts

521 E St. Eureka, CA


Gabrielle Zeitlin of Breathing Heart Healing Arts sits nestled in a divan-like arrangement of pillows as I enter her bright and beautiful healing space near Old Town, Eureka. Sunlight streams through the windows casting rainbows across the sky blue walls. I’ve come for the first round of our Healing Spotlight interview to receive Gabrielle’s specialty, Chi Nei Tsang, an ancient Chinese form of bodywork focusing on the abdomen, treating the organs and core muscles to a cleansing, vitalizing, and soothing type of massage. After a warm greeting, I settle myself on her table and prepare my breath and body for what I imagine will be a nice, relaxing way to start my day. After a few minutes of preparation, Gabrielle gets to work and I begin to see just how deep Chi Nei Tsang can get. With intuition and radiant compassion, Gabrielle guides my breath and my journey down into the soft underbelly of my gut. I feel her touch my very core, literally, witnessing her support of transformation and release in my body and heart. As with many types of Chinese massage, the work is very therapeutic and productive, focused more on the process of healing than just muscle relaxation or making me feel warm fuzzy. Afterwards, I rise from her table feeling gentle and soft, not weak or vulnerable, but open, as though I had more space in my belly to breathe and feel, more room in my heart for forgiveness, and a clear tranquility in my mind. I wander out to greet the rest of my day with a sense of adventure and excitement.

Chi Nei Tsang is a form of abdominal massage with roots in the ancient Daoist healing traditions of China. Through touch and breath, it helps to vitalize the internal organs and supports all of the body’s major systems. In addition to improving the digestive and elimination system, it can strengthen the immune system, support detoxification, regulate imbalances in the reproductive system, address postural and muscular problems. It brings intention and focus to the breath, the belly, and therefore one’s self. I return to Breathing Heart Healing Arts to talk with Gabrielle more about the work she does.

Michael: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to be practicing your healing arts here in Humboldt?

Gabrielle: I actually have a background in visual and performance art, poetry, and other kinds of creative work. I never thought I’d be a body worker! Eventually, I started to have belly issues, bad indigestion and other problems. I went to the doctor and no one really knew what was going on. In the middle of all that I remembered receiving a massage years earlier. The woman had worked on my belly and told me that she was doing Chi Nei Tsang. Something happened that day, deep in my psyche: emotions moved and were processed during the session and never came back. After hunting for her, I realized she was no longer practicing. An online search led me to the Chi Nei Tsang Institute in Oakland. I called them directly, not knowing what else to do. It turned out they where offering a fundamental Chi Nei Tsang workshop the following week!

Michael: Wow, what timing!

Gabrielle: It was perfect. I decided I could make that happen and ended up spending two weeks down there studying and learning about my own belly. I didn’t have an intention of practicing at that point. I just went with a curious, open mind in hopes that I could work something out with my own indigestion. From the first day of class I had profound releases from the powerful healing in my body and heart. I continued to study and practiced on myself and my family, slowly but surely moving in the direction of becoming a practitioner. That was eight years ago. I had always been interested in different aspects of holistic medicine. I read about it and received different types of healing, but I still never put it together that I would be practicing it. It wasn’t until my gut started hurting in a way I couldn’t ignore that I was guided to the work I was supposed to be doing. I’ve come to believe that our work is where we are wounded. If we are willing to go into that space and into that pain instead of trying to avoid it, it can make all the difference.

Michael: Thank you, I think that’s an important lesson to share.

Gabrielle: Yes, it takes a lot of support to do that kind of healing work. It can feel difficult or scary unless you have some sort of network of healers around you. Exploring that wound can lead you in the right direction. Follow your gut!

Michael: Exactly! I know that you have studied and practiced many different types of bodywork and massage. What has kept your focus on Chi Nei Tsang? What makes the belly special for you?

Gabrielle: I’ve always been pro-belly! Belly dance, pilates, anything that empowers this part of our body that too many of us have so much shame about. Women especially bear this shame, but certainly men feel it too. Growing up in Los Angeles, near Hollywood, there is lots of pressure to mold yourself into an image that doesn’t really exist. I always rebelled against that concept. I’m also a vocalist and a singer and my father was a music teacher. He taught me how to breathe into my belly and be present with my diaphragm, how to focus on this powerful place inside me and not run away from it. As much as I help and empower others with their bellies, I also have had to work with my own shame about my belly. Instead of running away from that, I wanted to face it. The belly is our internal universe, our intuition. It is such an important place and, because so many of us are afraid of it, we are not accessing a tremendous power inside ourselves. It is our voice, our identity, and our core sense of self. I’ve noticed how this work centers clients in their authentic self and true voice again. It taps them into their internal wellspring of power and stability. Chi Nei Tsang especially interests me because I’ve always been interested in supporting women and women’s health issues. The belly is the seat of our womb and the energetic, very creative potential that resides there. It centers us and brings our whole being into alignment.

Michael: How does Chi Nei Tsang relate to other types of Chinese Medicine?

Gabrielle: The organ systems, the meridian systems, and the Five Elements system all work in conjunction with each other. In Chi Nei Tsang, we work with the internal trajectories of the meridian system. When we look at the meridians in diagrams, we see separate lines on the skin and we think they have beginnings and ends. But it’s actually all one big interconnecting knot, weaving in and out of itself. It flows internally into the organs, and when we work with the viscera we touch these internal pathways. We also focus on the balancing and supporting aspects of the five Chinese elements: earth, water, metal, air, and fire. The work supports awareness of the patterns these elements follow in our bodies and lives. I see it as the poetry of Chinese Medicine.

Michael: When we first spoke, you said “Chi Nei Tsang is like Chi Gong for our organs.” Can you explain what that means?

Gabrielle: Chi Gong is an ancient practice which includes postures, movements, breath and intention to focus and transmute your internal energy. Chi Nei Tsang translates loosely into ‘internal organ chi transformation’. It engages with the breath and works with your own energy. Developed originally by the White Cloud monks two to five thousand years ago in China, it was a way to clear and focus their internal energy enough to attain higher states of awareness and connection to nature and the universe. When I perform the Chi Nei Tsang, I work with my own energy, engaging in meditations and visualization, even sounds sometimes. These are Chi Gong practices that are applied to the process of abdominal massage. Often I’ll have my client do them with me.

Michael: In addition to the physical benefits of Chi Nei Tsang, it seems like it works with the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of us as well. Do you think it helps people deal with the world around us, especially with all the turmoil we have experienced recently in the United States?

Gabrielle: We live in a world that appears to get more and more complicated every day. When we take into consideration the access we have to information through social media, it becomes clear that there is an assault on our nervous system. So much stimulating energy is coming at us from so many different directions making it important to realize that this environment affects our digestion and not just in a physical sense. We don’t just eat food, we are eating our lives. Our gut takes in everything around us. There is so much indigestible information in the world today. Whatever your beliefs or convictions are, the division that is now happening is not easy to process. In a Chi Nei Tsang session, we take time to breathe and be present with our emotions, seeing them for what they are. When we allow ourselves to witness our emotions and don’t try to judge or change them, we can truly release them. Emotions are like wind. They come in and out, but when we block them we get sick. We get stomach aches, constipation, anxiety; the energy can’t move down and out of us. A client may come in with irritable bowel syndrome. After a few sessions they realize that there are actually a lot of feelings inside them that they have not felt and released. The space I hold and the work I do allows them to cry or shake or laugh hysterically or whatever is needed to free those stuck feelings. It allows us to take those trapped or hidden parts of ourselves and bring them up to our hearts and our minds so we can witness them and then compassionately let them go. That movement frees up space inside of us for a little bit more joy, a little bit more freedom in these tough times we live in.

Michael: That process seems like a helpful tool.

Gabrielle: Yes. One of the things I love about this work is that it isn’t just about coming in and receiving something from somebody else. It’s about coming in and learning about what we can do to help ourselves, which is in itself empowering. We can’t massage our own backs very easily but, interestingly enough, it seems like we are meant to massage our own bellies. Our hands naturally want to rest on our stomachs. I love helping people learn to touch their bellies. It was a hard process for me to learn to hold space for myself and touch my own core. It is such a joyous gift to give, teaching people self-care for the belly. Deep feelings can be addressed this way. It can be a very intimate process. My hope is that this work will help people have the courage to go within and listen to these hidden pieces. At its core, Chi Nei Tsang isn’t about fixing anything; it’s about witnessing. It’s the art of seeing what we have been hiding from ourselves. Once we see and hear, we have an opportunity to continue our healing.

Michael: Give us a few helpful tips and tricks for home belly care.

Gabrielle: One of the first things I talk to my clients about is their navel. The navel is considered the original wound, our original scar. In utero, our fascial system forms around the navel as its center point, like a net that spreads out through our whole body. You can access the fascia of the whole body from here. The navel marks this umbilical link to our mother and is where we originally receive our nutrients and expel our toxins. Because of this, there is cellular memory in the skin around our navel and toxins tend to pool here. I encourage clients to explore their navel, beginning with very light touch, circling the rim of the navel while breathing deeply. This massage can begin a detoxification process, boost metabolism, and provide a deeper inner awareness. You will notice different sensations from various parts or sides of the navel. After a couple of minutes you can begin to increase the pressure. I also encourage people to just feel around and explore their belly. It’s amazing how uncomfortable some of us are with touching this place, especially in a nonjudgmental and loving, healing way. If nothing else, lie down for a few minutes and place your hands on your lower abdomen and breathe into the weight of your hands, exhale and let their weight sink into your core. It so common to avoid this place in our bodies yet so central to who we are. Think about how often you hear things like “I was so sad or heartbroken I couldn’t eat” or “I knew in my gut ...” or “I couldn’t stomach it!”

Michael: Thank you for helping us embrace our bellies, even though it can be scary sometimes. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Gabrielle: One of my dreams is that Breathing Heart Healing Arts becomes not just a place for my own work but also a space for the community. I’m excited to offer this beautiful group room for events and classes. It’s important to me to support the healing arts here in Eureka and help to create opportunities for people to tap into all the amazing resources around us. Breathing Heart Healing Arts is a wonderful place for workshops, classes, meditations. I’d love to host these types of healing events. Our community is important to me. I want to help people get involved in supporting each other’s wellbeing, to just be with one another in a healing way. I’m very open to how this space grows and develops.

As well as Chi Nei Tsang, Gabrielle Zeitlin CMT #49142, practices Swedish, Deep Tissue, Trigger Point, Accupressure, and Energy Work. She is passionate about what she does and looks forward to sharing it with as many people as possible. To get in contact with her, you can email her at, or call her at (707) 362-1717.

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