I’ve been planning to book a session with Nir Levi, who visits Dubai’s Seva Experience wellness center from his home base in Paris, for years now.
Something always got in the way.
But as he would say, I finally went this summer because, well, that’s just when I was meant to go.
He wouldn’t mean that in the woo-woo, spiritual bypassing way of the faux-zen wellness warrior we are all so tired of. I know that, because after hearing him explain his perception of evolution, of how many of the problems and systems we face today are the result of a relatively newfound ability to imagine — aka make up stories about what is happening and the way things should be — it’s clear he’s just saying ‘don’t worry about it. You are here now’.
“We have understand what’s happened in the last 50, 60, 70,000 years to understand why, bizarrely, we became the sickest animal in nature,” he tells me. “We can fly to the moon and Mars soon, but every fly, frog and snake outside is much healthier than us.”
Nir made a major shift in life more than three decades ago, moving from the diamond dealing business to the healing arts field. He’s been a physical bodyworker and therapist for the National American surfing team, he’s worked with abuse victims, and with actors and others in the Hollywood film industry. He’s been involved in founding and opening three schools, and travels to offer treatments and training courses around the world.
The Nir Levi Method incorporates practices developed thousands of years ago to deal with what was already emerging then: chaos, stress and pain. Those include a blend of Taoism, Buddhism and Ampuku, which is traditional Japanese abdominal acupressure; the 5 elements theory (in Chinese medicine, the basic elements of the material world are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). His approach is exploring and attempting to restore the tight connection between humans and nature – a connection that grows ever more precarious.
The imagination Nir speaks of, our “bio-subjectivity”, has created all of the useful and beautiful and terrible things that surround us today: think the Burj Khalifa and Beethoven and, well, war.
“This is an imaginary entity that we invented for a reason,” he says. “Like all the rest of the imaginary entities that we invented, like cultures, countries, and religious ideas and gods and monetary systems and education systems and money and time.”
In the grand scheme of evolution, it’s all relatively new in the grand scheme of things, this “bio-subjective reality” of ours, which is why it’s a very confusing for our reptile brain to process, creating anxiety, instability and fear.
(Perhaps that resonates with you, as it did with me.)
The connection to health comes when we factor in a move from hunter-gatherer roaming, climbing and surviving to the repetitive movements we adopted as we evolved — like those involved in farming, and using our mobile phones — as well as an increasingly convenient and sedentary lifestyle.
“Animals and humans both have immune systems that are built on our ability to express energy that is inside the body,” he explains. “Energy that goes in must be expressed out; if it isn’t, it goes to the weakest part of our body, and it spreads.
The Nir Levi Method is a counter-measure to all this: a body reading and treatment approach that is deeply rooted in Eastern medicine, using different kinds of stimulation on qi (energy) points located along the body’s meridians.
The goal is to stimulate these points, release muscle tension and create energy movement, all helping the body to heal.
Nir sees a lot of different people, all seeking to feel better, more connected, less anxious and fearful. Maybe even to root out physical pain and process past painful experiences, as I am. He sees some very sick clients, with a variety of health problems. On his most recent visit, he had two women in their 30s, each told their cancer has progressed to a point doctors can do nothing more. Both were left with the realization that everything they thought was important wasn’t, he says, with resignation and recognition.
My Nir Levi Method session starts with a few questions: what is my family situation? How is my health? My digestion? I tell Nir I am single, that in the past few years I’ve been working on healing from the Adverse Childhood Experiences we all have; that I often have intestinal and digestive issues. That at 51 and in perimenopause, sometimes my muscles and joints get very, very sore and on this day, that refers to my hip.
The session itself is wordless: I lay face down on a massage table as Nir massages and manipulates up and down my spine, across my shoulders, down my arms and legs, into my feet. It’s a bit like a reflexology treatment for the whole body. In between he plays a mad percussion at various points on my body, often for several minutes at a time. There’s also a lot of whisking, where he sorts of moves his hands as if clearing crumbs away. I can feel little knots in my shoulders moving with his precise touch; same for when he gets into my rotator cuff.
Nothing hurts either. When I turn over, he does the same sort of thing down the front of my legs and arms. He stops for what I can only call a massage of my abdomen, but only the left side, around the area of the descending colon. This is uncomfortable, creating little bursts of a thin, reedy pain I’m not familiar with. He massages the back of my neck and when he’s down by my feet, he holds my toes for a long time, until he doesn’t.
The whole time I am sure he’s still there, perhaps waving his hands around or something. That’s because I feel these beautiful waves of calm emanating from my core; a sensation of a lightness spreading through my body. But when he finally, gently, speaks to indicate the end of the session, like Houdini he’s in a chair beside the table. He’s been there for several minutes, answering messages.
That sensation I felt is common, he says. It’s the body incorporating what’s just happened.
Here is where it gets trippy: Nir says due to issues with the main man in my life, and a major female influence, I have never felt safe expressing myself; I just could not trust enough. He said that has impacted not only my ability to have personal, romantic relationships — I’ve never married — but my practical life too.
Truer words have never been spoken to me. There is so much more to his philosophy, but one thing to know about him is that he does not meditate — or ask anyone else to. Instead he asks me to spend 30 seconds or so, taking 10 deep breaths, at two-hour intervals throughout the day.
(He also tells me that once a week I need to lock my door, take off all my clothes, and do what ever my body tells me to, trying to get into the mind of an ape walking the earth 100,000 years ago.)
Back to the breaths: they will be impossible at first, he says. The mind will run away by the third or fourth every time. (He was and is right). But if I persist, he promises, this practice will change the way I feel in my body. It will create the grounding and safety and stability that I am still struggling for, from modern life and from experiences all those years ago.
This will also start the process of moving the internal blockages I am still dealing with, he says. I’m to go back for another session when he returns to Dubai, and to report on my progress.
I felt immeasurably sad for a full day after my session with Nir. I felt like I was grieving the loss of opportunities missed from those trust issues; it was intense, and it was hard, but like any storm, it passed.
It’s only been a week, but already I can make it to 10 breaths; and already the world is feeling like a safer place each time I get there.
Did I close my door and act like an ape? I’ll keep that one to myself. Will I keep going through the summer? Good questions – ones Nir preemptively addressed in the session, giving me perhaps the most important advice of all: Only I can make a contract with myself to do this. Only I can point my toes in the direction of forward.
• Nir Levi returns to Seva Wellness in September to hold workshops, conduct private sessions, and hold a training in his Nir Levi Method.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.