Gastón Olsen is one of the most skilled practitioners we know. When you meet him, what is most evident is that he exudes enormous positive energy! He is passionate about his work and we are excited that he’s made a commitment to continue his outreach work with GHF. Read all about Gastón’s story with Global Healthworks Foundation below.
Gastón Olsen Goes Deep with Massage Patients in Quiché
“Let’s rock and roll!” Gastón Olsen yells to fellow volunteers as new patients arrive at Global Healthworks Foundation (GHF)’s April 2015 jornada (medical mission). His enthusiasm for the incoming group is characteristic of his approach to massage—and to life. “Gastón’s ability to balance his professionalism with a sense of humor is amazing,” says Audrey Warren, his jornada interpreter. “He’s very present with each patient and person. You can see it in his eyes. His energy sort of transforms things around him.”
The April 2015 trip is Gastón’s third with GHF. An exercise and massage therapist from New York City, Gastón combines his bodywork skills with a background in Thai massage, yoga and personal training. Stretching is an integral part of his treatments in both the United States and Guatemala. “Having been to Guatemala a few times, it’s obvious that just a little bit of stretch can make a big difference,” he says. “And it feels amazing.”
At more than six feet tall, Gastón towers over his Guatemalan patients. Often, treating them requires kneeling on the floor or contorting his long limbs in order to reach the points on the body in need of attention. “My goal is to loosen up the tissues for acupuncturists,” he explains of his treatment style during each jornada. “I try to channel a more Thai massage mentality since it focuses on lengthening and stretching.”
Though patients let out the occasional wince when Gastón hits an especially sore spot, he is careful with the amount of pressure he applies. “¿Está bien? (Are you okay?)” he asks patients every thirty seconds or so. “Respire profundo (Breathe deeply),” he instructs, demonstrating easy breathing exercises. To “avoid getting stuck in one spot,” Gastón says, he uses counts of three or nine when massaging each point. “There’s something about the ‘power of threes.’ It helps restore balance. That’s fundamental no matter where you live.” Patients like Sister Virginia “Ginny” Searing, Executive Director of the Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford, GHF’s primary partner in Guatemala, note their appreciation for Gastón’s emphasis on such balance. “What I love is his commitment to mind, body, and spirit,” Ginny says. “He lives that commitment. And his patients really feel it.” Gastón has been treating Ginny each day of the April 2015 jornada, helping her prepare for a double knee surgery in the coming months. “He’s not just treating my situation,” Ginny notes. “He’s explaining it. He’s so gentle and respectful of my limits, of how far I want to go. I can only imagine how many people he helps back home—not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. We here in Guatemala are very appreciative of his work.”
While Gastón speaks very little Spanish, as Ginny’s words suggest, he is able to relate to his patients easily. Those on his treatment table or standing around him are often smiling or laughing because of something he’s said. “¡Hola señor!” he yells in a particularly deep voice to a four-year-old boy walking around his table. Gastón starts to whistle and bob his head back and forth as the boy continues to circle. His shy smile slowly grows into a grin, and the two begin to laugh together. “I love coming here because of the people,” Gastón says, motioning to his new friend. “They are super thankful. And it’s nice to give something that’s not about money.”
“What Gastón is giving to the people of Quiché is more than money—and more than a massage,” says Dan Wunderlich, GHF Founder and Executive Director. “Gastón radiates positive energy,” Dan explains. “He’s always in a good mood, and it’s contagious. Not only is Gastón passionate about his work and probably one of the most skilled manual therapists I know, he is also extremely compassionate. He treats everyone as if they were his brother or sister. And he really practices what he preaches: Gastón takes care of his own health through a regiment of yoga, exercises, and regular bodywork from other talented practitioners. It’s evident that his lifestyle inspires others to take similar self-care steps to improve their own health. I am excited that he’s made a commitment to continue his outreach work with GHF.”