Tahitian Journey for the Soul

by Shahla Ahmad

With little sleep and a rising sun, I began the day. After several hours of journaling, watching a movie, and messaging my best friends, I headed down the very steep hill to by BNB host’s overwater bungalow, which they call a pontoon for a beautiful (and tasty) seaside breakfast lucky for me, Kira, their dog, kept me company as I scored the fresh baguette, tropical fruits, and hot coffee.

Invited to go on an errand into town to the big island of Radiate via a small motorboat, I jumped at the opportunity to see more. Today, as every day since I arrived in French Polynesia a week ago, it rained. The boat ride was no exception, with wind and water whipping my face and chest. On the way back to the small island of Taha’a, we stopped to snorkel with black-tip sharks and witness coral gardens and all the life it holds! Like a beautiful scene out of a documentary, I witnessed sea-horses, pineapple sea cucumber, sea urchins, rockfish, parrot fish, giant clams, and so many tropical fish that filled me with wonder. A truly magnificent experience!

As the day progressed, clouds deepened to purple-gray, and winds increased till sheets of rain drenched everything in sight. Despite the monsoon, the time had come for what I was most excited about… learning traditional Taurumi. Taurumi is an old Polynesian massage tradition passed down from healer to healer. The best way to describe it is like a Swedish massage to the next level of relaxation. Using abundant traditional infused coconut oil, monoi, plus long fluid strokes combined with energy work. Sweeping hands and energy out through the client’s fingers, toes, and head.

We gathered in the pontoon, as night fell with a highly skilled local massage therapist, and quickly falling into a natural exchange of student and teacher. Neither speaking much of the other’s language, we allowed energy to flow, and the physical task in front of us opened up to a sacred communication in silence. My host was our model on the table and our occasional translator. Afterward, she noted we were silently conversing and how lovely it was to be a part of it all.

Following the lesson, I offered my kind teacher a massage, which she graciously welcomed. As I massaged, the rains poured thunderously overhead, winds blowing with an eerie howl. The energy crackled with an intensity I’d rarely felt before. In those moments, I truly felt like a mystical being. As though some sort of sea witch harnessing the healing power of the wind and sea. At the end of our time together, we exchanged hugs and she offered me whole vanilla beans grown on the island, as thanks. The magnificent, quiet island and people of Taha’a genuinely have a place in my heart. With gratitude, I left a day later, moving on in this soul-healing journey.

A few days later, I landed on the beautiful island of Moorea, where I’d enjoy the remaining several days of my journey through the Tahitian Society Islands. The rains continued, so my Janzu massage was rescheduled for the following evening. I arrived via scooter at a cute little house near the Bay of Pao Pao. My massage therapist, who I had been messaging for a couple of months, greeted me with a big smile, immediately feeling safe and connected with one another. She was fluent in English, so we talked about Janzu as she helped prepare me for the waters. I wore a swimsuit, wet suit-type pants, my long-sleeved rash guard, a neoprene “sweater,” and a nose plug. All this helps me float and protects me from a dropping core body temperature. She discussed how this bodywork originating from North Mexico is about surrender, trust, and allowing the power of water to wash us clean like a rebirth. The deep state of relaxation can be so powerful that visions are quite common, I was told. It still didn’t prepare me for the journey ahead.

We walked out into the head of the bay, the Pacific waters warm, the color of milky turquoise. Allowing my head to tilt back, my body followed. My eyes closed as she supported my neck and under my knees. Slowly she began gently stretching my limbs, hips, and back. Pushing and pulling me over the water and eventually through the water. Relaxing more and more with each passing moment, I felt timeless. Bodiless. Truly in the present. Colors passed behind my eyes as I twirled and pulled through those healing waters at gently increasing speeds. Pastel hues: rose, lilac, sea glass green, and blue. I languished in each tone. Feeling so safe and nurtured. Cradled like a child by the Ocean, my massage therapist and the love of my own late mom. One of the most loving mothering experiences outside of being held by my mom as a child.

Gradually, the tempo slowed, and the colors shifted to vivid, deep hues of crimson, cerulean, emerald, and golden sunshine. As the pace slowed to a standstill, I was suspended between water and sky. My LMT (licensed massage therapist) pulled me to the beach, hugged me from behind, and whispered to take my time before opening my eyes. In those moments, gratitude and love poured from every part of me, down to the deepest core of my soul. Cleansed body, mind, and soul. Janzu, re-birth.

Truly aptly named.

I came to French Polynesia because something more significant than me guided me. My departed mom? The Universe? A combination of the two, I’m sure. A tropical land of water and mountains aimed toward honeymooners. Going there solo for spiritual healing and learning is relatively unheard of. Yet healing and wisdom I attained. In the months since, I noticed that I left a large portion of grief in those salty waters. I’ve felt lighter and more hopeful about what kind of life I’ll get to lead. More centered in my own massage practice. Grateful for the opportunities to pass love and care forward, one person at a time.

Who knows where I’ll be pulled next? Perhaps North Mexico? Wherever it is, I’m excited to see what’s next and how I’ll continue to develop more care for each and every guest that finds their way to my table.

Shahla Ahmad is a Lead Massage Therapist at Grand National Marriott Resort & Spa