Kimberly Johnson is on fire. This California-based single mother is a birth doula, Sexological Bodyworker and Somatic Experiencing trauma resolution practitioner. Some refer to her as a 'vaginapractor.'
She is the founder of the holistic women's health hub Magamama and author of The Fourth Trimester, a postpartum guide to healing on the physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual levels. Read on for Kimberly's inspiring thoughts on her path, challenges, purpose and passion.
INSIDE/OUT: Introduce yourself.
Kimberly Johnson: The red hair is a fair warning. I am filled with fire to change the face of women’s health. I am a single mom to a radiant half-Brazilian 10-year-old daughter, which is where this incarnation began.
I am a birth doula, a Sexological Bodyworker, and Somatic Experiencing trauma resolution practitioner.
I wrote a book called The Fourth Trimester so that I could help women prepare for the postpartum experience. What is it? In my office I help women recover from birth injuries, birth trauma and restore sexual boundaries. I teach women about their amazing bodies from the inside out. Yep! People call me a ‘vaginapractor’ and a ‘womb whisperer.’ Our vulvas and vaginas have messages for us, lots of them, and it is my profound honor to help women unearth those messages.
It is a radical, revolutionary, personal and political act to live in harmony with our female bodies.
I/O: Share a bit of your genesis story.
KJ: Everything I teach and write about is based on my own personal experience. My first sexual experience was assault and I have endeavored many pathways to healing in the last 25 years since. My own birth experience left me with an injury that I had no idea was even a potential outcome. I have experienced the descents and it is out of those experiences that I am able to be present and offer people possible next steps on their own path to self-knowledge and healing.
I/O: Tell us a bit about what you do and why you do it.
KJ: The recent statistics on postpartum depression are that 1 in 4 or 1 in 7 woman are falling into this category. This makes no sense. This is not a women’s mental health issue - this is a cultural and systemic failure. We have a history of pathologizing women’s health rather than actually serving women. That has to change. Medicating women with SSRIs postpartum as the unilateral postpartum care intervention is unacceptable. Marital satisfaction declines 67% post first baby - we can mitigate that if we support couples with communication strategies and troubleshoot ahead of time. Women need pelvic floor physical therapy, an adequate amount of paid leave and a network of support and resources so that they emerge stronger after the postpartum period.
I/O: What are you primarily focused on now in your work? What is the next step?
KJ: I am bridging the worlds of birth, sex and trauma - dissolving false boundaries between segmented health care. The postpartum period requires a complete understanding of pelvic, gynecological and sexual health. Women are not being served by fragmented care. Our STREAM School of Postpartum Care is an integrative model. In five years we hope to have practitioners on each continent and every region of the United States. Our vision: that women have at least five somatic sex coaching and/or vaginal mapping sessions over their lifetime - at menses, when becoming sexually active, end of pregnancy, postpartum and menopausally.
I/O: What drives you to work with women in the way that you do?
KJ: I want my daughter to inherit a different set of cultural expectations. I want her to fully own her voice. I want her to inhabit her body and her pleasure. I am committed to the liberation of all beings. Many spiritual paths disregard gender and sexuality as important parts of human development. Many types of therapy prioritize the mind and disregard the body and nervous system. The body is our lived biography. The body is a reliable compass. The body is the physical site of sacrifice in the rite of passage of birth. Claiming our rights to our bodies and to our sex is countercultural. Pleasure is in direct opposition to productivity. We have a right to be protagonists of our own lives. The feminization of sex will lead to better sex for everyone.
I/O: What types of transformations have you witnessed in women through your practice?
KJ: Many women come to me because they are experiencing painful sex. Through our work together the source of the pain is revealed and the pain goes away. That’s pretty rad. Women are able to speak up for the kind of sex that they want. Organs go back to where they belong, scar tissue dissolves and long held traumas are digested. It’s pretty dramatic and powerful work, and simple too. The body wants to heal itself, and with the right attention, presence and contact, a lot can be done, especially with tissue that is as malleable and transformative as the vagina!
I/O: What are your thoughts on feminism and female empowerment?
KJ: This wave of feminism understands what the body is - that we are not trying to overcome our body, or treat it as an inconvenience or tame it. This wave of feminism includes pleasure. This wave of feminism understands the 'feminine,' as something that people of every gender need to cultivate. We are no longer defining ourselves in opposition to men, or competing them. We are living into an understanding of both, and that equal rights for women and people with vulvas, will lead to a better world for anyone. This feminism includes planet Earth and our responsibility to be stewards of our own vessels so that we can steward the Earth.
I/O: What are your thoughts on healing sexual trauma?
KJ: As we are seeing from #metoo, sexual trauma is a huge category. It is pervasive and it affects everyone. Every single human is affected by all of our inability to communicate well in body, mind and words sexually. We have no good training, practice or education. We have echoes of porn, which is not sex. We have disembodied nervous anatomy lessons, divided by gender. We need somatic sexual education. We need to know how our nervous systems work. We need to have support in the unraveling of our own personal, familial and cultural scripts. This investigation is the drive behind my online courses - to provide support to people who want to dive into this inquiry and have more satisfying and honest intimacy and sex.
I/O: You refer to yourself as a 'vaginapractor.' Please explain.
KJ: Actually a client came up with that. Many women describe that they feel things are going back into place or getting organized. One client described that her pelvis felt like a garage and all the boxes were falling in before a session. Women say they feel their labia are dragging on the floor, or that things 'just aren’t right.' Their experience is that puzzle pieces are fitting together, that their vulva and vagina are now a part of their proprioceptive awareness. Because what I do is so new, people often have a hard time conceptualizing it. I help women heal from birth injuries and birth trauma, as well as restore sexual boundaries. Vaginapractor is a silly way of explaining that what I do is structural - not medical or sexual.
I/O: Tell us your thoughts on prenatal care and fertility.
KJ: Fertility is health. If we optimize our health, we optimize our fertility. Fertility has become a 'thing' that people are worried about. It shows how distant we have become from the cycles of nature and a trust in something bigger than our personal desires, and even entitlement. If we live in rhythm with cycles (including our menstrual cycles) and are aware of what real health is, we will see that fertility in general is reflective. We do not control everything. We are also not powerless. Our fertility journeys lie in the center of that. Our fertility journey impacts birth, sexuality and recovery. We are living a continuous life, and how we are in one area impacts how we are in other areas. Most women would do better to do inner work as prenatal care rather than relying on machines and external confirmations of health (or absence of it).
I/O: How is postnatal care important?
KJ: In Ayurveda, they say 42 days for 42 years. How we are cared for postpartum impacts the rest of our life. How we protect our nervous system influences our relationship to our self, our baby, our partner and our community. This is the most important health window in a woman’s life who will become a mother (and includes losses and abortions - those processes have postpartum periods as well).
I/O: What particular challenges do you find women are facing and how can this be improved?
KJ: Women are having a hard time staying healthy, getting pregnant, and birthing. What is happening on the planet is happening in women’s bodies. Our reproductive and immune systems are compromised. Western women have been living in the unhealthy masculine and are ultimately depleted and unsatisfied. But women are rising, and with more self-expression, the unwillingness to hide, comply, accommodate and tolerate, we are getting stronger.
I/O: What does your community consist of?
KJ: My community is filled with moms, birthworkers and the people who love and serve them, as well as yoga practitioners, human potential advocates and somatic bodyworkers.
I/O: A motto?
KJ: Play the long game.
I/O: Three words?
KJ: Liberation. Passion. Reclamation
I/O: Challenges or obstacles, past or present?
KJ: My biggest challenge at the moment is focus. I am on fire with purpose and clear goals. I have a virtual assistant and people who I call on to help me with things here or there, but what I want to do would require a small army. I am not a natural manager and I am not sure if I want to be a manager. I have so many ideas about how to serve girls, women and families, but it can’t happen all at once. I really have to focus so that I don’t end up feeling like I am doing a million things but nothing very well.
I/O: What do you do for personal care and healing? Who takes care of you?
KJ: I receive weekly Somatic Experiencing sessions. That is a foundational part of my self-support- nervous system regulation that can also look like supervision, because my practitioners can discuss cases I am working on as well, when needed. Thai massage at least once a month. My parents support my daughter a lot, and when my daughter is doing well, that allows me to relax. My mentor, Ellen Heed, and her partner Bob Niemerow, are co-teachers in our school and they are a constant support. I also have amazing friends that spontaneously ask me to dinner, that send me love notes, voice messages and love to dance!
I/O: What experts do you admire? Who are your teachers?
KJ: My mentor is Ellen Heed. We co-founded the STREAM School for Postpartum Care. I hugely admire Eve Ensler, Lama Tsultrim Allione, Dr. Kelly Brogan.
I/O: Who or what helped you get where you are today?
KJ: I had an excellent traditional education that has served as an incredible foundation and allowed me to be a bridge between many worlds. It has given me the confidence to speak up.
I have had incredible yoga and spiritual teachers. I was a yoga student for many years, and studied personally with the three main carriers of the Krishnamacharya lineage - Desikachar, Pattabhi Jois, and BKS Iyengar. I also had studied one-on-one with a guru at the Ramana Maharshi ashram, which was a mixed bag but ultimately is what broke me in a way that led me to the kind of spacious mind and open listening that is available to me today.
I/O: Tell us about your rituals.
KJ: In the spring and summer I like to do functional training at a Fitwall studio nearby. Fourty-minute workouts are great. I enjoy being led since I am leading and giving so much of the time. In the fall and winter I like to practice yoga and specifically yin yoga. I walk on the beach as much as possible.
I/O: Do you ever ‘fall off the wellness wagon’? If so, what does this mean to you?
KJ: For me to feel really good, I need to avoid dairy, sugar, and gluten. And sometimes it is as if I have amnesia. I forget what happens when I eat a sandwich or a samosa, and I do it anyway, and then I shake my head at myself that I did it again.
I/O: What resources would you recommend to our community?
KJ: I wish everyone would read Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston. I love my own podcast for progressive conversations about sex, birth, motherhood, womanhood, relationships and intimacy. For understanding trauma and the nervous system, I recommend Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine. I teach several classes online which are great resources. 'Activate Your Inner Jaguar' helps people understand their own nervous system. 'The Feminization of Sex' is an embodied experience of the intersection of sexuality and spirituality for women. On my website, there is a recorded audio that will guide you to understand your own pelvic floor - what it is, how to use it. Demystifying the Kegel is really important since it is often the only piece of pelvic floor advice that women receive.
And here are the first 30 pages of my book.
I/O: What inspires you?
KJ: My clients who are willing to courageously confront the places that scare them, who trust me with their most intimate stories and their most intimate body parts. My daughter. Brazil. Babies. Memoirs (Elizabeth Lesser’s Marrow, Dani Shapiro’s Hourglass, Molly Caro May’s Body Full of Stars).
I/O: Where can our community find you?
KJ: I have practices in San Diego, LA, New York, and once a year in Vancouver.
Online I am at Magamama.com and on Instagram I am @magamamas.