massage education

Lizard Brains and the Power of Metaphor

Dear Ones, there are few things in live that give me the same intellectual warm fuzzies as a damn good metaphor.

 

And your very flesh shall be a great poem (Walt Whitman)

Hope is the thing with feathers (Emily Dickinson)

Beauty is truth, truth beauty (John Keats)

 

And oh so many more.  This is an occupational hazard of being a massage therapist who loves literature and language, and also really loves science.  Because science has delivered us some great metaphors.  They serve as a pathway to understanding our own bodies.  So eloquent and illuminating.  And yet, too often, so wrong.

 

Have you heard of the lizard brain?  That primitive part of our brain that controls basic survival functions and has no cortex for executive functions?  Maybe someone has brought out the lizard brain metaphor to explain their behavior in a stressful situation.  Or maybe you learned this in school as a way to remember how the cerebellum

red white and green chameleon
Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

functions in relation to the rest of the human brain.

 

It’s a lovely little metaphor.  It’s easy to understand.  You only need to observe a lizard, or just know what a lizard is, to understand it.  It has kind of neat sound, too, with that “z” in the middle and the gong-like vowel sound at the end.  Satisfying.

 

And completely wrong.  See, our cerebellum is so much more complicated than I was taught in massage school.  (And, I’ll admit, than what I taught my first few classes of students.)   This “little brain” that we thought was only involved in coordinating movement actually has a hand (or a neuron) in almost all of what we do and think.

And we’ve known for a while that the idea that lizards don’t have a cerebral cortex is wrong.  They have a cerebral cortex — lizard version.  Of course it is very different from a mammal’s cortex, but it does exist.

We know all of this.  And yet the lizard brain metaphor persists.  I am wondering if maybe there is some usefulness to the metaphor.  Not as a way of understanding scientific reality, but perhaps as a way of understanding ourselves.  That messy, strange, shifting thing we may call our “being.”

We are not lizards, but we certainly share the planet with them.  And perhaps some behaviors.  Outside the realm of the classroom and brain science, could there be utility in understanding part of ourselves as lizard-like?  And harnessing that to control impulses, manage awareness, and grow into the humans we believe ourselves to be?

For my part, I will certainly strive for scientific accuracy in my classes, banning the phrase “lizard brain” from any materials.  In life, though, I may hold on to the metaphor for a little while longer.

 

 

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Good Conversation, Better Work

For the past couple of months, I have had the immense privilege of hosting Healwell’s online webinar series, The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery.  This past Sunday was Episode 2, featuring Janet Booth, my new best friend and amazing, thoughtful human.  We spent an hour talking about end of life care, and what it takes for practitioners to serve clients at the end of life.  By the end it was clear — we needed at least two more hours.

 

marketing man person communication
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Talk is amazing.  And talk is cheap.  I found myself wondering this morning about the practitioners who watched the webinar, and whether anything practical was happening. We talked a lot about doing the inner work necessary to serve other humans.  Across the video conference lines, there was a sea of nodding, agreement, engagement and awareness.  Now, in our separate states, are we doing that inner work, or are we playing Candy Crush on our phones and ignoring our own uneasiness?

 

Since Sunday evening, I have been noticing all the ways I avoid or numb out.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of them.  It’s not always things that are clearly unhealthy.  Sometimes it’s exercise.  Or a book.

 

I had a new client a while back, coming for a massage after several months of not receiving massage.  Healthy, right?  Good self care?  Yet — I wonder.  During the intake I learned this new client had just received some very difficult health information.  Just received, as in about a half hour before the massage appointment.  The client made it clear that the entire massage was a time to forget this looming diagnosis.

 

It is not my place to tell someone how to handle their own bad news.  It is my place to serve without judgement and to create a place of safety.  But that client stayed on my mind for a long time.  I wonder if there is a place where that person can acknowledge what they feel in a place of safety and comfort.

 

Is there a place to be comfortable with our own discomfort.

 

I am working on creating that place and carrying it around me wherever I go.

 

massage education, Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

Aural Forestry

What started as an adaptation to technological difficulties grew into a new research interest and intentional structure of the whole massage environment.

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This is Nadine, one of the office plants.

I love my office.  It has a skylight for natural light, and it is large with plenty of room to move around. My office mate has an amazing eye for design, so she put together the space in a way that is beautiful and functional.  I am proud to bring new clients into the space and trust they will feel at ease there.

I don’t love the technology, or lack thereof.  There is no WiFi in the space, so my regular streaming music service is not available.  When I moved into the space, I pulled out my tablet and searched my apps for some kind of relaxing noise making program.  I found I had an app called Spa Music, and that this app had a mixing board page.  You could combine any number of nature sounds to create a custom, relaxing soundscape.  I quickly settled on “Lake” as the background and experimented with different bird songs, crickets, or even jungle frogs on top. The sounds would play until I turned off the tablet, with no wireless connection necessary.

I set up the nature sounds on the speakers and invited in my first clients with some trepidation. Would they miss the music? Is there someone out there who really is a huge Dean Everson or Enya fan, and was I alienating them?

I quickly learned a few true things:

  1.  Almost no one notices the music/sounds unless they stop unexpectedly.
  2.  Lots of people in Kentucky get significant joy out of observing and identifying birds.
  3.  Working around nature sounds for several hours has a significant positive effect on my outlook.
bright countryside dawn daylight
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Somewhere in the collection of random information in my brain, I remembered one of my friends talking about forest bathing.  Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, has been described in Japan since the 1980s, and is a part of preventative health care there.  Several studies on the benefits of forest bathing suggest that a slow, attentive, mindful walk in nature has a number of health benefits.  A few researchers started to break the experience into pieces to see if similar health benefits could be available to people in urban environments.  A study in Japan suggested that simply being around fresh flowers in an office had a positive, relaxing effect on office workers.

What about just the sounds of nature?  Could listening to lake noises or birdsong have a positive effect on someone’s overall massage experience?  So far, I haven’t found any studies on this particular question, so I only have stories.

I have the story of the woman (and avid birder) who is coping with a painful autoimmune condition, whose posture relaxed as soon as she heard the birdsong in my office.

I have the story of the man who called my office “instant calm” when he walked in.

And I have the story of every day I spend in that office, feeling more attentive and present without the burden of tuning out some hideous “spa music” coming from the streaming service.

For now, I am letting the nature sounds play on, and spending as much time as possible in actual nature as part of my regular self-care.  I’ve got other, really fun projects keeping me occupied outside the office right now, but who knows?  Maybe this nature thing will grow.

Inner World, massage education, Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

How Did I Get Here: Part 1

Next year will be my ten-year anniversary as a massage therapist.  Massage therapy is about my fifth career so far.  I’m happy to walk you through the other four (or so), but not right now.  Today I’m thinking about how I got here, to this career, the one that has lasted the longest.

About a decade ago, I worked as a marketing assistant at a big, fancy retirement community.  My job involved supporting the sales team, helping with events, and sometimes helping new residents move in.  For some new residents, I went to their homes and helped them measure out their new apartment and what could fit into the space.  I bent down to count outlets and find the exact placement of cable jacks in their new space.  This all happened in between doing all the office and administrative support work that was part of my job.

My favorite parts of my job were these moments working directly with the new residents.  I remember one day, I stayed in a new resident’s apartment to direct the movers while she took care of things at her old home.  She had a beloved Turkish rug cleaned and delivered to the apartment first thing in the morning.  I pulled the rug into the apartment and unrolled it in her bedroom, delighted to find that it fit the room exactly.  While I straightened the rug and checked it, I called her to let her know it fit.  I heard her smile through the phone.

The rest of that afternoon, I sat at my desk running marketing reports and updating our database.  It was mind-numbing.  When I couldn’t take it anymore, I left the Sales Office to go take a walk around the community.  I pretended to check on all the common spaces since we had an event later in the week.  Near the large community room, I ran into Mrs. G, who I helped move in about a month before.

“I met some lovely women at lunch today,” she said.  “They were also your chickens.”  Mrs. G called herself, and everyone whose move I assisted, my “chickens.”  Slightly agitated, somewhat befuddled but carefully tended, and definitely well-loved.  The metaphor made me smile.

agriculture animal baby beak
Photo by Achim Bongard on Pexels.com

The job, I realized, as I walked down the hall, did not.  The best parts of my day were the moments were I got to work directly with the residents in some way, to be of service.  I wanted something that involved direct care.  I circled past the nurses’ office and considered becoming a nurse, then realized that the nurse had strict, short time constraints on most visits.

I wanted something where I could spend more time.  As I walked back towards the Sales Office I remembered an idea from a long time ago — massage therapy.  Direct care.  Lots of time.  Being of service.  It felt perfect.

So, that is how I first started looking into massage schools — 12 years after I first had the idea of becoming a massage therapist.  But that’s a story for another time.

massage education, Massage Tales, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Interdisciplinary

How about a quick peek into the emerging future of healthcare?

Interdisciplinary:  integrating knowledge and approaches from a variety of different approaches

Interdisciplinary Team: a group of professionals from multiple disciplines working together toward a common goal

I have been thinking and reading a lot about interdisciplinary teams in healthcare.  As the abstract “aging American population” becomes more concrete, both in my practice and my personal life, I am seeing humans who interact with multiple professionals, all for their individual care and keeping.  I am seeing this done very very well, and very very not-so-well.

What is clear to me is this:   the future of healthcare is interdisciplinary.  It is both necessary and desirable that humans have access to multiple professionals to address the multiple and complex needs of their healthcare.  Also:  the future requires us to communicate with one another.  While I know and massage and sometimes take care of people who are receiving interdisciplinary care, that does not always include great communication.

Take, for example, the cancer patient who also has hypertension*.  The oncologist and the nephrologist ask the patient for reports from other physician visits, but they are not asking to communicate directly with each other.  And neither of them wonders about the massage therapist who has been working with the patient since the cancer diagnosis.

In an ideal interdisciplinary world, patients could have access to a wide range of professionals and those professionals would speak to each other on a regular basis.  They might even, I don’t know, learn from each other and gain creative insights into sticky healthcare questions.

Unicorns!  Fairies! Rainbows!, you say?

This is not only possible, it is happening.  Wouldn’t you like to hear from a real interdisciplinary team about how they put it together, how they keep it going, and maybe even how the massage therapy profession can contribute?

You are in luck!

Starting this September, I will be hosting a monthly webinar series for Healwell where we explore these very questions.  We have secured some of the most interesting people working in healthcare today — the people who are asking the questions and creating the change.  Come and join us for the Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery, where we explore how to deepen our service to the humans we care for, and broaden our perspective to invite collaborations, curiosity and plain old increased clinical knowledge.

We are going to have some fun, challenging, thoughtful, and (best of all) interactive conversations. Join me to take a peek at the disruptors, innovators, and smartest people working in healthcare today.

 

*–patients mentioned are composites or theories and do not represent actual humans

massage education, Thoughts on the profession

Job Description

The question that often follows “How long have you been doing this?” is: “How do you like this work?”  The answer is pretty easy.  I love it.

I’ve tried several other careers and even done well in a few, yet none of them held my heart and my interest like massage therapy.  This particular work is, for me, a fantastic blend of several different jobs.  I am a massage therapist, which means I am:

A Scientist

It started in school where I did a deep dive into the anatomy of the muscular system, and started on the path to learn more about Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology.  It continues now as I try to connect everything I do with some understanding of the working of the human body, and with information from the latest research I have been reading.  It is my job to be curious, to ask questions and to continue learning and discovering.

A Tradesperson

I learned a skill that I perform with my hands.  After my period of learning and apprenticeship (at the student clinic) I started practicing this skill and I work every day to further perfect and advance my skills.  I have apprentices (students) of my own now, and as I am guiding them through how to work with their hands, I am finding better ways to work with my own.

An Educator

Given the chance and the interest, I will talk to every client about what I notice and what that could mean for their particular body.  I will also take the time to talk through what massage might be able to address and what might need a different kind of support.

A Student

As I said to a client this week, I may be the “expert” in the room on muscles and soft tissue, but each client is the expert on their body.  I am here to learn from them.

An Artist
person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every human, every human body, is unique.  Every day and space that body moves in is unique, so every time a person walks into my office it is the time to create something that never existed before.  Massage does not, for me, happen by formula.  It happens by being completely present in the moment so I can make something new that will never happen the same way again.

I have the opportunity to be all of these things, and sometimes more besides.  This week some asked me, “Have you always been a massage therapist?”  I’ve had lots of occupations, and this is the one that lasts because it pulls in all of those jobs.  It asks the most of myself and give the greatest rewards.

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage

The Impossible Task

board game business challenge chess
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I have two hours this coming Thursday to teach a roomful of massage students about Oncology Massage.  I will fail at this task.  I know I will fail because I have deliberately, and with careful attention, set myself up to fail.  I look forward to it.

If you’ve been around me for anything more than an hour or so, you know that I practice oncology massage, and I teach oncology massage basics whenever I can.  This is a three day, 24-hour, continuing education workshop where we routinely end the class by telling people how much more they have to learn.

About 8 weeks ago, when I took a good long look at the syllabus for the Pathology class I’m teaching, I saw that I had one class period to cover oncology massage.  Just one class.  Two hours.  To me, this is barely enough time to really make sure the class understands what cancer actually is, other than something you wear pink or run 5Ks to “cure.”  I decided that I needed to get in front of this topic right away.

The information I can cover in two hours is maybe just bordering on enough to give students the right intake questions to ask — the questions that will help them know when they need to refer someone to someone who is trained in oncology massage.

Fortunately for me, every class mentions a cancer of whatever system we happen to be studying, so I have frequent, relevant times to set expectations.  I have repeated variations on the phrase “more training is needed” since the first week of class.  I have tried to repeat often that the best therapists are those who work within their knowledge and skill set — those who are generous with admitting they don’t know something.  I am trying to set them up to know what they don’t know.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This Thursday, armed with our textbooks and the 70-or-so slides that go with it, we will attempt to talk through oncology massage.  We will fall short.  We will, in other words, fail.  And in doing so, we will gain the much more valuable knowledge of our own limits.  I will be happy with that.  If I can release these students from this class with more questions and curiosity than answers and certainty, I will have done my job well.

Let’s get to falling short.