Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

Just a Relaxing Massage, Part 2

Let’s talk about your nervous system. How about a quick check in? How’s it doing? If you are alive and reading this, it’s pretty safe to say that your nervous system is functioning.

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Your nervous system, the control system of the body, the keeper of the keys to so many other functions, is, for me, the primary target of massage. If I can facilitate a switch in your nervous system from sympathetic (“fight or flight”) mode to parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) mode, then a whole cascade of benefits happen in your body and mind. These include:

  • drop in heart rate and blood pressure
  • decrease in muscle tension
  • increase in energy required to focus
  • warmer body temperature overall

And these powerful effects come from that thing that is undervalued so much — “just” relaxation. Those effects seem pretty powerful to me, and definitely worth an hour of time.

Today I saw a new client. She chatted during part of the massage, talking about how she was always busy, always running, found it hard to stop and sit for a minute. She booked the massage as part of an ongoing plan to take care of herself. She talked about how it was necessary to take care of herself, but she said it in a way that seemed like she was trying to convince herself. For the last ten minutes of the massage, she grew quiet and her breathing deepened and slowed. Her arms, previously held close and tight by her sides, fell gently out to the sides. Her face softened. At the end of the massage, I said “Thank you,” and she said, “That felt good.”

That felt good.

It is enough, more than enough, to facilitate a space where someone can step out of their busy life and feel good in their own body, their original home.

Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

Just A Relaxing Massage, Part 1

We make a lot of claims in massage therapy. Some of them are proven. Most of them are not. I was thinking about this today as I went to talk to a local clinic about their massage offerings. Their website included the “improves circulation” and “removes toxins” claims that we hear so much, and that have no evidence to back them up.

Much smarter people than me have written about this, at length and with remarkable clarity. I suggest you check out Tracy Walton’s take here for more detail.

I want to talk about why we make all these claims in the first place. There are days when the entire profession feels like a collection of people tied up in some kind of inferiority complex. And, yes, I am including myself in this whole mix. We make all kinds of claims about what massage can do based on anecdotes, or long-standing oral tradition, or sometimes wishful thinking.

It goes, so often, like this: “Massage is relaxing. . . AND it can increase circulation and boost immunity and it might even make you able to fly.*”

(* — massage will not make you able to fly. Unless your therapist hands you a plane ticket at the end of the session.)

What’s wrong with stopping at “Massage is relaxing?” When did it become not enough to facilitate deep, uninterrupted relaxation? I have the good fortune to live a slow life most days, with time for exercise and reading and general contemplation. Most of the people I know are not so lucky. One slow hour with nothing to do but receive skilled bodywork seems like more than enough.

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This week, I am working on removing the word “just” from my vocabulary when talking about massage — as in “just relaxation.” As I know from my understanding of the nervous system, the effects of relaxation are profound and wide-ranging in the human body. I’m going to stop diminishing that.

Next week, I will explore some of these effects and the profound meaning of calming the human nervous system.

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, 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

Modalities

Cross Training and Self Care

I am sitting at a table, trying to become more aware of my own movement habits and defenses.  It starts with keeping my posture upright and balanced, feet flat on the floor, trying to breathe into all sides of my ribcage and move from this supported posture, rather than from my usual habits.  Already, I notice how much I rely on my neck to initiate arm movement.  I make a small adjustment to my core engagement and try again.  It feels different, more easy.

I take a break for a short walk around the bookstore where I am working.  As I stop to browse I overhear this conversation:

“Your feet aren’t ugly.”

“Yes they are.  It’s just because I got my nails painted and they uncrusted my feet.  Really, my feet are ugly.”

I just spent the last two days in workshops with Donna Mejia, a scholar, dancer, somatic scientist and excellent teacher.  I have pages of notes and ideas, and a much more clear understanding of why my neck hurts sometimes.  We barely scratched the surface of knowledge she has built through her study, yet we all left with new understanding of how our bodies move.

And we started in a way that I love, and that I wish was unnecessary.  Donna invited us to take a different approach to our bodies.  Instead of thinking of all the things they couldn’t do or the ways in which they failed us, we were invited to be grateful for the all that our bodies were capable of.  Even in a room full of people ready to spend four hours in movement, it is necessary to remind ourselves of what our bodies can do.

four person standing at top of grassy mountain
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This approach resonates with me because it is a position of strength, and from this position of strength — however tenuous — we are able to discover ways to move, breathe live and be with more ease.  It seems to me that we should not give up our position of strength because of ideas about what feet are supposed to look like.

In the time I have been sitting here, fresh from workshops and with movement awareness at the top of my mind, I have been blissfully unaware of what I look like, and yet deeply aware of my body in space.  Areas of ease and tension, habitual defensive patterns, ways to move more efficiently.  The side effect of all of this is a calm mind free of much of my usual internal chatter.

As with all things, maintaining this is a practice, ongoing and ever-evolving.

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
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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.

Massage Tales, Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

Presence over Pressing

Yesterday I had one of the best days in my massage career in Louisville.

The day started with a visit to a hospice client*.  I spent a half hour moving slowly around her as she rested in bed, breathing deeply and slowly falling asleep.  Her skin was pale and papery thin.  I could see the round outline of her knee through her sheets.  This person, this frail body, needed nothing so much as my focused attention.  I softened my hands and laid them gently on her arms, shoulders, knees.  I held her hands in mine and gently moved her fingers.  I held her head while she breathed and relaxed her arms.  the thought came to me slowly, in the way that you might realize light has come into your bedroom in the morning.  The thought was:  how wonderful it feels to be exactly where I ought to be.

Later in the day, I worked with a few clients at my office, “healthy” clients who did not require the same kinds of adaptations as the morning client.  Even so, some part of the stillness from the morning stayed with me, as did the sense of peaceful presence.  With the people I had worked with before, I noticed a new layer of quiet reverence.  The stillness in me brings forth and honors the stillness in you.

As I am reflecting on this good day, I am remembering something a friend told me.  She came to visit for a weekend, and scheduled a massage with me during her visit.  We used to trade on a regular basis when I lived in Chicago, so she has received numerous massages from me.  After her massage, she hugged me and she said,”Your hands feel different.  It feels like your touch has come into its own here.  This place suits you.”

And she is right.  This place suits me.  Not just this physical place, but the place that holds the kind of work I did yesterday.  The place of calm ease and stillness.  The place where presence is so much more important than pressing.

*–any names and identifying details have been changed