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.

Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

Be the Weirdo

There are so many conversations I would like to have about massage therapy, and about health care in general. The one about equity and accessibility of care. The one about basic massage education and its preparation (or lack thereof) for a career. The one about how much to charge and when/if to raise your rates. The one about complementary and alternative and where does massage live.

That last one — the complementary/alternative one — has been on my mind lately. For myself, I’m pretty firmly decided that massage therapy is complementary in nature, and is most effective when used in concert and communication with other forms of care. What’s on my mind is how we think and talk about those other forms of care.

I am struck by how many people come through my office and will tell me about their doctors with an eye-roll or knowing wink. Some will straight out tell me that their doctors are scam artists who are just in it for the money. I am working on changing this kind of talk.

There are better and more productive conversations we can be having about healthcare right now. I’m working with some super-smart nerds at Healwell trying to have those conversations in public.  In my daily private work, it’s a little more challenging.

It all comes down to acknowledging the feeling behind the words, the hidden voice that speaks through the filter of disdain for traditional medical care. And to honor that, to hear it, I need to ask better questions. Questions like: where did you feel unheard? What calms your mind? What wakes you up at night? And, when I’m feeling a little combative, questions like: do you think doctors go to medical school because they want to hurt people? How would you handle a day scheduled around too little time with every one of your patients?

Questions that want to look directly into the heart of the heart, the deep and vulnerable truth that always comes out somehow. This is terrifying, for both me and my clients. I am not sure how to do it.

I am bolstered by a conversation I’ve been having with some of the people I traveled with last month. In the country we visited, the standard greeting was a warm, heart-to-heart hug, sometimes with a kiss on the cheek. People we met thought it was strange that we would wave and say “Hello” without reaching out to touch them. We got used to the hugs and the human connection.

As we got home, some of us joked about becoming the “weirdo hugger” in our workplaces. But at the same time, many of us noticed that the same people who thought it was weird when we hugged them, would linger a bit until they got their hug. Every day.

This makes me think that we really do want to connect with each other in some real way. We have just built some of the most elaborate defensive systems on the planet to protect ourselves. And sometimes all it takes to get through those defense systems is to become the weirdo. Hug the people. Ask the questions. Start the conversation.

It’s not always going to end well. I have had experience with that this week. I had a couple of honest conversations. The outcome was not ideal, but my comfort and peace in my own soul was off the charts.

Weirdo power.

Thoughts on the profession

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It is New Year’s Eve. I took on an extra couple of massages at a local business today. I probably should not have done it, but I am getting ready to travel so I thought it might be a good idea to make a little extra money.

Holiday massage clients are generally not the clients I work best with. Infrequent consumers of massage. Out-of-town-travelers. Lovers of all things “deep tissue.” My clients today were the deep tissue kind.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the whole question of the effectiveness of deep tissue. Not in this post, anyway. The more interesting thing to me, on this eve of the new year, is how I reacted.

It wasn’t pretty.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

The first client assured me I could “dig around in there” and that he didn’t like the “fluff and rub” kind of massages. True, the spot he pointed to on his neck felt noticeably different than the opposite side of his neck. As I worked into his tissue, I had an almost shaking wave of anger.

This is not my client. This is not my work.

I worked the entire session while breathing through this anger and holding it away from the space I tried to hold for the client.

The second person came in and told me almost right away that she liked a “firm” pressure. As the session went on, it became clear from her feedback that what she meant was wrenchingly deep. And again I felt this wave of anger. And again I spent the session breathing through it, holding it away from the client.

I’ve written in this blog before about how I am not a deep tissue therapist. I have no desire to be a deep tissue therapist. But, since I work sometimes at someone’s else’s business, there is always the chance that I will be assigned a client who wants to “feel the massage” — meaning they want to be sore when they get up off the table.

This has always troubled me. It always felt like this kind of work was not my style, and often was not even effective in the long run. (If someone gets a punishingly deep massage every week for the same pattern of tension, is the massage really working?)

I used to be able to do the work with just a mild sense that I was not at my best, then move on. As I lean into my plans for 2019, I am finding that this is becoming impossible. This next year is forming into a year of clarity, of integrity, of letting go that which does not serve. It started last month with the end of a friendship. It is continuing, apparently, with this visceral reaction to work that feels wrong to me.

It is New Year’s Eve. My new year starts in a few days, when I take a very long plane ride to another country and spend about two weeks all the way outside my comfort zone. I’ll be there when this blog gets published.

In a different country, without the constraints of the familiar, I plan to examine what I mean by working with integrity. Today, two clients gave me a very big clue. I thank them and honor them for that.

Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

It Depends

There’s this thing that gets said a lot in almost every class I teach, no matter what the subject or how (in)experienced the students: “It depends.”  Meaning: more information is needed before I make a recommendation.  Meaning: every human is different.  Meaning: never stop thinking.

I am sitting at a desk in a remote location, away from home and away from people, planning out my 2019. What are my goals for the year? What do I want to create? What do I need to let go of?

I used to do this on a fairly regular basis, but it has been a couple of years since I actually sat down and wrote out the plan for the next year. The first time I did it, the words came to me faster than I could write them down. There was so much missing from my life at that point. It seemed lots of plans and ideas wanted to rush in to fill the vacuum.

Before I started writing today, I looked at that plan. Most of it didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t happen in a way I expected. There was one sentence though, stuffed into the middle and written when I was tired and wanted to go to bed, that happened exactly as I wrote it. It was eerie, how precisely this thing happened. This one, half-forgotten sentence that became the thing that shifted my entire life.

So, can you plan an entire year before it happens?

It depends.

To me, this writing is an exercise in continual awareness of the kind we want our students to have when we say, “It depends.” Standing rigidly with knowledge or plans or protocols limits our ability to help. And it kills our ability to find wonder in the unexpected, half-asleep moments of our lives.

We stand, in this profession, in our knowledge and our experiential learning. We are not, should never be, trapped by it. We work with humans, after all, in their infinite variety. Every one of them is different, and if we stop thinking we stop serving.

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Let us not be constrained by the container of our own understanding. Instead, let’s try to flow, like cats do — adapting to the shape of the container before us, or abandoning it entirely when it doesn’t serve.

May your new year be full of awareness, critical thinking, and the magic of conditionality.

Inner World, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Objectify

Last night I watched this documentary about Maria Callas. I had a small sense that there was something tragic and sad about her life outside of opera, but I had no idea just how tender her story was. She existed in this space where she had attention, celebrity, adoration — but she didn’t have the love that she wanted. In her last relationship, she was literally a commodity, a glittering novelty collected by a rich man who loved the idea of her.

The idea of her.

This led me to thinking about a recurring, spiraling conversation I often have with my friends. Our conversation is about humanity, and about our particular skill in honoring humanity. Too often, our default mode is to objectify, to make of each other a one-dimensional thing. The person in my way at the store. The person who is driving too fast. The person talking too much at the end of the day.

Another recurring and spiraling conversation I often have is about the role of massage therapy in health care, about how we can integrate the profession into the medical model in a way that elevates patient care. Believe it or not, watching that documentary brought both of these conversations together in my mind.

What I am hearing sometimes, even in my own head, is that we might be taking on the least desirable parts of the medical model. We might be turning people into objects. The frozen shoulder. The back spasms. The testicular cancer with distant metastasis.

While this objectification might be useful for a moment — we have to apply specific knowledge to be safe and effective, after all — it too easily becomes a habit. And hidden within this habit is the seed of what could be damaging cruelty.

Turning someone into a limited object is a door that opens onto a path. This path has so many stops along the way that drift us further and further from each other. Stops like: not listening with full attention and an open mind, ignoring someone’s stated needs in favor of our own assumptions. In the darkest depths of the path as it winds through the shadow side that is in all of us are the -isms and oppressions that break our collective hearts.

I am in no way saying that integrating in the medical model will make us into a crueler, harsher profession. I am saying that constant vigilance is required. May of us went into massage therapy because we loved the idea of working with a whole person. Many medical professionals love this idea as well.

As Maria Callas grew into her talents and found fame and recognition, her personal life started to fall apart. As this profession grows into its next phase, we must be ever-aware of the state of our own being.

Maria Callas often spoke of herself as two different beings: Callas, the diva and performer, and Maria, the woman. By all accounts, she didn’t find a way to integrate those beings. As we grow into next-level massage therapists, let’s continue to find ways to integrate our two beings: the evidence-based practitioner with the human-loving soul seeking connection.

Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

A Day Late

I made myself a promise a little over a year ago.  I promised that I would write a blog post every week.  Every single week.  I chose Tuesday as the day I would publish the post, and I promised not to let my internal editor sabotage everything.  I wasn’t going for great literature.  I was going for consistency, showing up, and just doing the work.

So how am I doing?

Well, I missed a week — the Tuesday of the midterm elections.  This week, I am a day late. My internal editor is as robust as ever, although slightly more likely to wait to speak until spoken to.

I am calling this a win.

I’ve heard people quote “the past is prologue,” meaning that what happened in the past predicts what the future will be. More and more, I think this is ridiculous.

The past isn’t prologue.  The past isn’t predictor.  The past is —- past.

close up of woman holding a hamster
Photo by Rudolf Jakkel on Pexels.com

Sure.  There are hints and whispers and echoes of the past everywhere.  Every time I see a mouse, for example, I have the overwhelming echo of the time my upstairs neighbor’s pet gerbil chewed through the ceiling and dropped onto my bed.  *shudder*

But, just because I hear the past whispering in my ear, doesn’t mean I need to do what it says.

See, in the past, if I dropped off a plan I made for myself, I just kept dropping until I decided the plan wasn’t that important in the first place.   I dropped back into the story of The Girl Who Does Things 3/4 of the Way.  The story of my life.

Except now I know, I am the writer.  I tell the story and I’m telling it differently.  You can hiccup and still breathe.  You can stumble and still keep walking.  I can come to this blog a day (or a week) late and still get back on track.

I’m going to attempt now to connect this back to the thing I’ve been doing while procrastinating this blog post — watching auditions from the X Factor on YouTube. I have heard, over and over, judges saying things like “natural talent,” “born performer,” or “gifted.”  I find this deceptive and slightly dangerous.

Sure, some people may be born with an affinity, but talent?  That is pure, uncomplicated, consistent, work.  Showing up, consistently, and working at it.  Being frustrated or tired or unmotivated and doing it anyway.  Missing a practice (or a deadline) and getting back into it anyway.

So, here I am, with my imperfect ideas and slightly burnt coffee just showing up.  A day late, but here.

How are you showing up for yourself today?