MLD, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Absolutely Maybe

I have spent the weekend at a conference doing one of my favorite things — talking to other nerds about nerd things. The weekend started with discussion of the adaptations of lymphatic drainage protocols for specific types of plastic surgery, and ended with speculation on the titles of our future TED talks.

Mine is: “The Metaphor is Everything.”

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. Today I want to talk about certainty. Or, more accurately, capital-C Certainty.

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The end of the first day of the conference featured a panel of super smart guests, ready to talk about their particular view of oncology massage. It was a house tour of the neighborhood where you’ve always wanted to live — a chance to peek into the day-to-day lives, the medicine cabinets, and the private closets. (Metaphor. See what I mean?)

The first speaker made an entrance. She strode out from the wings of the stage and solemnly said her name and her specialty, then went on to spend her allotted time sharing images and stories of her work. I found the images and stories fascinating. I found her approach challenging.

After she introduced herself, she talked about the specific training she received, similar to mine, as it turns out, and talked about the danger of deviating in any way from the tenets and protocols of that training.

Here is where I admit that I have been deviating from the tenets and protocols of that training pretty regularly. I have a whole new kind of clientele — young, healthy people recovering from plastic surgery. For them, the exact protocol is often not as effective as some critically reasoned deviations.

I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable as she spoke. She has been doing this a long time. She has gotten great results with some really challenging cases. She knows what she is doing. She is certain of it.

That is what made me uncomfortable. The certainty of it.

There are so many things in this profession that we were “certain” of — that massage increases systemic circulation, that mechanical pressure can change certain body tissues from solid to a more pliable gel, that we should never touch people who have cancer. Thank goodness enough open-minded, curious, smart people have challenged these and other certainties and proven them mistaken. Because of these people, who were uncertain, we can reach more people and provide much better care and education about these bodies we live in.

Certainty is a hard stop. It is the period at the end of a sentence and “The End” written at the bottom of the page. Certainty freezes us in time. I don’t want massage therapy to become dusty and desiccated like those life-size dioramas that used to terrify me at the Natural History Museum.

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We are, like the bodies we work with, living and growing. We may be educated, we may be experienced, we may be confident — but I hope, for own future growth and the benefit of our clients, we never become certain.

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
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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.