Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

What Did You Notice?

She’s a climber, a dancer, a multi-sport athlete.* She biked to the clinic and will most likely go to a yoga class on her way home. She eats clean, but she’s not obsessed about it or anything. She will eat a piece of birthday cake or a cookie when she wants to.

She is healthy, and she is doing everything right. I say that every client is the expert on their own body. She is the expert-archetype. She knows her body so well, takes such excellent care of it, that she found her melanoma before it was much more than a spot just beginning to touch the dermis, the layer underneath the top layer of skin.

After the massage, as I hand her a cup of water, she stretches her shoulders and looks at me, earnestly. “What did you notice?” she says.

I stammer for a moment, surprised. What did I notice? She lives so fully and attentively in her body, I wonder why she even wants to know what I might have noticed. It seems more appropriate that she tells me what she noticed, that she educate me on how best to support and care for her.

She looks at me, that direct gaze, with the question still in her eyes. She wants something from me, something that I am not sure I even know how to give. She wants the report card.

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The report card is the after-appointment summary, where the massage therapist lists all the spots of tension, adhesions, tightness, or just plain wrong-ness that they felt in the client’s body. Supposedly, it is a tool to encourage repeat visits and to begin documenting the effectiveness of massage for this person.

I was trained to give the report card after a massage, even though it always felt wrong to me. First of all, every client will have extensive direct experience of their body and how it feels and functions. Even if I work with someone for years, I will only have a fraction of the embodied information each client has about themselves. Secondly, as the provider of the massage, it is my job to receive a report card, not to give one. I’m not here to rank or rate any human body. I’m here to support, to love, and to learn.

She won’t give up, though, this client of mine. It is a quality which makes her an excellent athlete. I suspect she was also a good student, since she seems to be following the same massage training book I was given years ago. That book includes the report card. This box must be checked before we can call the massage complete.

So, what did I notice?

I spread my hands wide. “I noticed your breathing, the rhythm of it. I noticed your pulse as I massaged your hand. I noticed that you move with ease.”

She raises her eyebrows, just a bit, then draws them close together. The vertical line between her eyes quivers a bit as she tilts her head to one side. There will be no demerits, no suggestions for improvement on this report card.

She keeps her quizzical expression as she leaves. I peek out my office door and I see her pause and shake her head at the bottom of the stairs.

I’ll be honest — I’m tired of the assumption that any interaction with a health care provider or wellness professional ends in a list of instructions on how to be a better, more complete human. I’m tired of leaving every doctor visit, massage appointment, or acupuncture treatment with a list of where I went wrong and how to correct it. I think some clients might be tired of that too.

What would happen if we started with the assumption that the human in our care is already complete? What if we also acknowledged that they are the expert on their own experience? And what if, maybe, we led with humility and curiosity, keeping expertise for later, after our client has had a chance to educate us?

What would happen if we threw out the report cards? I hope that on the other side of report cards is a land of real conversation and exchange of information, as equal partners working towards the same goal.

*- This client is a composite of several different individuals. All identifying information has been removed.

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.

Lost Literary Files, Thoughts on the profession

Listen to What the Nice Poem Says

There is a wonderful poem by Mary Karr called “The Voice of God.”  It ends with these amazing lines:

” . . . .It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.”

I highly encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole poem.  It is a lovely example of simple language put together in a deep, thoughtful, and funny way.  I wish I had written it, but as it is, I am making sure everyone within reach of my voice or my email or this blog gets the chance to see it.

I love this poem for many reasons, but mostly I love it because it cuts through our inflated selves and reminds us that the simplest thing is often the answer.  Let me offer you another amazing turn of phrase:

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.”

zebra fur
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That gem was coined by Dr. Theodore Woodward in the 1940s.  He was trying to impress upon his medical interns the idea that in most cases, the more common diagnosis is the correct one.

I am reflecting on simplicity, self-care, and the general need for sandwiches this week as a bunch of threads in my life are coming together.  They could so easily become tangled in a frayed knot, or they could simply lie next to each other, in calm order.  This is the last week of the term for my students, so twice a week at 8am (yes, I teach an 8am class), I get another dose of Someone Has Just Realized Deadlines are Real.  I have several trips planned in the next few months, which brings all the coordination of flying, driving, finding a place to stay and editing my client schedule.  And, I have just booked my next far away international adventure, which will require me to be in pretty good physical health.

It is tempting to add to the pile with lots of complicated exercise practices and sophisticated organizational tools.  Yet, the truth is that maybe I don’t need some grand scheme with background music by angels.  Maybe I just need to sit down, look at the next week, or day, or hour instead of trying to hold three months in my head.  Maybe I just need to go for a run, drink some water, and eat a sandwich.

stack of pancakes on round black ceramic plate
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And you, you with your eyes on this screen, what is the simple thing being obscured by flourishes?  Maybe you just need an hour for yourself — a massage.  And a sandwich.