You Can’t Force Connection

One of my dearest friends came to receive a Reiki treatment from me last week. This woman is one of the most empowered, self- motivated, passionate, and compassionate people I have ever met. Being in the same room with her is a cross between grandma’s baked cookies and sunbathing on a tropical beach. It’s just delicious. The fact that she enjoys and appreciates my work is the ultimate compliment.

We talked for quite some time before the hands-on portion of the treatment. I find that active listening and empathic connection beforehand amplifies the energy. She wanted clarity about changes in her life and also support to focus on solutions rather problems. I really enjoy helping people fine-tune their intentions to get the most from a session. Also, it really helps me decide on a loose treatment plan, which generally morphs into something else entirely, but I am always guided on how to begin based on each client’s words.

I was lead to do chakra balancing to enhance the connection between her being and the world at large. It is quite common for me to be guided to do this with my clients. No doubt I am influenced by my own fascination with the chakra system and my reverence for the potency of this work. As I reached the crown chakra, I noticed an intense resistance. I had never felt anything quite like this and it captured my attention immediately. Her other energy centers had responded to the Reiki with opening and acceptance. I was perplexed.

Then I remembered that my friend is agnostic. She is unsure of the presence of a divine being in this world. The crown chakra is the location where our connection to God originates. It makes perfect sense that her crown would react with suspicion (her word, not mine!) I immediately dropped this course of action. Clearly her spirit was not interested in having an open crown chakra and it certainly is not my place to override her wishes. I don’t actually think I could have won this battle if I had tried. Reiki can do no harm and must be willingly accepted. I do suspect that if I had continued, there would have been some dissonance, possibly even some kick-back. Not for her, but for me.

Once again, the wisdom of Reiki has impressed me. It is truly divinely guided life force energy. And it always knows exactly what each person needs.

Bodywork for Headaches & Migraines

I really enjoy working with clients who are plagued with frequent headaches or migraines. I know how debilitating this condition can be, and when someone is nursing an aching head, it seems to dull all aspects of life. It really is a joy to watch a person sink into relaxation as the pain begins to dissipate. Frown lines are erased and an expression of serenity emerges. The vast majority of clients I see while working at a spa are visiting the area, and it is unlikely that I will see them again. I don’t really know, or even expect, that the results they experience are permanent, but offering temporary relief and the hope that change is possible is a gift in and of itself.

Triggers for headaches are numerous. Dehydration is perhaps the #1 culprit, and obviously water is the cure. However, massage can still be of use in these cases by stimulating the release of toxins and relaxing tense muscles that build up due to the pain. Hormonal imbalance is another frequent contributor to headaches. Once again, I believe bodywork can be helpful through detoxification (a healthy liver can better clean the blood of excess hormones) and deep relaxation can counterbalance the excess of adrenaline and cortisol many people experience in their daily lives. Often clients claim stress itself is the source of their headache problems. This is where elevating relaxing massage to the level of health care maintenance can be of true benefit. Staying ahead of the stress is the most effective way I know of to prevent headaches (along with drinking plenty of water and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption).

Migraines seem to be a bit more mysterious than headaches. Science is still trying to understand this incapacitating condition. Many people become aware of hormones or certain foods as triggers, and are able to utilize this knowledge to prevent migraines. Others seem to be at the mercy of unpredictable onset. I still believe that whatever the actual trigger may be, lowering overall stress can help prevent migraines, or at least diminish the frequency, intensity, and duration of them. It seems the body can handle a certain level of stress, and if people are able to keep their stress below the threshold, they have a much better chance of avoiding this painful condition.

I’ve found that about 90% of my clients who complain of frequent headaches or migraines have congestion and tension held in their faces and heads. No big surprise there. I spend a good deal of time exploring the scalp for trigger points and stuck fascia and almost always am rewarded with a deep breath or sigh. Often times I find a hot mess in the small muscles at the base of the skull which, when given the opportunity, unwind themselves spontaneously. Tension around the temples and the jaw is very common, along with extreme tightness in the neck and upper shoulders. It’s not difficult to find the spots that need attention, but the unhurried pace, patience, diligence, and gentleness necessary to achieve release are necessary qualities that are easy to overlook.

My advise to anyone who suffers from frequent headaches or migraines is pretty basic. It involves lifestyle changes that eliminate, or at least manage, the contributing causes. Hydration, posture, exercise, stretching, and finding outlets to release stress and anger are the obvious solutions for many clients. Sometimes a change in diet is helpful when allergies are the trigger. Fresh air and avoiding chemicals which are all too prevalent in household products may also help.

I find it’s much more effective and empowering to teach clients how to prevent pain than causing them to rely on bodywork as the sole remedy. Of course, massage is a tremendous tool that belongs in the overall program. Reiki is super-effective too, especially when there is an emotional, mental, or spiritual contribution. (And there almost always is, but that is another topic altogether…) Pain is an indication that something is out of balance. I encourage people to address the imbalance at its source rather than struggling to alleviate the symptoms.

Can You Fix Me?

The other day I received a phone call from a man I had never met inquiring about the price of a 30 minute deep tissue massage. He had hurt his shoulder playing racquetball and wanted a session where the therapist “goes deep, real deep, even if it hurts.” In short, he wanted to know if I could “fix” him, in 30 minutes or less, and do it first thing in the morning so that it wouldn’t interfere with his plans for the day. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe that aggressive bodywork is effective. Once the nervous system perceives the potential for pain, the fight or flight reflex kicks in, and the muscles tense. Tense muscles are counter-productive to massage and essentially eliminate the possibility of any healing benefits.

The short answer, I told him, was: No. I cannot fix you. I explained that I didn’t know enough about his situation or physical condition to promise any specific results. I have repeatedly witnessed the power of bodywork to alleviate pain and support recovery from sports injuries. Softening the tissues allows increased circulation and relaxation, both of which are key to healing. Yet, this process takes time and a gentle approach, especially for deep work. I’ve found that most people are only beginning to relax at the 30 minute mark and that the real benefits of a session happen after that. I don’t offer a 30 minute massage, and certainly not a deep tissue one, because time and time again, I have observed that the body reacts protectively, thereby preventing the desired results.

Since this is obviously not the answer he wanted to hear, he did not book a session with me. I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not a good match for all clients, especially the type A/ no pain, no gain folks, and it’s better for everyone if we figure this out up front. I have no doubts that he found another therapist to work with, and suspect that if anything, he is in more pain today. What I regret most is that I didn’t have the opportunity to explain that no one can “fix” anyone else. Massage facilitates healing when clients are ready and willing to allow it. Yet it is ultimately up to them to receive the healing benefits and integrate them into their daily lives. Posture, habits, repetitive motion, sports, and the myriad of activities in life that create imbalance or injury easily outweigh the hour spent on the table. I can help people feel better. 98% of my clients  report improvement after a session. Yet once they walk out the door, the “fixing” is up to them.

Shoulder Pain Vanquished

For the past year, I’ve been experiencing chronic achiness and occasional pain underneath my left shoulder blade. I’ve tried a wide variety of treatments such as massage, Reiki, cranio-sacral, acupuncture, and chiropractic adjustments. I’ve practiced yoga nearly daily, and concentrated on releasing mental/emotional issues that no doubt contributed to the problem. Yet the discomfort persisted. As a bodyworker, I’m well versed in muscle anatomy and body mechanics. As a yogini of twenty years, I consider myself to have a fair amount of body awareness. This issue was both frustrating and humbling, as I judged myself for not being able to “fix” it. Also, it was beginning to cost me money in the form of lost revenue when I was too tired or achy to do a massage.

Yesterday I participated in a one hour posture clinic that was taught by a yoga teacher whose knowledge of alignment is spectacular. I was re-introduced to my estranged serratus anterior. This is not a well-known muscle as it is barely accessible from the outside. It is however, an important postural muscle and essentially attaches the scapula to the rib cage. The simple act of bringing my awareness to this neglected area of my body enabled me to create more balance in my torso and allowed my scapula to rest comfortably on my back. I enjoyed a wonderful bike ride home feeling like I fit together correctly once again.

Later in the day I noticed an enhanced ability to transmit healing Reiki energy to a client as I wasn’t distracted by discomfort in my body. My neck and thoracic spine self-adjusted while I was doing some gentle yoga before bed and I slept deeply and woke refreshed. I know that posture is a constant battle of awareness vs. gravity and bad habits, and that I have a lot of work ahead of me. Yet today I am delighted that my pain is diminished by 90% and I have a new tool to help myself. I am overjoyed to have yet another reminder that comfort is the reward of creating balance and that lasting change comes from the inside.

Reiki on the Fly

Earlier today I burned myself. About 40% of the back of hand met the tea kettle that had just come to a boil. And stuck there for a second or two. Now, I’m not ashamed to say that I cursed like a sailor. Horrific expletives flew out of my mouth. Then I remembered who I am. I took a deep breath, ran some cool water over the burn, and activated the healing power of Reiki. Here’s the thing; I had the perfect day off planned and I just didn’t have time for an actual treatment. By some miracle of planets aligning, I had carved out enough time to watch a movie before I rode my bike around the peninsula to watch the sunset. There was no wiggle room in my timeline; the sun would not wait for me. Plus I have two prenatal massages scheduled tomorrow, for which I will be kneading (pun intended!) my knuckles.

So, I activated the symbol that we use to send Reiki through time and space and intended for the healing to continue until it wasn’t needed anymore. Sure, I dabbed on some aloe and lavender oil. I have nothing to prove and use all the tools available to me at any given time. Then I sat down and watched my two hour movie, occasionally remembering to boost the on-going healing. Then I bicycled along the coast, arriving just in time to revel in the sight of the orange sun sinking into the Pacific. As I am preparing to bid the world good night, I will charge up my Reiki crystal to keep the healing energy flowing while I sleep.

I am quite confident that I will have full use of my hand tomorrow. It might be a bit red, maybe a bit sore when touched, but I know from experience that the damage has been minimized. There are so many great things about Reiki, but one that I love the most is that it works anywhere, anytime, always. Sure, the power of ritual may amplify the results, but after years of use and developing an intimate relationship with this energy, all I need to do is intend for it to flow. And without a doubt, flow it will. What a blessing it is to have access to such a beautiful, reliable technique. Now that I’ve had a chance to report on this special benefit of Reiki, I do hope I won’t need to personally experience the emergency uses of it anymore. Seriously. I get it! I know it’s at my disposal and that’s enough for me.

Update: I wrote this last night, and wanted to review it with fresh eyes today for final edits before posting. When I woke up this morning, I had completely forgotten that I had burned my hand until I washed it in hot water. I did feel a slight twinge of discomfort in that moment. However, I am delighted to report that there are no blisters nor any redness and I am able to apply pressure without any pain. Thank you, thank you, thank you Reiki!

Reiki for Caregivers

Some of the most profound changes I see in my Reiki practice come when I work with caregivers. Whether amateur or professional, full or part time, people who take care of others give a lot of themselves, and unfortunately often take on unwanted and unnecessary energy during their acts of service. Parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, bodyworkers, councilors, and ministers are just a few examples of what I am referring to. Often the type of person who is drawn to such fields is sensitive, empathic, generous, and loving. They want to help others, and if they’re not careful, they do so at great personal cost.

I learned very early in my massage career how important clean boundaries are. I had excellent tools to clear my energy field and prevent my clients’ issues from affecting me. Yet there were days when I was tired, overworked, or stressed out that my boundaries were weak and I got “slimed”. I remember one day in particular when all four of my clients had neck pain as their primary complaint, and later that night, so did I! Alas, it’s not always so easy to track stray energy. Sometimes we feel drained, funky, tired, cranky, or just “off” for no obvious reason. Especially when working with clients who are in pain, it is easy to over-give or pick up vibes that don’t belong to us. I think we can all agree that this serves no one. We can never suffer enough to alleviate someone else’s suffering. It just doesn’t work that way.

Reiki is the most powerful technique I have experienced for clearing any unwanted energies from our auras, bodies, hearts, and souls. It re-establishes healthy energy flow within, connects us to natural cosmic vibrations, and releases any excess junk that we may have picked up inadvertently. Reiki helps us return to ourselves and renew our connection to Spirit. What’s even more exciting in my eyes, is that regular Reiki “tune-ups” can keep our energy fields vibrant and shiny and our protective force fields healthy and strong. It’s so much easier, more comfortable, more convenient, more balanced to prevent ourselves from allowing unwanted energy in than to release it once it is already present. There is enough pain, discomfort and disease in the world already; we don’t need to absorb any of it in the process of helping others.

It’s Not What You Think!

Yesterday I worked with five different massage clients. Four of them complained of stiffness, tightness, and/or pain in their right necks and shoulders- the top of the shoulder, around the top inner corner of the scapula, and up the back of the neck. (In case you’re wondering, I do know the technical terms for these body parts, but wish to keep this blog accessible to the average person who might not.) The fifth client just wanted an overall relaxing massage, but I did find tension in that same area on him as well. The four who presented with pain obviously wanted me to focus on the troublesome area, and one of them said she would be delighted if I spent the entire time squeezing her traps because they hurt so much.

This is a common problem in our modern culture. Our bodies were not designed to sit all day at a keyboard, nor to be exposed to constant stress, nor bombarded ceaselessly with visual and auditory stimulation. Shoulders creep up to the ears, chins jut forward, upper backs round. Slouching happens, seemingly naturally, without constant awareness. Chronic postural challenges overburden the antagonist, or opposite, muscles to keep us upright, and the result are painful. Bodywork is an excellent technique for addressing these issues.

Yet… there’s a piece of the puzzle that often gets overlooked. It’s not what you think! Or rather, the problem is often not where we feel the pain. Merely rubbing, squeezing, or pummeling the overstretched and achy muscles does not address the imbalance at its source. Certainly it does provide relief and accelerates the release of toxins and the flow of fresh blood and oxygen, which is important; but targeting the symptom does not allow for any lasting change to occur.

I noticed in all five of my clients yesterday that the muscles on the left side, in the front of their necks were super tight. This is the exact opposite location of the complaint that the right back of the neck hurt. I was personally not surprised to find this. I noticed such patterns in the beginning of my career after doing the first two or three hundred sessions. Yet the clients were incredulous. They had no idea that tightness in their pecs and anterior deltoids and anterior necks were causing the pain. I explained that the body craves structural balance and that overuse in one area creates a reaction in the body that is often felt in the weaker, opposite muscles. (I am reminded of Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” and wish I had a better understanding of science so I could tie it in here. Alas, I don’t, so I will leave that to someone else and stick with the experiential data at my disposal.)

These revelations have led me to believe in the power of a full body massage. It’s all connected! An imbalance in the right ankle can ricochet up the body, lodging eventually in the neck or jaw. Imbalance in one area of the body affects the surrounding areas. Sometimes it is the surrounding areas that complain more loudly and capture our attention. Of course it is important to acknowledge the pain that a client is feeling and to address that area. AND it is equally as important, if not more so, to look at the big picture and question why? Why is the right shoulder tight? Where is the tension originating? How can this structure be supported in returning to neutral? Once we begin to explore these arenas, the benefits resulting from bodywork grow exponentially.