I Can Bend!

These were the words of my elated client as she walked out of my door this morning. She had arrived 45 minutes earlier, stooped and fatigued, wearing slippers because she was unable to tie her shoes. Being a landscape artist causes her to misuse and abuse her body all day long, constantly. Being a determined and driven woman led her to push on through until the pain was unbearable. 

It’s not uncommon for people to be in extreme discomfort when they finally seek my help. I do my best to educate folks that bodywork is most effective as a maintenance practice, rather than emergency care, and that if they commit to listening to the body’s signals they can avoid pain altogether. Often times the suggestion of daily stretching is met with a look usually reserved for divorce lawyers and dental drills, and routine massage schedules fall by the wayside. 

Like I said, I do my best to educate clients. When their resistance to self-care outweighs my informative presentation, I’m always willing to offer support when it is urgently needed. I wish they wouldn’t wait until they can’t bend to call me, but when they do, I’m humbled and filled with gratitude to have the skill and training to promote bendability when it’s lacking. 

Time for My Meltdown

This morning a lady arrived for her weekly massage and announced, “Time for my meltdown!” I was surprised at first, because generally speaking a meltdown is a traumatic and dramatic event. Then it hit me- she was referring to the feeling of melting from the inside out. I couldn’t help but to smile at this beautiful concept. Meltdown = rubdown + enhanced inner peace. What a lovely way to describe the work I enjoy doing!

Yesterday, I gave a Reiki/massage combo to a sweet young lady who was having a stressful day. I started off with some balancing Reiki to move any stuck energy out of her mind and body, and could feel her sink deeply into the treatment. Afterwards she told me that she had been worried about having a breakdown on the table. While this is not uncommon during bodywork as emotions often get stirred up and pushed to the surface for release, it is often uncomfortable for clients who are shy about expressing heavy emotions or crying in front of others. She confided in me that instead of a breakdown, she had been able to release all the gunk she had been holding onto without the tears or upset. She instead had a meltdown!

When it comes to stress, the psyche runs the show, but the body pays the price. We get worn down by incessantly thinking that there’s never enough time to do what we need to do, that we’re running in place, that we always need to be on guard. These feelings weaken our energy flow, making our immune systems vulnerable, and creating an opening for illness. Gentle, nurturing touch and energy healing helps people let go of the thoughts and emotions that are the true source of most of the discomfort and pain in the body. Creating a safe, compassionate space for people to relax and restore is a surefire way to enhance health and well-being. How lucky am I that I get to be a facilitator of this beautiful process!?!?

Speak UP!!

I can’t express strongly enough how important it is for clients to speak up during a bodywork session if they are uncomfortable for any reason or think their needs are not being met. If you are receiving a treatment, that time is for you, for your healing and benefit, and you are ultimately in control. Clients often tell me that they are nervous about their massage because the last time they were on the table, it hurt, and they were afraid to speak up. I am here to encourage you to never ever, never ever allow someone else, even a trained professional that you have hired, hurt you. And if they try to tell you to breathe through it or that pain is necessary to achieve your results, you have the power to end the session.

Over the past eleven years, I’ve had a handful of complaints from clients. The befuddling thing is, usually they don’t complain to me, but to the front desk. After the session is over. And after it is possible to rectify the situation. Someone complained once that I used too much oil, another that the lights were too bright, and one that there was too much noise in the spa. Once I passed a man I had just massaged in the waiting area, seething because his wife hadn’t come out yet. Her therapist was gifting her with extra time, and he was so angry about waiting that he complained I shorted his time, even though he was happy when we parted. These episodes were all quirky issues that I couldn’t really have done much to fix. The legitimate complaint that surfaces once or twice every year or so is that I didn’t use enough pressure.

I’m pretty tuned in to a client’s nervous system and am reading their muscles’ responses during a massage. Generally, I am using enough pressure to encourage release without triggering a defensive reaction. That means that I never want my client to feel pain while on the table; they might very well feel some discomfort if their goal is therapy for an injury or unsticking a long term stuck-ness; but not actual pain. So naturally the client who believes “if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working” is not a good match for me. Overall, I’m pretty good at weeding this personality type out, and either educating them to my approach, or admitting that I can’t meet their needs. Sometimes, though, they slip through the cracks, and end up feeling frustrated on my table.

The reason I encourage people to speak up, is not to demand that I do what they want, but to at least make it possible. If someone is wanting more pressure than I am willing to deliver, if they ask, I can explain my reasons. If theydisagree, and the session is just beginning, we can stop, and they can go on their way without paying, and find a more suitable match. A few weeks ago, I was working on a woman who had run a marathon the day before. Essentially, her muscles were traumatized. She asked for more pressure, and I slightly increased to the maximum I felt appropriate, and she commented “yeah, that’s good.” She answered “good” to my check-in during her turn-over, and again at the end. But she told the front desk that she kept waiting for more pressure. If she had repeated her request, or been truthful during the check-ins, I would have explained that I was worried about impeding circulation in muscles that desperately needed fresh oxygen delivered and toxins to be carried away, that her fight or flight response was already right on the edge, and that I was supporting her desired goal of relaxation and circulation by using a medium-firm pressure. If she disagreed with my technique, I would have offered to stop then and there. We were only 15 minutes into a 60 minute session, so I wouldn’t have charged her and she could have booked with a more aggressive therapist.

It is really important that clients learn to stand up for themselves. Don’t be afraid to speak up, especially if the bodywork is hurting and you haven’t requested an intense session. Don’t ever let your therapist bully you, or believe that they know more than you do about your own body. If your temperature or position is uncomfortable, let us know- we can help you! We don’t want you to be shivering or wish your head was half an inch higher. It is our job to make you comfortable. It is your job to tell us if you are not. If you have special needs, it’s best to discuss them ahead of time so the therapist can decline or be prepared as they see fit. If you’re wanting something and you’re not getting it- ASK! Don’t wait until it’s over and too late. You might not receive exactly what you’re wanting, but at least you won’t have to pay for something you don’t.

Less is More

“Less is More.” This is a seemingly- heretical philosophy I learned while studying the gentle, energetic bodywork called Ortho-Bionomy. Over the course of giving more than 6,000 massages in the last ten years, I realize that this quite frequently applies to sessions I have given and received. I could expand this theory into many aspects of my life as well, but that is too big a task for this post. How I can most efficiently interpret the phrase “less is more” as it relates to massage in my humble opinion, is to say that bodies very often are more responsive to a gentle touch than to extreme pressure. When I say very often, I mean in 99% of the time, in my experience. Very often.

Yet, popular culture would have us believe that more is always better, or worse yet, “no pain, no gain”. This is essentially the antithesis of my work. Which is not to say that I never go deep, or that every moment of a therapeutic session is luxuriously pleasant. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to restore deep, postural muscles to their original, lengthened state. However, my approach is a slow, gentle one that works with the client’s ability to let go and breathe deeply. I call it a sneak attack and when performed well, the muscles don’t react because they never even knew I was coming. Once the nervous system perceives pain, or even anticipates pain, the fight or flight reflex kicks in and muscles tense, adrenaline is released, and the mind becomes super- alert. This is the exact opposite of the relaxation response in which stress and tension are released and the muscles soften.

It is a huge goal of mine to re-educate the public about the myth of more pressure being the antidote to soreness or pain. The object of healing or releasing tension is not how much “you can take” but rather how much you can release. Bracing yourself to experience deep work in the name of relief is as effective as drinking a triple shot of espresso and riding a roller coaster to help you sleep. People in our society are already super-stressed. Aggressive bodywork is perceived by the nervous system as more stress and most certainly does not create relaxation. It might create an absence of busy thoughts because the mind is focused on sensations, just as being in an emergency situation would focus the mind. This is not the same as relaxation, letting go, feeling safe, or being at peace; and these are the conditions necessary for healing to take place.

Somewhere humans have gotten off track and started believing that having more stuff is the key to happiness, that doing more is the key to freedom, that punishing our bodies will make us healthy. It is beyond time that we re-evaluate our beliefs according to our current values and the reality that we seem to be less happy, less free, less healthy than ever. I encourage everyone to take time out of their busy schedules to experience true relaxation in the form of a flowing, soothing Swedish massage and to feel the true benefits of escaping the adrenaline loop and enjoying the peacefulness that is our natural state. And begin to think about how doing less, spending less, feeling less pain can actually be more. More healthy. And more you.

Magic Hands

(reposted from Sept 2012)

Nearly every prenatal client in her 2nd or 3rd trimester comments that I have “magic hands” or have found the “magic spot.” Once the baby starts to show, ladies lie on their sides for a treatment. This position not only accommodates the changes to their bodies, but also allows easy access to the lateral rotator muscles of the hips and the gluteals. These muscles get unduly challenged during a pregnancy as it is their job to counterbalance the growing belly and keep women from falling forward. Once you understand muscle anatomy and the actions they perform, it really is no “secret”.

Nonetheless, I do enjoy hearing the deep breaths and sighs in the first few minutes of a prenatal massage when I hone in on the area that causes distress. Even though I have never been pregnant myself, I do know first-hand the relief and joy that one experiences when these deep muscles are overworked and achy and receive targeted bodywork. I know exactly where to find the tight spots because I have felt them myself from the inside out and on hundreds of clients. I often find myself reminding these ladies that I am, after all, a trained professional and it is my job to know these so-called tricks when they complain that their partners have failed to ease their pain.

There are so many benefits to both mother and child during prenatal massages. Circulatory, digestive, and lymphatic systems are stimulated, toxins are released from tissue for elimination, the nervous system is soothed, and muscle fibers are elongated. The body’s natural healing ability is boosted when one is relaxed, and hormones are better regulated and swelling reduced. Sleep quality is improved, along with moodiness and clarity. I could easily argue that these benefits increase the well-being of those who live with a pregnant lady. For this reason, I find that family members and partners are often eager to learn massage techniques to apply at home. Getting professional bodywork greatly enhances one’s health and comfort level; why not supplement by taking a class or getting a private lesson from a therapist? With a little training, everyone can discover their very own magic hands.

Creating Sacred Space

Yesterday one of my clients paid me the best compliment ever after her massage. She said, “You create great sacred space.”

Wow! I was speechless for a moment. What a lovely observation, and such a kindness for her to share it. I believe that creating space is a necessary foundation for effective bodywork. In fact, I’ll take it one step further to say that it is the bridge between a therapeutic massage and healing. I strive to see the art of touch as a sacred act and to witness the divinity within each and every one of my clients. The most advanced massage techniques are rendered powerless if the person receiving them does not feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. In order for someone to truly let go and relax, they need to trust their therapist. Creating sacred space is the key for making this happen.

Sacred space can be created anywhere at anytime. It has absolutely nothing to do with fountains or statues or crystals. Of course, these items can be included and no doubt contribute to the healing energy of a treatment room. However, in my eyes, sacred space is actually more a way of being than one of doing. In my humble opinion, bringing one’s awareness fully into the present moment while remaining fully centered in the heart and unconditional love is the basic recipe for creating sacred space. It can be done on a crowded subway car, a desert cliff, a grocery store, bedroom, temple, office, or beach. It only takes a second, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to remember that the divine is within us all.

Don’t Look at Me!

Several times each week, I work with clients who desire the benefits of massage, but are obviously anxious or even terrified about getting undressed. As a recovering shame-aholic, I understand this dilemma completely. When you dislike your body, you want to hide it. You don’t want anyone to know your secrets of imperfection for fear of being rejected or humiliated. I lived most of my adult life like this. It’s debilitating and isolating to experience the world through these lenses. As a compassionate person and professional therapist, I want everybody to be 100% comfortable during each session, so I take the time to explain that I will leave the room while clients undress as much or as little as they wish, and that they will be covered and their privacy protected. Yet I often still recognize that look of panic in their eyes while we are chatting before the session begins.

One day after working with a client like this, I was bicycling home and came across a hawk resting on a fence. I stopped to witness this creature’s majestic presence. I contemplated how regal this bird looked and felt a wave of inspiration. This hawk has never, not once, been ashamed of it’s body or feathers or beak. It has never thought, “Oh, if only I was sleeker or faster or more colorful.” It does not sit around criticizing itself or categorizing its faults. It just simply is. A hawk accepts itself exactly as it is, without a need to compare itself to another. (Or at least, so I imagine!) Can you visualize a beautiful bird like this hiding its head under its wing whimpering, “Don’t look at me! I’m not worthy. I’m just a hawk. I should have been an eagle.”??? NO!

So why do we humans treat ourselves this way? I believe it’s because we’ve forgotten who we truly are; that we are unique individuals with talents and passions that contribute to a better world; that we are worthy of being loved and accepted just the way we are. Not because of what we’ve done to prove this worth, but just simply for being ourselves. What a relief it is to drop the constant stream of self-criticism and to relax into the comfort of self-acceptance. I invite you to try an experiment and invoke the spirit of the magnificent hawk next time you feel doubts about your appearance, performance, or worthiness. It’s impossible to feel ashamed about anything when you’re in the flow of proud hawk energy.