How Did I Get Into Massage?

022.JPGBack in the 1990’s, I was finished with college, had a BA from UCF in Anthropology, and worked at a restaurant. One of my coworkers told me how proud he was of his girlfriend, who was graduating from massage therapy school. I asked if it was like physical therapy, and he explained that it was kind of similar, with more emphasis on relaxation. This was the first time I had heard of this career choice and I found it a bit intriguing.

One day, a massage therapist ate at our restaurant and gave his waiter some business cards to pass out, with a coupon on the back for a free half hour massage, or a whole hour for the price of half. I was working four doubles that week, so I woke up on my day off, interestingly with the words, “The Laying On Of Hands” in my head. This quickly reminded me of the coupon, and I called to make an appointment. The therapist chided me a little for calling and expecting an appointment the same day, but he was able to get me into his schedule.

I went to his office, which was decorated with a combination of new age music, crystals, incense and walls of very clinical looking anatomy posters. I was 23 years old and had never had a massage. My goodness, the massage felt wonderful, and one thing that stood out to me was that the massage woke me up to an awareness of my body I had somehow lost. When he massaged my feet, it was like, “Oh yeah! I have feet!”

I loved massage therapy and saw this practitioner a few more times. I would look around his treatment room at the anatomical posters and the crystals, and think, hey, I could do this! This job is like a meditation in motion and a dance! Oh, but my Dad only paid for my first four years of college and that’s it. If only there was financial aid….

And one day, I picked up an alternative magazine in Orlando, where I lived, and there was an ad for a massage school and the words “Financial aid available.”

The rest is history, folks! I signed up for massage school right away, including my school’s advanced program, a detailed program about four months long that went much deeper in learning than the six month basic program. The advanced program included not just how to relax someone, but also very specific training in treating common pathologies in each area of the body, giving me plenty of competence and confidence. I took ten months of massage school, and graduated at the top of my class. Now, here I am at your service, nearly twenty years later. How may I help you?

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“I’m Too Fat to Get a Massage”

I have heard, over my 18 ½ years as a massage therapist, of a few cases where somebody said they thought they were too fat to get a massage. They would be too embarrassed or too shy about their form, perhaps even thinking a therapist wouldn’t want to touch them.

Well, I want to tell you something about massage therapists, or at least about me, because I can only truly speak for myself: I see the human body as a miracle, a living wonder. When you are on my table, it is my intention to be the embodiment of compassion. You are an amazing being, a precious and unique soul who has come to me for healing and soothing. I do not come to my table with judgment, but with love in my heart.

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Massage by a professional massage therapist is referred to sometimes as “safe touch”. It can be very healing to people who have experienced unsafe or hurtful touch like abuse by another human. “Safe touch” is also healing to people with body image issues like those suffering from eating disorders. Allowing yourself to receive a massage is a huge gift to yourself and your self-worth.

So, please be kind to yourself. It might take you outside of your comfort zone at first to try something new, but it is absolutely worth it. Make a resolution to be more loving to yourself, to befriend and fall in love with the wonder of who you are. Take baby steps, a massage here, meditation there, a soak in the hot tub, a pedicure, etc. Treat yourself. Nurture yourself and employ those who provide nurturing services to you as well.

I have worked on all shapes and sizes of people. I am fascinated by, and stand in great appreciation of, the variety of human forms.

No, you are not too fat to get a massage.

Massage Your Boobies!

I have to be honest with you. When October comes, I don’t wear pink clothes or ribbons or even like to see the “pink-washing”, as some people call it today. I have doubts, huge doubts, that this pink campaign does anything to help prevent or cure breast cancer.

Yes, if you get a mammogram, or thermography, it can help you find cancer if you already have it. And perhaps the pink campaign gets some women to get checked when they hadn’t yet, or maybe weren’t planning on it.

But why isn’t there more emphasis on prevention????

I think one of the very biggest things you can do is increase circulation in and around your breast tissue. Massage your breasts, and massage them often. Massage will increase circulation of blood, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the area, and sweeps away toxins. You will also increase movement in your lymphatic system, which has no pump of its own. Lymph is moved mostly by muscle movement or massage. Our breasts have a lot of lymphatic tissue in them, and there are many lymph glands in the underarm and along the sternum (breastbone).

According to Eastern therapies like Acupuncture and Shiatsu, stagnant energy and stagnant circulation can definitely lead to dis-ease in the body.

Now, imagine what happens when we spend 8, 12, maybe even 18 hours with our breasts squeezed into the confines of our bras. How good can the circulation be? Not good at all. The pressure will compress the tissue, compress the blood vessels, compress the lymph, such that circulation is limited. Do you ever reach a point during your day when you suddenly must take your bra off? Your breasts demand it? They’ve had enough, and they need to breathe. Remember, your blood carries oxygen to your breast tissue. Cancer does not survive well in oxygen. It survives better in acidic, stagnant tissue.

So, if you must wear a bra, and I know many of our more buxom sisters do need the support, wear one, but please, please massage your breasts. Massage them through your bra, which I am sure is best done in private in our culture. So, do it in the car, do it in the bathroom while you pee, do it walking around your house, just please do it.

And then, at the end of the day, take your bra off. Let those precious orbs of love and nurturing get some fresh air, or at least breathing room in your shirt. And massage them from above, below, and from the sides. Knead, glide, lift, move. Work on the pectoral

Blue Footed Booby in the Galapagos Islands

Blue Footed Booby in the Galapagos Islands

muscles on your chest as well. Massage them in the bath, in the shower, in bed, waiting for the teapot to boil, or waiting for your computer to power on. Love and appreciate them. Get your sweetheart involved. He or she will love to massage them for you, maybe even with a natural massage oil like olive or coconut. And, this is an “everybody wins” activity. So come on ladies, massage your boobies!

A Year of Monthly Massage

Susie is a wife, a mother, and a hard working professional. Like many people, she believed she was too busy for massage. Then one day, her husband got a great idea. He called me up and asked if he could buy a year’s worth of monthly massages for her for her birthday. I was moved by this man’s love of his wife. He said he knew if she got it into her on-going schedule, like her hair appointments or pedicures, she would realize that she can fit it in.

At the midpoint in our year, during the intake part at the beginning of her appointment, I noted, “This is massage number six in your year of monthly massages.”

She quickly replied, “The best year ever!”

We both laughed, but it’s true!

Regularly scheduled massages make a difference in one’s life. As a recipient of massages, myself, I love it for stress reduction, a chance to surrender during my busy week. When I get a massage in the middle of a hectic day or time in my life, I treasure it. I often say something like, “Hooray, an appointment where I get to lay down and relax!”

Massage therapists manually treat our muscles via kneading, gliding, stretching and other modalities that increase our circulation, improving the health and tone of our muscles. A therapist can treat areas of chronic tension or pain, and even help correct postural distortions. But another important factor is the way the therapist communicates with a client’s nervous system. Beginning with simply placing hands on you and holding them stationary, for instance, the therapist lets your nervous system know, via a calm, gentle “Hello”, that this is safe touch, which calms the nerves further, encourages deeper breathing, and helps with the release of tension in the muscles. The therapist helps guide your body from a stressed state, even a “fight or flight” response (a function of the Sympathetic Nervous System) caused by deadlines, life changes, bosses, anxiety, etc., to your “resting and digesting mode” (a function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System).

Our bodies were not designed to be under stress constantly with our adrenal glands over-stimulated. The fight or flight response is really meant for extreme danger, but the many stresses people sometimes experience in the modern world can put our nervous system in that mode. Here’s where massage comes in handy, bringing us back to “resting and digesting”. It’s like a reset and a reminder of our calmer way of being.

Now it’s up to us to take that feeling of relaxation and renewal with us after an appointment, and maintain it with healthy choices for self-care such as stretching, exercise, hot baths, yoga, meditation, creative outlets and drinking plenty of water.

Try prioritizing self-care more, and see how it affects your life, busy as it may be. You might find you have more energy and more to give. Feel free to comment here and let me know about your experience.

Relax and Nurture with a Therapeutic Bath

I love baths because I find the water element so healing. In various healing traditions, astrology, tarot, and other symbolic contexts, the water element is often representative of the emotional realm.

I have noticed that visiting a large body of water, immersing myself in the ocean or a swimming hole, sitting by a powerful waterfall, or watching a river flow by, can all be therapeutic to me. In the case of swimming, and especially floating, there’s surrender in it. There’s something about the way water hugs us that is reassuring, maybe reminiscent of the womb. But if I can only be by the sea at night or during a storm, and can’t go swimming, it still soothes me. It’s vast and comforting, bigger and deeper than my deepest woes.

What’s a busy person to do when she or he needs the healing power of water but lives in a landlocked area and doesn’t have time for a beach or river trip? Take a bath.

There’s an art to bath taking. It’s way more than filling the tub and getting in (though it can be that simple). Below are some of my favorite elements to incorporate to personalize my therapeutic bath time.

I usually start by cleaning the tub before I run a bath for myself, or our children. It’s nice to start with a fresh tub, and worth the two minutes of scrubbing and rinsing the bathtub.

I usually run my baths pretty hot, but I lean more toward simply warm during the summer so I don’t overheat myself. While the water is running, it’s time to add bubbles, salts, or essential oils. I often add calming lavender essential oil to my bath water with a few drops of Earthy, grounding patchouli essential oil.

Music makes bath time more relaxing for me, and to be honest, a little less boring. If I am stressed, I don’t want to listen to worry and mind chatter. I’d rather hear classical music, or something melancholy or soulful on Pandora, like Elephant Revival or Madeline Peyroux.

I light candles, turn off the light, and crack the window open a little for fresh air and some nature sounds.

I gather various supplies for self-nurturing. I usually bring some cool drinking water, but may also bring hot tea, or even beer or wine. I might bring a washcloth, rose water spray, a bath brush or loofah, a nailbrush, and/or a pumice stone.

I often oil my skin with a mini-massage before a shower or bath, using olive or coconut oil. This helps with my circulation, and also protects my skin from being stripped of its oils by the hot water. I may massage myself more during the bath, or stretch, using the warmth of the bath to make my muscles suppler. A seated forward bend is easy to do in the tub, and it helps stretch hamstrings which are tight on many people. I have even stood facing the corner and basically did my famous “doorway stretch” in the tiled corner, opening my bath-warmed pectoral muscles, thus opening my posture. Got carpal tunnel syndrome? Do your forearm stretches in the bath. You’ve got time…

One of my favorite additions to bath time has been the honey facial. After I have washed my face gently with hot bath water, giving the pores some time to open in the steamy bathroom, I pat my face dry, and then I apply a little honey to my face and upper chest. The darker the honey is, the better, because it contains more antioxidants for my skin. It doesn’t take much more than about a spoonful. I leave the honey on for about 15 minutes, estimating time by the number of songs that have played on my laptop. Then I gently rinse. After the bath I moisturize, usually with coconut oil.

What else would make your bath just right? Padded bath pillows are nice for comfort, for instance. How about a friend? My fiancé sometimes visits me during bath time, and I think he also takes comfort in the water element and the soothing environment I create, even though he usually sits outside the tub and chats with me or holds my hand. I also have mother-daughter baths with my little girl, passing on the fine art of relaxing in the bath.

I feel truly blessed to have a home with a bathtub, and to have hot running water at the turn of a knob. This is one of the ways I heal and nurture myself, filling my own cup, so I can then give to my family and my clients and students.

Therapeutic Massage is Not a Luxury!

Are you too busy for a massage? Say it isn’t so! That means you are TOO busy. Slow down and take care of yourself, because if you won’t, who will? Massage therapy is an essential part of preventative health care. Sure, you can go get a massage when you’ve already hurt your back or when you’ve let yourself get so stressed out that your shoulders are hiked up to your ears with tension, but why wait? Why have that pain at all? Use massage therapy as it is intended, not as a luxury, not as a quick fix, but as an important part of your healthy lifestyle. If you are one of the folks that already does this for themselves, I sincerely congratulate you because I can tell you after over sixteen years experience in the massage field that it is a rare individual who will give herself the gift of regularly scheduled massages. Massage therapy has many benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Put yourself in the hands of a licensed professional, and experience them.

Most people think of massage therapy as simply working with your muscles, but when your practitioner touches you, she is actually communicating with your nervous system. The therapist usually begins by gently laying hands on you so the primitive side of your nervous system can interpret this as a safe touch. The speed and pressure a massage therapist uses with her strokes activates the parasympathetic nervous system, your “resting and digesting” mode, and turns off your “fight or flight” mode known as the sympathetic nervous system. This is how massage therapy induces relaxation and reduces stress. At first an ancient protection against predators like bears, the human “fight or flight” response is often over-stimulated these days by the pressures of our world—-hectic schedules, deadlines, conflicts with other people, etc. Too much of this mode stresses your adrenal glands, causing exhaustion. Massage and other relaxation techniques are a great solution.

Massage helps you breathe more deeply, by activating the parasympathetic response and by decreasing tension in the muscles that may restrict your breathing. Deep breathing is good for whole-body health because it brings in healing oxygen, clears out toxins, and relaxes the mind. The action of the diaphragm gives all your internal organs a massage, which makes them function better. Massage is great for digestion because of this as well as the “resting and digesting” mode, which increases circulation to the organs. Sometimes your therapist will even work on your abdomen, massaging clockwise to encourage healthy movement in the colon.

Massage increases circulation to your muscles and throughout your body. Your arteries, which carry blood away from the heart, have a pumping action that mimics the heart and pushes the blood to your extremities, but your veins and your lymphatic vessels have no pumps. They rely on muscle movement or muscle manipulation to get the fluids moving back up toward the heart. Good circulation brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells and tissues of your body while sweeping away the toxins and byproducts of muscle contractions and cellular functions.

Massage therapy is also good for muscle tone. If your muscles are tense from overuse, or stiff from lack of use, manipulation by a trained professional will provide the circulation as discussed above and make your muscles healthy once again. Healthy muscle tissue feels firm yet elastic.

Sufferers of chronic pain find relief through massage. Relaxing a stressed nervous system helps calm down the nerve impulse firing the pain message toward the brain. The nerves sending the “tighten up” message to the muscle will be calmed as well. The increase in circulation induced by massage heals the muscles and connective tissue. Your therapist may also work on muscles that pull your posture off balance, and the resulting restoration of balance takes the strain off the troubled muscles so they can heal more easily. Some therapists also suggest stretches for you to do on your own, which will empower you in the healing process and give you more lasting results.

Remember to drink plenty of water, especially after you get a massage, to support your kidneys as they flush out the toxins your increased circulation has swept from your muscles. When you get treatment for chronic pain, you may need to apply ice to the affected area later that night, to control inflammation and facilitate healing. On the day of your massage, avoid taking anti-inflammatory drugs, which inhibit the increase in circulation and undo the hard work your therapist has done

How often should you get massage? I strive to get my treatments once per week, but at the very least once per month. If you are healing a chronic problem you will need massage more often to get a cumulative effect between treatments and get the desired results. Tight budget? Even a half hour treatment does wonders, so call one of your wonderful local massage therapists today!

Who knew getting walked on could feel so good?

Apparently the Japanese did. Barefoot Shiatsu is a form of massage that works with the flow of energy through your body along lines called meridians (the same ones as in Chinese acupuncture). The energy flows through your body, supporting the various systems. If the energy gets blocked (think of it like a kink in a hose), the body manifests illness or pain. Using hand, foot, or thumb pressure, or stretching, I unblock the flow for you, helping balance your body.

Barefoot Shiatsu is done on a padded mat on the floor. You wear loose comfortable clothing, like a t-shirt and sweat pants. The treatment is a combination of passive stretching and compression applied with hands, feet, or thumbs. It is relaxing and rejuvenating. Because it is designed to work with the flow of your energy meridians, it is usually more energizing afterward than a Swedish massage.

I use my feet to work on your back. Does it hurt? Not usually. I place a stool or chair nearby when I work on your back, and I am able to lean my weight on the chair to regulate how much weight I put on you. The first time I received a Barefoot Shiatsu treatment, the practitioner was a stout man, and when he walked on my back it didn’t even hurt. As in Swedish massage, a particularly sore or tight area may hurt a little when it is worked on.

Through years of experience, I have developed impressive palpation skills with my feet. In layman’s terms, that means that not only do I “see” with my hands when I work on people, but I can also “see” with my feet. It’s pretty cool what the human body can do!

Why do I treat the abdomen?

I have been massaging for about fifteen years, the first half of that time in Orlando, the second half in Tallahassee.  I have had my hands on hundreds, maybe thousands of bodies.  My training in Orlando included an advanced program at Florida College of Natural Health, where one of my teachers always emphasized balance in posture.

I work on people’s abdomens.  Many therapists do not.  Most of my clients say, “Nobody has ever worked on my abdomen before.”  I tell them I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave it out.

My best guess as to why therapists don’t treat bellies is that they were not trained adequately.  A lot of schools must not spend much time teaching abdominal massage, so therapists probably feel less confidant in their abilities on that part of the body, and maybe some LMT’s think clients don’t want their bellies treated.  So many therapists skip it.  And really, since our tummies house our vital organs and are such a vulnerable part of the body, who wants an inadequately trained therapist poking around there?

The abdomen is also a place where people may guard themselves because it is a seat of emotion in the body and they guard their emotional selves.  If a therapist who didn’t know what he was doing attempted to treat an abdomen and he was feeling unsure, the client would, on a body level, pick up on the sketchy vibe and most likely, muscles would tighten up instinctively for protection.

That’s why it’s best to leave it up to me.  I approach the belly with confidence and competence.  I have you resting on your back, with your knees bent up and your feet on the table, creating slack in your surface abdominal muscles.  I always tell you what I am doing and why.  First, I gently place both hands on your abdomen and move them in a wavelike circular motion, warming up the area, and letting your body know with slow and gentle movement that I am not a threat.  This clockwise, circular wave motion follows the flow of the large intestine, increasing blood circulation, aiding digestion and elimination. Then I gradually work deeper.  All the work is gradual and methodical.

My clients are glad I do it.  I help them with digestion, postural distortions, and lower back pain. 

Regarding digestion, when blood circulation increases in the internal organs, it brings oxygen and nutrients to the digestive organs.  This makes each organ better able to absorb what the body needs to take in, and/or get rid of what it needs to eliminate.  Not only do you better gain vitality from the food, but you also have more energy left over from efficient digestion to do other things you love.  Pretty cool, huh?

In various schools of Asian medicine, massaging the abdomen is considered a very important part of good health, for that very reason.

But wait, there’s more.  Regarding postural distortions and back pain, I treat the surface and deep abdominal muscles as well.  One leading culprit in lower back pain is the psoas (pronounced like SO AS), a muscle situated deep in the belly, attached to the front of the spine.  I know just where to find it and I can treat it for you.  Just today a woman I’d treated a couple weeks ago told me she had been skeptical when I had told her that something deep in her belly would help her lower back pain, but she let me work on her abdomen anyway, and she was pleased to find that it relieved her pain.

Have you ever heard the superstition that it’s good luck to rub the belly of a Buddha statue?  I am certain it is even better luck for you to rub your own belly or have it rubbed by a professional!

Why I Like to Receive 90-Minute Massages

I like to get 90-minute massages.  For years, I almost always got 6o-minute massages, then my LMT friend, Dawn, and I were setting up a trade and she suggested we do ninety minutes.  This was about two years ago.  Wow, I don’t know how I made it 12 or 13 years as a massage therapist, often giving long massages, but never really thinking to get more than an hour myself.  Now, I won’t settle for anything less. 

I like 90-minute massages because the therapist takes time on each section of the body to really work in depth.  The therapist can work on more than just one or two of my areas that seem tight or sore, and still work thoroughly on the other areas that may need it too, but may not have been sending out as much of a pain signal. 

Everything is connected.  Fascia is one big network.  Treating one muscle group affects the whole body, and so does not treating a muscle group. Skipping the legs for instance, can affect the whole body.  Maybe kneading the Achilles tendons above the heel will release tension enough on the connective tissue to finally loosen up the tension at the base of my skull. 

During the long treatment, my therapist takes time to soothe my nervous system, working slowly enough to allow the nerves to be calm and signal the muscles it is safe to relax and let the therapist work more deeply. 

Getting a nice long massage on a regular basis helps me remember what I do for my clients.  It also promotes body awareness.  The therapist’s touch brings my attention to various muscle groups, and helps me check in with my body regularly.  I can notice that my hips are not so tight anymore, or gosh, this is the third massage in a row where I noticed my abdomen was really tight; what can I do differently? 

I deserve this!  I deserve to be soothed and healed.  I deserve to lay down for ninety minutes in the middle of a busy day or week.  I deserve the oil soaking in and nourishing my skin.  I deserve to release the tension I have been carrying. 

I deserve good circulation to my muscles and tissues, healthy digestion, stress reduction, all the benefits of massage really occurring because I took the time to receive. 

And as I pointed out before, in my recent blog, I deserve things that nurture and feed me, that fill my cup and energize me so I have more to give to others.