The discussion started over a microwave. I had a cute black one, relatively new, that I used infrequently but needed for warming soup in the winter. (Cold soup + February in Maine = sad face). My officemate Jean needed one for warming up little things to put on her clients’ trigger points.
“Once I work a point,” she said, gesturing briefly, “I’d like to use a small hot bag of something – that I make myself, probably filled with rice? – heated in a microwave. If I put it on that spot after I’ve worked it, when I come back it’s all mushy and the tenderness and tension is gone.”
“Well, I have a microwave that I don’t use often. I can clean it out for you. If you don’t mind putting it on your desk…we can share it. You, for your clients, and me, for my lunch!”
Jean and I were at this thing for about eight months now. She had an office, I had an office, and we shared a small waiting room and tiny bathroom. There were some initial hiccups to our co-habitating, as can be expected from any two professionals who are working alongside one another for the first time, one of whom had been there for years and set in her ways (me) the other who was new to the space and ready to establish her practice (Jean).
I will admit I was initially horrified that I had to share – what was supposed to be shared anyway – my working space. Somehow I thought I’d have it to myself forever. I was also horrified at my freakish displays of territorialism, snobbery and self-importance. I really thought I was a much nicer person than all that.
But I liked Jean, from the get-go. So that meant I had to get over myself. We sparred a little, then happily we established some mutually beneficial protocols. Not that we weren’t ever going to have conflict again, but I was heartened we had passed our first test. If we could get through our first summer together (summer + Maine = busy busy MTs) I knew we’d be alright.
It made me really happy that my hardly-used yet rather nice microwave could benefit us both.
“Yeah, when you put heat on a muscle all the toxins get pushed out. I go back into work it, and the knot’s practically melted away,” she continued.
“Don’t you find,” I said, “that it’s also such an emotional response, having something warm on the place that you don’t like? I know I put so much negative energy towards a spot that hurts. That spot,” I said, grabbing at my lumbars where my scoliosis curves out palpably.
“Yeah, that spot!” Jean replied and poked at her hip.
“It fills me with all kinds of upsetness, just thinking about it,” I said, and Jean agreed. “When I get it massaged, sometimes I put even more mental, accusatory energy towards the part that’s bothered, simply because the therapist is working it and I’m just like, yeahhhh yeah yeah! Kill it!”
“But when he or she lets it go, and then throws a hot thing on it, that instant gratification is so overwhelmingly positive, all my nerves in that area just go ‘zzzzt’ and the brain has nothing to say but fleh. And then I can relax, more deeply than ever, because my storyline about it is silenced. It’s like lifting the needle on the turntable: the album is still spinning, but the noise has stopped.”
We both knew that because most of us equate warmth with comfort – perhaps leftover from our in utero days, when we first experienced life as nothing but cushy meals in a 98.6 degree bath? – incorporating heat into session works. It works because it flushes out the sludge in a trigger point. It also works because being warm makes people feel good.
I’ve been using hot towels in my sessions for years. I heat them in an old, reliable crock pot. Believe me, it took some trial and error (the smell of scorched towels is not optimum aromatherapy, let me tell you) but now I’ve got a system where I am more or less constantly wrapping or draping my clients in towels that I scent with Young Living essential oils.
I keep the towels dry, so as they cool the client’s skin doesn’t wind up damp, which invites chill. I have three different sizes, so that I can either tuck them under shoulder joints or drape them over the back when prone, or roll them up under the neck when supine. And can I just say: feet. People’s feet can be cold 365 days a year. And who can relax with cold piggies? Not I!
Applying heat mid-session gives the client a nice surprise, a veritable “yikesooooh!” to the nervous system. It’s not for everyone: besides contraindications, there’s client preference. (My one client, as I lovingly tucked in her shoulder towels while she nestled her noggin in the face cradle, gave it 20 seconds before calling out in a muffled yet unmistakable tone of pique, “Okay, what is that supposed to do? ‘Cause all it’s doing is making me HOT.”)
But “Loves the hot towels,” is a frequent client note I take. I’ve had people open their eyes and look at me appreciatively or say “ahhhh!” as if they’re viewing fireworks. Anything that elicits this kind of response, in my book, gets checkmarks in both the therapeutic and pleasurable box. As the Brits say: spot on.
Ischemia is reduced blood flow, ergo reduced oxygen. Where there’s no oxygen, there’s no fire: muscles bind, blood chunks, hearts close. There’s no warmth in a place that’s not kindred. I’m grateful for all lessons of heat: it opens and restores. And makes it possible for two completely different practitioners to find common ground over a microwave.