News Flash: Massage Therapists do not have special magical powers!

I’ve said this, but Jill just said it best.

Bodywork Art

crystal-ballRecently an article came out on Facebook that went semi-viral in the massage circles that was titled “20 Secrets Massage Therapists know about your Body!” While the article had a few reasonable tidbits of valid information, for the most part it was packaged, or should I say, TWISTED into an article that will do nothing good for our profession. It could prevent first time clients from seeking massage therapy, and it supports stereotypes that are not serving our profession.

Additionally, it has proven to provide some form of validation to some massage therapists who are making false and unethical claims, and/or support working out of scope.  I want to be clear to state that I don’t blame those who contributed to the article for the end result.

The article is not so much the problem itself, but how many in the massage therapist community have responded to it. The article…

View original post 662 more words

Advertisements

How Little We Know

Here we are, the “end” of summer, and some of us wax nostalgic already for the season gone by. Never mind there’s still plenty gorgeous warm days ahead: we’re longing, pining, for all that’s gone, for all we didn’t do.

If you’re not careful, you just become a waxer and a piner. As if there were some L.L. Bean catalog photo spread that we’re all subconsciously aiming for. It slowly creeps into every facet of your life: all the fresh blueberry pancakes you didn’t eat. All the hot weekends you didn’t make it to the beach. The live music you missed along the harbor. The full moons, the rising suns.

Maybe because you were working 10-hour days all during June, July and August, huh? Maybe because your mom got real sick and you needed to be with her: a lot. Maybe you adopted a puppy, and puppies need care 24/7. Maybe you just don’t like crowds. Anyway, it’s over now, and you didn’t “have it all.”

Ahhh, alas. Alack.

Bummer, dude.

But don't make it sad, Cricket. I don't feel that way.

But don’t make it sad, Cricket. I don’t feel that way.

Over the years my practice has grown and I’ve been seeing more clients. It has taken a lot for me – with all my OCD, type-A, perfectionistic tendencies – to unload the shotgun of my ambitions. There’s nothing like seeing 5, 6 clients at a crack (which I don’t recommend for the long term) to get very serious with yourself about releasing immature notions of “getting it right.”

You cannot hold a fixed standard of perfection and meet each client successfully. Perfection is not what you do to a client, or even, who you are as a practitioner, but it’s only happens when the client has arrived in the room: only available for measure and observation in the moment when the two of you are conversing, negotiating, explaining, learning. Perfection is wholly immediate: not a split second earlier, or later.

So getting ramped up for seeing people: over-analyzing their issues or what you didn’t quite do enough of last time – or if they’re a new client, being more anxious than relaxed and happy at the prospect of meeting them and finding out what you can do for them – is not a substitute for being present to them during intake, massage, and finish-out. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog, but it bears repeating, mostly because I need reminding: Worry is not a substitute for paying attention. Neither is being all perfectionistic-y.

Also can I just say? Which I’m entitled to saying because, here again, I need to remind my ownself: playing teacher’s pet no longer entertains or amuses as one matures (or, at least, it shouldn’t). Most of us were lauded for our overweening efforts at getting straight As, or shots on goal, or the blue ribbon, when we were young. In the big-girl world, nobody likes a smart-ass, but that doesn’t keep us from still trying reeeeeeally hard: those of us whose perfectionism hasn’t died, only gone underground.

We’re not fooling anybody. It comes leaking out around the edges as addictions, excuses, anger and peevishness, and procrastination. As waxing and pining. If we think we have to get it right – first off, right out of the gate, every time – we’ll lay down an innumerable amount of barriers to prevent ourselves from even attempting the smallest introduction to the very thing we long to embrace: a project, a piece, a person.

Get to it.

Your client doesn’t want you to get it right.

Your client wants you to pay attention to them.

And, by the way….that goes for the rest of your life too.

So – WAKE UP! Guess what. It’s almost September. Open your eyes, your heart, your schedule, and don’t miss a single. Blessed. Minute. Even if you’re lying in the bright autumn sun for hours, not moving a muscle. Listening to old love songs. Resting. Like you deserve it or something.

Perfectionists live lives of sameness, wondering why new things never come. Perfectionism is the enemy of good, and good enough. But in an elemental way, perfectionism is the galactic enemy of action itself.

Bob Sullivan

and

All people long to write (this is natural and right) – but we become timid, anxious, perfectionists…The creative power does not come from ambition. Ambition injures it and makes it a nervous strain and hard work. Writing is not a performance but a generosity. Write to enlarge the soul. Work freely and rollickingly as if you were talking to a friend who loves you.

Francisco Stork

and

Maybe it happens this way
Maybe we really belong together
But after all, how little we know

— “How Little We Know” sung by Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not” by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael 1944

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #22. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

Up in Arms

Arlene! Oh Arlene. Arlene of the locked knees, protracted scapula, stiff fingers and unyielding arm. Some clients flop. This one juts.

When I first started seeing her 10 years ago, I would drape her left arm and she would shoot it out at me from up off the table, in virtual salute. Each finger would get extended, stiff as PVC pipe, as I attempted to massage her claw-like hand.

“I’ve got it,” i would remonstrate softly. “You don’t have to help.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, and the fingers remained unrepentant.

Arlene* is, in a word, crusty: old (will NOT tell me how, but I would guess late 60s for sure). In another word: classy. Well dressed, well spoken, well traveled. (She has flown the world in quest of the perfect fishing hole.)

Loves to dish the gossip on her road (we have mutual acquaintances), appreciates the bad luck of others, and finishes most phrases with “Isn’t that awful?” but under her handsaw exterior has one of the most warm, generous hearts.

I’ve never received so many thoughtful presents from someone: “Hope you like it!” she says and hands me a gift bag, nowhere near holidays or my birthday. She and her husband, transplants to Maine from the Pittsburgh area (another place we intersect: both from PA), spend every Christmas working with a local charity providing gifts to low-income families. When she goes on her lengthy shopping sprees, most of the time it’s for those kids.

It has taken ten years, but now she knows how to let go of her hands…sort-of lets me into her upper back…and almost unlocks her knees, I can only traction her legs once. Twice is a no-go, it’s like trying to lift twin jet skis without a forklift. I have gradually worked it down to just her left arm.

This left arm: this left arm. It is like trying to train a cat to fetch, is getting her to give me her arm.

I’ve tried everything: I’ve ignored it, I’ve tried to ply it, I’ve not massaged her arms, I’ve spent 10 minutes per arm. Nope. I’ve given her imagery:

“Pretend your arm is a great big overcooked noodle!”
“Drop your wrist into my hand.”
“Give me the full weight of your arm?”
“Relax your whollllle arm, from shoulder joint through elbow…through wrist…”
“Let go of your arm, Arlene.”
“Just…let go…”

None of this works, of course, because she was perfectly fine until I started fussing. She rouses from her somnolence, and, in attempting to make me happy, becomes self-conscious and the arm seizes up even further. I know: it’s my fault. I tried to make a difference, and I knew it wouldn’t work. But, I had to try. Right?

I had to make her arm let go. I WILL get that arm to let go.

One of my previous clients to Arlene told me of a saying that she learned from her yoga teacher: “1) Observe 2) Accept 3) Let Go.” She and I giggled ourselves purple over our own interpretations, as they are enacted in our lives: “1) Observe 2) Point Out 3) Point Out Again” and “1) Observe 2) Judge 3) Fume.”

Truth is funny.

There are two people in the room for Arlene’s massage session: Arlene, and me. Who is tenser? Who, actually, needs to let go?

I consider Arlene, and what I know of her life. Adopted. Raised Baptist. One of her daughters has become a man. Another wants to find a man to marry, but can’t. Arlene’s husband served in the Vietnam War, came home and attacked her in the middle of the night, thinking she was VietCong. He became a workaholic, consumed by his pediatric practice: she raised the family.

“I used to have my own life, before,” she told me once. “He would do his thing, and I would do mine. Now he’s with me all the time, and he can’t remember a thing, from one moment to the next. Not a damn thing.”

Her husband has PTSD.

“I just want to kill him,” she says to me, in a low whisper. “Isn’t that awful?”

I look into her face, expecting a laugh on lips, which I get. What I didn’t expect is the tears in her eyes, plain as day.

She doesn’t cry. Not for nuthin’.

“My daughter thinks I should be on anti-depressants,” she told me once, “This is my therapy.”

I consider that our arms are the extension of our heart: that what we do with them is an expression of our love, or how much love we can give…or take in. I also consider that, for her to relinquish any part of herself to another – even someone who she’s known for over ten years – is huge.

I observe this. And I accept it, whole thing, left arm and all. And, I let it go.

At least until next week. When I get to practice, all over again! Oh Arlene…

*name has been changed

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #21. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

On Serving: Table to Table

I’ve had food on my mind a lot lately, and not just because it’s harvest. To me, the correlation between good massage therapy and good table service is plain, so I’ve been talking about it. I did serve four years at the renowned Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine, and while I understand that four years is really not much at all, it did leave an indelible impression on me, and the things I learned at that wonderful, stressful job I have carried forward into my own practice.

Dining table to massage table: how does one, could one, “serve”?

Service industry work should be required for everyone at least for a half year, because if you do this your capacity for patience, humility and understanding will increase, and I believe these qualities to be admirable, and hard to come by unless cultivated.

There are, I feel, poignant overlaps between waiting tables and the massage therapy biz. I especially noticed them when I was doing both. The biggest difference being, in one capacity we’re talking food. In the other, we’re talking healthcare. However, for many, eating good food is a form of healthcare, and also a top-notch massage therapy session is not unlike a prixe fix meal, where you pay a fixed price for what the chef does best.

Okay, yes, there is another big difference. That being, for one, you go into a public place, sit down and consume. For the other, you into a private place, lie down and relax. There. Now can I get on with the analogy, thin though it may be? Hang on! I think I got it.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

For lack of a better way of putting it, “customer” is equally applied to table service and massage therapy clients. It’s not ideal. My apologies for any connotations it suggests. And for how confusing the references get – I seem to interchange between being an MT and a server.

Meeting them at the door:  Customer service is a necessity in both places, and if it doesn’t exist to your level of taste (or exist at all), don’t go there again. Wandering into a restaurant (or massage office)  and not having a clue where to go or what to do is disconcerting. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me it makes me apprehensive,  and that’s not great emotional mirepoix for a massage or meal.  “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes”  is all any reasonable person really needs to hear, to know that they’ve been seen and will be taken care of shortly. Unless you’re an entitled, pushy sort who can’t wait for the hostess, in which case, we send you to McDonald’s.

Attention to detail: Give your customer pretty things to look at – educational, expansive, beautiful, inspiring – and if you can’t, err on the side of minimalism. A picture, a candle, a color.  I once shared an office with a woman who had a fine collection of teddy bears congregated in plushy array all over the windowsills and furniture. She is a fantastic MT but the teddy bears were a visual (and dare I say psychological?) obstacle to enjoying her work. Eliminate as many obstacles as possible to someone rebooking or making another reservation.

Another aspect: how you set up your office and the stations around your massage table, much like the mise en place of a professional kitchen, or the sidework every server must do. But that’s another blog.

Establishing rapport: We’ve all been there: the server who is overly friendly and chatty, the server who is using your meal as their personal punching bag, the server who either won’t leave you alone or forgets you’re there. Same is true for our first experience with a massage therapist: too emotional, or reserved: gushy, or brusque: hapless, or know-it-all.

The gamut of “ways to be” is legion. I think of it like baby bear’s porridge: just right. As the recipient, you feel heard, understood, even intuited on a deeper level, but you also feel respected…maybe even held at arm’s length, but with a smile, and with warmth. That’s, in my mind, being professional. It is kindness incarnate. It’s a healthy blend of affection and reserve.

Checking in, or: mouth shut: There is a real art in table service. There is the outright  inquiry, “So how is everything?” but often you’re being watched, too. A good server is keeping a bead on you: judging the liquid level of your water and wine glasses, seeing how quickly you eat or if you’re shoving the food around your plate, observes your body language a lot more than you could ever imagine. Your needs just…”magically” get met.

Okay, so, same goes for massage. Yes, as the MT you do ask: “how is the pressure I’m using” or “are you comfortable” – but what else can you do? Observe. A lot of what the client needs, or might like next, is plain to see (or hear) in their body (and its noises).

In my experience: mostly 35% asking, and 65% keeping mouth shut and seeing what’s going on…and making the necessary adjustments.

Finishing up: Of course, at the end of meal, and of a session, the server or massage therapist is quite keen to know 1) if you liked your experience 2) if they made a difference for you because 3) their livelihood depends on it. In both serving tables and working as a massage therapist, I’ve come up with a standard way of inquiring, and then been prepared for whatever I got. Rebooking – and a good tip – are sometimes the only thing you need, to know you did well.

It’s good to ask if the client is happy. It’s also good to leave them alone, and maybe check in with them in a few days after they’ve come out of their “massage coma” substantially enough to give you real feedback. I do a standard email inquiry 48 hrs or more after a first-time client, very brief, inquiring if/how the work I did was helpful. (Checking in is very educational and a nice touch. Might be a blog post all its own sometime.)

Asking a client too much about the work they just received, right after they received it, isn’t very nice to them, plus you won’t get the most helpful responses necessarily, plus it smacks of insecurity on your part, and that creates awkwardness. Even if you really do feel insecure: dig deep, and hold yourself well and carefully while asking. This is where being professional comes in!

So next time you’re in a restaurant and you feel you might be in the hands of a real pro — put on your Sherlock Holmes tweedy cap and pull out your pipe. Watch what your server does: their demeanor, their care for you, when they appear, when they are gone for a while. Sleuth it out. And take what you learn into your office.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #20. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

“Mise en place” – photo essay

It’s a French phrase, something I learned from Lucky Peach in their “The Cooks & Chefs Issue,” meaning “putting in place.” From professional kitchen jargon, it refers to how one sets up their space to do the prepping, baking and cooking needed during one’s shift.

In the Lucky Peach Spring 2012 edition, a chef was interviewed and asked, when are you having a good day? “When the mise en place is good,” he replied, along with a few other things.

When are you having a bad day? He replied, when the mise en place is bad, and then details.

I recently posted on my experience as a server in a local, popular restaurant. In reflecting on how being a waitress helped me become a better massage therapist, I realized I have little “mise en place” all over my office: stations of aid, that help me do my job. When these are clean, organized, well-stocked and pleasing to the eye, my work goes well.

So here are some pictures of my office “mise en place.”

The Desk

The Oils, White Sage and Crockpot…for heating towels

The Desk

The Desk

The Reiki Altar

The Reiki Altar

Hanging in the Window, in direct line of sight when I'm seated at client's head

Hanging in the Window, in direct line of sight when I’m seated at client’s head

The Client Folder

The Client Folder

The table, with summer spread. (not a work station, so much, as the place of work itself....like a gas range in a kitchen)

The table, with summer spread. (more the place of work itself, like a gas range in a kitchen)

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #19.

Once a Server, Always

Just now I had dinner at Chase’s Daily, Belfast Maine’s claim to culinary fame. I worked there for years, while building my massage practice. Being a server and a massage therapist is not mutually exclusive, something worthy of a blog post sometime.

Tough experiences bring you close to others who work at your side. If you can get through them together, you bond unbelievably. I know this is a small stretch, but there is a similarity between serving at a very popular restaurant in Maine in the summer, and boot camp. They are nearly equal, in terms of hours spent laboring in heat, under constant pressure, running like a madwoman, and being yelled at.

Although not from staff or owners. If I had to have a waitress experience, I was the luckiest to have it at Chase’s, for once I proved my mettle and that I wasn’t going to flake out on them, the owners (the Chase family) adopted me as one of their own. And if your employer is for you, who can be against you?

It was incredibly stressful working there in the summer. We would always get tourists who saw anything that happened there as an impediment to them having a good vacation, and they were (and are) breathtakingly rude. But I did it for four years: I did it for the Chase family, and my amazing co-workers, and the fantastic baked goods, entrees, and the art hanging on the walls (Perimeter Gallery).

I did it because I love Belfast, and Chase’s is in the center of town. You can see Alexia’s across the way, and the lights of the Colonial Theatre blazing down High Street in the dusk of evening…like tonight.

Middle Eastern salad, with yogurt dressing. All veggies from the farm.

Middle Eastern salad, with yogurt dressing. All veggies from the farm.

Every time I go into Chase’s now, I become infused with love. I can’t help it. I get hallooed and hailed and hugged by my ex-co-workers but forever pals. The owners nod and smile and inquire as to how I am. I ask kindly for a seat, but they know what I want: the end stool at the far portion of the counter where I can keep an eye on the kitchen, to harass Freddy if he looks up, and in general make audible yummy noises.

Even the littlest one, Romi, wanders out from behind the bake pan cooling racks and puts her arms around my waist. She can reach that high now: I first knew her when she was a toddler. Now in grade school and with freckles, she looks up into my face, close as can be, and says pitifully, “I waaaaved to you just now, but you didn’t seeeeeee me.”

“Well,” I said. “I see you now. Hello sweetie.” <<hug>>

Any of you who have ever waited tables know: once a server, always a server. It came over me in a crushing rush, while I sipped my red wine and sucked on warm olives: the kitchen, where I did everything, even sanded down and painted that washstand one March during their annual spring cleaning.

The cups that I organized. The coffee pots I washed, the espresso machine I cleaned. The grated cheese I refilled. I knew where every single one of those things needed to be, and where to get more of them should we run out.

And serving. I could hear that food needed to be run: could recognize server names, and translate the caller’s timbre from “urgent” to “This is VERY urgent, someone come get this food NOW.” I was so close to the pick-up window: it was everything I could do to not go over there and run a few plates out to the dining room myself.

But it wasn’t my place anymore. The urge had to remain so: just an urge. I had left two years ago, when I turned 40 and realized I was either going to go into massage therapy full time, or I wasn’t. I took the leap, but I did look back while leaping.

It was a part of my life that was over. Things come to an end, but you forget everything about it that drove you crazy. Only the love remains.

This has something to do with massage therapy, in that I have lived and worked in a small town for nearly 15 years, and while I have clients who are always discovering me, I have a significant amount in my “Inactive” file. For whatever reason, I was seeing them, and then I never saw them again.

Unless at the grocery store, or standing in line at the market, or by chance in another town. The temptation is, because I knew them so fully once, to behave as though I know them fully now. But I don’t. It’s no longer my place to inquire too vigorously, or personally.

In these encounters I know we both feel a little awkward, but it’s best to just be together in the moment, and not wait for apologies or promises. They don’t owe me a thing: their life and mine no longer intersect meaningfully: only just now, like this, looking at one another and smiling.

There is nothing else I really feel for this person: I have no agenda for them, no fear of why they left, no hope of their return to my office. Only the affection I felt for them once, and therefore always will feel, remains.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #18.

And He Laid His Hands Upon Them

I never wanted to be a massage therapist. There were many scattered, lively things inside me that massage therapy answered, so when I did find it I thought “Ah-haaaaa! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere!”

But as a career I wasn’t interested. Most I associated it with an intrinsic nurturing, healing mentality, which when I was first considering school – in my late 20s – I didn’t have an abundance of either. I got into massage therapy, quite frankly, because I hated the job I had. Pure and simple. (Working the high tech corridor outside Boston, sequestered in a cubicle for hours, bored and horrified me.)

The most beautiful occupation is the one that births you – the real you – to the world, so service doesn’t feel at all like a chore, but more effortless and relaxing than you ever thought possible. And that’s what massage therapy did for me. I have more compassion, patience, intuition and love now than when I started doing the work. I have not mastered any of these qualities but they are real energies in my life, which I can only attribute to my years of hoping they would show up for real.

Now my effort is in encouraging them, like helping small children grow. Doing massage therapy brings my deep, intrinsic qualities to the fore: the ones that are natal to every soul: the ones we all have, but forget.

I never set out to be a “healer” of any kind and still shrink from the title, should someone choose to dub me as such. What I do, for my job, is rub human bodies so they hurt less. To me, there’s nothing plush or magical or even ennobling in this: it’s basic human care, something we’ve been doing for each other for thousands of years, to help each other out.

My friend and colleague Rowan Blaisdell writes eloquently about this in his post “More About How I Got Here“:

I loved the idea of caring for another person in such a profound way. Before this I’m not sure I ever thought much about health care or healing. I don’t mean “Healing”, as in “I will Heal you”. I mean the kind of healing we all do each day (or should) for ourselves and those we love. The mending of hurts both physical and emotional.

And have you read the work of David Lauterstein? David’s writing and teaching have been hugely instrumental to me in not only becoming a better practitioner, but more curious and imaginative individual, filled with wonder. I don’t even know where to begin on how wonderful David’s writings are to me, except to share a portion which dovetails what Rowan said quite nicely : from Lauterstein’s seminal work, “Putting the Soul Back in the Body: A Manual of Imaginative Anatomy for Massage Therapists

Resting stroke: although not commonly taught as a stroke, what is meant here is just placing your hand on the person , making contact. It may be said to be the basic stroke of some disciplines such as polarity, Jin Shin Do, Reiki, etc. But it needn’t be esoteric. We all know how helpful a simple hand on the shoulder may feel when things get a little rough. That hand says “I care about you, I’m here, it’s going to be O.K. ”

At the beginning of each massage I use this stroke, not with the pretense of “Here’s Mr. Healer,” but simply as a way to introduce myself to the person’s body, oftentimes while we’re lightly conversing.”

The healing of massage happens, I feel, not because the practitioner has all the answers for this client, nor because the client has something wrong with them that has to be fixed. Healing happens with first contact, and lasts through the whole session, when both meet in that holy nexus of professional know-how and profound care.

In this way, yes, it is up to me to be the healer in session: but all that means is that I bring my best human qualities to the fore: being there, touching with consideration and compassion, listening deeply and well. Healing is a natural, effortless offshoot of this endeavor.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #16.