Category Archives: Rambling

Video: Abdominal self-massage (and self-acceptance)

This is ostensibly about abdominal self-massage (it even includes 5 different techniques!), but it’s really about getting back into the therapeutic headspace.

As you might imagine, I made this one for myself. I haven’t started back yet thanks to some resurgence here in the South, but every time I get back to the planning phase I think, “do I even know how to do massage any more? Where would I start?” In my head I try to play back a whole massage all at once, along with all the techniques and draping and communication that requires, and it feels overwhelming.

But then I remember this: It all starts with one touch. If I can do that, then the rest follows. Trying to game out every moment, or imagine everything that could go wrong, those are barriers that we put up to flow. The essence of massage is self-sustaining and self-guiding, with the interplay of hand and body showing you the way. If we simply make that first contact and then get out of the way, the rest can easily follow. ... continue reading.

Overcoming the Inertia of the Body

I’d like you to try a quick thought experiment: Imagine doing one intense workout in the course of a month. You charge yourself up, you break through your mental block, and you finally go to that fitness bootcamp you’ve been dreading. You lay it all on the line, and you kick butt. What effects will this have on your health?

Over the short term, there will be huge effects. Protein synthesis and catabolism will both be through the roof. You might burn in excess of a thousand calories, prompting significant lipolysis. You’ll spend a couple of hours bathed in adrenaline, and then you’ll get some feel-good chemicals in the aftermath.

Over the long term, what is the effect of a single intense workout over the course of a month? Probably… nothing at all. A single workout isn’t capable of moving the needle on your scale, let alone prompting lasting physical changes in your body, or biochemical changes in your brain. Why? Because of negative feedback. Because of the inertia of homeostasis. When your body notices big changes in your blood, it releases hormones to counteract that. When your sympathetic nervous system is in an unusual state of overdrive, it will tip the balance in the other direction until you can relax and digest. ... continue reading.

Massage Tutorial Video: Talking to Clients On the Table

New video! This week we’re talking about talking. More specifically, what can you do to maximize your time with a client on the table? Especially in a time-crunch environment, finding little nooks and crannies to fit client education into can be invaluable.

I find this especially useful when I’m dealing with areas of heightened sensitivity. If a client comes in with a painful sacroiliac area and sciatica symptoms, for instance, I try to talk them through the treatment as I deliver it. I want them to know what I’m trying to achieve with my slow steamrolling, and I ask them to let me know their experience. Does it feel like we’re in a relevant area? Do you feel this referring pain anywhere else? As I gather information, I can also deliver some, telling them about their posterior pelvis and where relevant muscles attach. When you live with chronic pain, learning more about it can be a relief in itself! ... continue reading.

Massage Video: Working with Shoulder Pain After Surgery

Here’s a new video about how I work with postsurgical shoulder pain. I talk about my strategy, and I demonstrate specific techniques for working gently from a myofascial perspective:

I’d like to highlight something that’s changed for me in my practice: While I do explore the client’s range of motion, I do my best to avoid those painful end-points. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that mobilization can work just as well (or better!) when it’s done painlessly. If done patiently and with good communication, it can be a way of demonstrating to the client that safe movement is possible. I’ve frequently had clients stand up with a greater comfortable range of motion despite the fact that I didn’t try to increase that ROM on the table!

I’ve also started erring on the side of less specific work during that first session, especially in areas that are prone to guarding or spasm. That specific stripping and trigger point work can still be incorporated in future sessions, but by working broadly at first, I can help the client gradually get used to movement and contact without provoking spasm or next-day tightness.

Let me know what you think! Is there anything that you’d add or do differently? Did I finally drone on for too long during a video? 🙂

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Is Your Massage Practice Sending the Wrong Message?

Here’s an important article about a negative experience that a client had while on the table: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/dealing-with-a-fat-shaming-massage-therapist/

In a previous rant, I said that massage therapists causing pain—and making their clients think it was necessary—was one of the only massage-related phenomena that truly made me angry. Well, this counts as causing pain. If someone comes to me with a unique human body, anything that I say or do to stigmatize that person for their shape, or size, or sounds, or smell, is causing harm. They’ll leave that experience thinking, “I was wrong for putting myself in that vulnerable position.” In other words, they trusted us with their body, and we breached that trust.

Maybe you would never think of commenting directly on someone’s weight, which is great! With that as a given, I’d like to direct your attention to something that we’ve learned from psychological and medical studies: The power of words, and the power of symbols in general. How we speak, and even the signs and pictures in our offices, can communicate a powerful message of brokenness or wholeness to our clients.

Consider the client with back pain who walks into a doctor’s office and sees one of those “3 kinds of spinal dysfunction” infographic posters that doctors like to decorate their offices with. Cheery. As they’re sitting there waiting for their doctor to arrive, that vulnerable human is seeing a herniated nucleus pulposus pressing on a nerve, and an osteoporotic lumbar vertebra crumbling to dust. That doctor could be as reassuring and encouraging as Mr. Rogers, but the damage has been done. Is there any chance they’ll leave that environment thinking, “this is something that my body can handle”?

In the same way, think about what happens when we talk about a client’s “bad back.” Maybe they said it first and we’re just picking up on the language, but it’s not something that we have to buy into. We can choose not to pick the client apart, or to pathologize a relatively normal ache or pain. Instead, we can talk about that person’s back in the context of their return to pain-free living. We can discuss the pain without bad-mouthing the part.

We can apply that same “language of wholeness” to all aspects of our professional presentation. Most, if not all, of our clients are self-conscious about part of their body. How many of your clients have apologized to you about leg hair, or their “back fat,” or cellulite? These are all perfectly normal features for a body to have, but they feel ashamed. There are some things that we can do verbally in that situation to help them feel accepted (I’d love to hear some of your reassuring responses in the comments!), as well as through kind, accepting contact.

But, what about the other symbols in our professional environment? Think about what it communicates when a client is perusing our menu of services and sees “Lypossage: Recontour your cellulite through non-invasive massage” or “Face-lift massage: Look years younger with just 5 treatments.” What about facial treatments that offer to make fine lines disappear, and tighten up sagging skin? Or, like the massage therapist in the article, you’re advertising shakes that can supposedly help clients lose weight?

Does my body need -contouring--

“You deserve to be pain free. You also might have saggy skin, and have you considered how unsightly your cellulite is? And isn’t it about time to lose that spare tire around your midsection?”

These are things that we’d never say out loud, but we can sure as heck say them with the products and services that we offer. We can accidentally imply them when we comment on clients’ physical appearance, even if it’s just to praise them for losing weight. Maybe that’s not something they consider praiseworthy. Maybe we could stick to wholeness and kindness, and leave all the picking apart and judgment to insensitive Facebook posts and YouTube ads.

I don’t mean to make any massage therapists feel put on the spot by this post. I know that we’re all well-meaning. I know that some of you offer those “slimming/contouring” services because you find them valuable, and they help your business. Still, I want you to consider the symbology of your words and your professional environment. We can create safe spaces where human bodies can just be human bodies. Humans have hair, and zits, and subcutaneous fat. I’ve got super flat feet and a sunken chest, and I’d love for a massage therapist to help me accept them, rather than trying to change them (and, by extension, me).

Let me know what you think about this. How do you communicate acceptance of your clients in their myriad shapes and sizes? Has a massage therapist ever made you feel ashamed of your body or mind, whether accidentally or on purpose? I’d like to hear your story.