Relieving forward head posture: full body myofascial release (aka Deep Massage)

This is the fourth post in a series about Cate and me partnering in bodywork to relieve her forward head posture. Click here to read the first post, here for the second, here for the third, and here for a special post about the Still Point Inducer.

by Cate Radebaugh

Since I was in Austin for several days early this week, I opted to go to MaryAnn’s on Wednesday instead of Friday. She told me that it was time for a full body myofascial massage and gave me the familiar intake paper with four sketches of a human body — front, back, and both sides — and instructions to circle where I feel discomfort, pain, tension, etc.

It’s always the same for me: neck and shoulders, lower back, and feet — so that’s where I made my circles.

Then MaryAnn went out while I undressed, got on the table, and under the sheets. I’ve had massages before, so I knew about putting my face in the little face holder, but she also had a special pillow with holes in it that I could put my breasts in, and that was wonderful, because typically, they get smooshed between me and the table, which is not so great. With my breasts in a safe space, I felt completely comfortable for the first time ever laying prone on a massage table.

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Working with forward head: myofascial release

Read the first post in this series here. My notes are at the end of this post, along with a link to the following post. ~ MaryAnn

by Cate Radebaugh

So, I had another ‘forward head position’ appointment with Mary Ann. She is very excited about the new Zero Balancing work she’s learned and briefly contemplated adding that to this session, but decided against it. Myofascial release it was.


Notice that Cate’s ear is in front of the middle of her shoulder. The SCM runs from behind her ear to her chest.

First, she took a picture of my neck so we can all track my progress.

Then, because this is “take some of your clothes off and cover up with a sheet” work, that’s what I did. (Those sheets are so soft. They’re made of microfiber. I suggest you get some for yourself. Or go do work with Mary Ann, because they’re part of the treat. Now back to the forward head thingy.)

One of the advantages of working with Mary Ann is she shares her knowledge about bodies with her clients as she’s working on them. I feel on speaking terms with some of my muscles now.

Two big ones are the sternocleidomastoids, SCMs for short. They run from my mastoid processes – the two bumps behind my ears at the base of my skull – down my neck and attach to my collarbones and sternum, and are what turn and nod my head. Continue reading

Working with forward head posture: Zero Balancing and more

Note from MaryAnn: This is a guest post by someone I’ve known for nearly a decade. Years have gone by without us seeing each other, and then we reconnect, and it’s a happy occasion. She is a wonderful writer with a fascinating and fascinated mind, a perceptive presence, and a wicked sense of humor.

We initially did a 90-minute craniosacral therapy session with Zero Balancing. Then we did a 30-minute Zero Balancing session that she writes about here. This is the first in a series of posts about her experience receiving bodywork from me to help relieve her forward head posture (and the pain and tension that accompany it) and work with anything else that arises.

Forward head posture is becoming more common with our sedentary, screen-gazing habits. Several of the modalities which I’ve trained in and practiced are very effective at relieving forward head posture, including Zero Balancing, myofascial release/Deep Massage, and craniosacral therapy. And Cate will have homework to do as well.

I hope you enjoy reading these posts as we progress. The bottom of the post contains a link to the following post if you wish to read them consecutively.

by Cate Radebaugh

Over the years, I’ve developed forward head posture. Some of it comes from many hours in front of a computer screen, and obesity and self-image issues haven’t helped any. I recently became aware, though, that carrying my head out so far in front of my body is exhausting, and my neck, shoulders, and upper back are so constricted from the constant weight that they never really relax or rest, even in sleep.

So … I went to see my friend MaryAnn Reynolds to find out if she might be able to help. I’ve already said a little about my first visit* and my second was just as interesting. It was a Zero Balancing session. I think Zero Balancing is a really funny name and an even funnier intent, because I already experience moments of what I think of as zero balance and would just as soon not. MaryAnn’s Zero Balancing is different from that. In fact, it seems to be something of antidote. Continue reading

My work in May 2016: a massage therapist recounts what she actually does

I started offering my massage and bodywork clients custom sessions at the beginning of 2016. Clients choose the length of session they want, and when they arrive, we discuss their issues. I figure out how I’d like to proceed (that is, which modalities to use, in which order), run it by the client, get their input and consent, and the work begins. The client and I both know that if we need to change direction in the middle of a session, we can — and sometimes that happens.

Before 2016, clients signed up by length of session and modality (for example, 90 minutes of craniosacral therapy). Once I felt confident about mixing modalities, it made more sense to offer custom sessions, tailoring my work to the client’s needs. But without modality descriptors, I imagine that some people wonder what I actually do in a custom session — and how I work and follow up with clients, how people find me, how my practice grows. That’s the reason for this blog post. Plus, I’ve never really tried to summarize a month of work before. It seems worthwhile.

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Massage clients wanted!


Need to dump your stress, chill, release tension, move better, relieve pain, recover from an injury, treat a condition?

I can help.

I’ve been doing massage for four years now, and for the first time, a contract has fallen through. It’s nobody’s fault: my employer (a small unit in huge company) was internally audited. The audit caught some irregularities in my paperwork, and I can’t work there until it’s straightened out. Since it’s a huge bureaucracy known for its slowly turning administrative wheels, I have no idea how long that will take but I’m not holding my breath. Continue reading

What clients say about integrative massage

One recipient of an integrative massage (which combines Swedish massage, Lauterstein deep massage, acupressure points, foot reflexology, body mobilization techniques, muscle testing, stretching, trigger point therapy, and craniosacral work, as needed and desired) wrote afterwards:

Just a note to say I really enjoyed our conversation and my massage. The massage you gave me has allowed me to sleep soundly two nights in a row. My stress level also feels much lower than usual. Thank you for enhancing my life with your friendship and magical/healing massages! Sending happiness & blessings & love your way.

Here’s a testimonial for an integrative massage I gave to a dear friend suffering from insomnia.

I sit here at my computer after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I am so deeply grateful for your loving energy yesterday. Your integrity, touch, and presence were exactly what I needed to break open the clogged dam of emotions that’s been keeping me from sleep.

All throughout the massage, I could feel and take in your love and healing energy which is abundantly transferred through your hands. When you said ‘How you feel matters,’ my soul got the message that you cared enough to hear, see, and touch me.

When you did the cranial-sacral hold, I felt like I was being cradled by my mother.

You had asked the question, “What happened three weeks ago?” … My insomnia has been “waking me up” to the fact of unfinished business….

Your work allowed me to dive through the opening and swim the turbulent waters on top of a still well. I’m not quite at the still well yet, but I have faith that I’ll get there.

Another client wrote to say:

MaryAnn has a special gift to connect with you and gently nurture your entire being. She is unique in that she offers unconditional love so freely. I highly recommend her massage therapy. ❤

For more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, see my home page.

A day in the life of a massage therapist

I’ve been doing massage since June, but I haven’t posted very much about it on this blog. I’ve been getting my bearings, gaining hands-on experience. I also maintain the confidentiality of my clients.

I’d like to write about my work, as long as my clients remain anonymous. I would have liked to read about what it’s like to work as a massage therapist, so maybe me posting about it will serve that need for someone else.

I massaged a woman who had recently had jaw surgery. She was going to physical therapy, and the PT said her neck muscles were so tight, a massage was in order.

At her request, I just worked on her back, shoulders, and neck, and I persuaded her to let me spend some time working on her feet.

It is incredibly relaxing to have foot reflexology and/or foot massage. I gave her both. There are zones on the feet that correspond to the rest of the body, so working the feet softens tense areas before I even get to them.

If you ever just want to relax and don’t have time for a full body massage, foot massage and reflexology are wonderful.

I allowed plenty of time in our session to work on her neck both when she was face down and after she turned over. I did a combination of Swedish massage and deep massage (Lauterstein method) to work on her circulatory and lymphatic systems and her structure and energy.

She told me she was having difficulty sleeping. She said she had always slept on her stomach with no pillow. Post-surgery, she was having to sleep on her back, propped up on pillows. She found it awkward and uncomfortable.

I shared with her what had helped me after I had had some major chiropractic work on my neck and was told to sleep on my back: hugging a pillow against my body. The weight of it feels comforting to a stomach sleeper.

Afterwards, she said she felt much better.

That’s one of the things I love most about being a massage therapist. What I do makes a tangible difference in people’s quality of life.

I worked on another woman who had been on her feet all weekend at an outdoor music festival. She wanted a lot of attention to her feet and legs as part of her full body massage. She booked a 90 minute massage, which is twice as relaxing as a 60 minute massage!

Truthfully, I don’t know how to quantify how relaxing a massage is. That’s a subjective measure. I just know that when I give a 60 minute massage, if the person is larger than average or has an area that needs extra attention and still wants a full body Swedish massage, the massage feels rushed, to me.

I don’t know if it feels rushed to them. Maybe that’s all they’ve ever known, and they have no idea how much more relaxed they could feel if they had a longer session. It’s their choice — and I’m not beyond suggesting that a client book a longer session next time!

I did Swedish/deep massage and reflexology/foot massage on her and was able to work at a more relaxed and relaxing pace. IMO, she did herself a huge favor by booking 90 minutes. She relaxed very deeply and looked happy when I met with her after the session.

I like using aromatherapy. It adds a nice dimension to a massage both to the client and to me.

I often put the essential oil blend Valor (from Young Living) on the client’s feet before massaging them. The way I see it, everyone needs more valor to face life, and here’s a way to get some!

When clients turn over from being face down, their breathing is often congested. When that’s the case, I like to take a drop of Eucalyptus radiata oil, rub it between my hands, and then place my hands near the client’s nose. Their eyes are covered, so they don’t see it coming. They simply smell the eucalyptus, a pleasant surprise, and it clears their breathing passages.

At the end of a massage, especially when the client has gone into a deep trance or fallen asleep, I like to rub a drop of peppermint or rosemary oil between my palms and allow the scent to help wake the client up in a refreshing way.

Self-care for massage therapists, part 2 (what works for me)

In part 1, I listed various self-care methods that massage therapists use for their own aches and pains from giving massage. In part 2, I want to share what I’ve tried (so far) that works.

First, I want to say that my strength and endurance have increased with practice. I used to be in pain after giving 3 hour-long massages in a row several days in a row. Now I can do 4 hours 5 days a week with just a few twinges and aches afterwards. For several weeks, though, I was hurting and feeling some despair about having upended my life to get trained and start working in this new profession and the possibility of not being physically able to do it.

Key learnings from a newbie:

  • I no longer attempt deep tissue work, sticking to Swedish and reflexology. My Swedish massages are good and getting better. I incorporate some of David Lauterstein’s deep massage strokes into every Swedish massage, and I use pressure points, stretching, techniques from sports massage, body mobilization techniques, and reflexology, depending on the client’s issues and the amount of time I have. I cannot deliver the pressure that some clients (well-informed or not about what “deep tissue” means) seem to want. If I work within my limitations, it’s win-win for everyone.
  • I trained in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy so that I can deliver deeper pressure using my feet and body weight, controlled by holding onto overhead bars. It’s so much easier on my body and a lot of fun, too.
  • I rock with my feet and leverage my body weight strategically as I deliver Swedish massage so my arms and shoulders do less work.
  • Hydrotherapy totally rocks after a long shift. I fill my double kitchen sinks with hot water (my water heater is set to 130 degrees F. for sanitizing laundry) and cold water that I dump a quart or two of ice into. I immerse my aching forearms and hands in the water, alternating cold-hot-cold-hot-cold, for one minute each. I can barely stand it, and yet it makes a huge difference in just 5 minutes. Seems to flush toxins and swelling and pain right out.
  • I stretch my fingers and wrists, holding each stretch for 15 seconds. Good to do when driving, at red lights.
  • I press into the trigger points for the elbow and wrist (see part 1 for links).
  • I apply magnesium gel with seaweed extract topically. According to Wikipedia, symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakness, and fatigue, and fifty-seven percent of the US population does not get enough magnesium from food.
  • I love epsom salts in a bath. (Guess what? They contain magnesium!) When I was feeling a lot of pain all over, I would dump a cup or two of epsom salts into a fairly hot bath and add a few drops of lavender oil, then soak for 15-20 minutes. I felt like a new woman when I came out! I learned this years ago from dancers.
  • I use Young Living’s OrthoEase oil on clients’ painful muscles, and I use it on mine as well. Contains wintergreen, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and more that are analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
  • I keep hydrated and have been avoiding nightshades lately. I’m already gluten-free and eat fairly healthily. I’m interested in following an anti-inflammatory diet but haven’t done the research yet.
  • I take at least a couple of days off per week, not always together, though. I’m still finding my ideal schedule.
  • I do 10-15 minutes of yoga every morning. Sun salutations stretch and strengthen my body. Plus, it’s a great check-in to do something that starts the same every day. I start slowly and really let my hamstrings lengthen in forward bend before I move on to the next pose. I add standing poses, balance poses, and pigeon as I feel the need and to keep it interesting.
  • I get at least a chair massage every week. I’m interested in setting up a weekly trade for a full-body massage with someone, too.
  • I use a foam roller on back when needed, and a tennis ball to my gluteus.
  • I have two tennis balls tied into a sock that I use when driving to massage my back. I’ve also learned to “pop” my own back while giving massage!

Here’s something that just doesn’t fit into any of the categories I’ve seen so far about self-care for MTs. It’s about how you use your attention. I’ve learned to keep some of my attention on my body most of the time.

When I focused exclusively on the client’s body, delivering what I thought they wanted, I hurt and fatigued myself. I listen more to my body now and check in verbally with the client if I am not noticing nonverbal feedback.

If I notice that I feel rigid anywhere in my body, I say to myself, “Soften,” and my body softens.

Sometimes I put my attention on the soles of my feet and their connection to the floor/earth (I massage with bare feet always for Ashiatsu and as much as possible for Swedish), making the movements of giving massage into a soft, fluid dance.

Sometimes I attend to my breath, letting it become easy and relaxing (and audible to the client, as a nonverbal suggestion that they relax too).

All of these techniques activate the inner body, subtle body, energy body, whatever you want to call it. It feels better to give massage with this “soft present alive expanded body” than not. There is definitely an aspect of being “in the flow” that seems somehow related to doing Reiki, but I don’t know how to put it into words (yet).

Another bonus: the sensations of pain and fatigue become distant as peace and love fill my awareness.

I don’t know if clients perceive the difference, but I don’t think it could hurt. I do it for me because I “in-joy” it!

It’s been four months since I got licensed and began working. I look forward to learning even more new things about self-care and sharing them here.

New massage modality coming soon: Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy

New offering: Ashiatsu

This past weekend I went to San Antonio and did four days of training in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, learning to work on the back, front, and sides of the body with my feet.

Oh, it is so much fun, and painless to give because I’m using my feet and leveraging my body weight to control pressure by holding onto overhead bars. Current weight: 114. May  wear a scuba belt for those who want even more pressure… I usually keep one foot on the table, though, so I’m completely able to deliver lighter pressure.

In case you didn’t know, I have really amazing reiki energy in my feet! Some days I wake up with it just pouring out of them. I haven’t known what to do with it, but this seems like a very good way to put it to work!

I also have “monkey toes” like many yogis with Iyengar training.

I’m looking forward to getting some overhead bars set up and being able to offer it in addition to Swedish, deep, and integrative (an intuitive blend of Swedish, deep, acupressure, reflexology, clinical — whatever is needed) that I already offer.

Because of my size, I was wearing my body out trying to deliver the deep tissue pressure that so many people like. A lot of people don’t realize how taxing massage is on the therapist’s body and what a high burnout rate this profession has. I didn’t. Self-care is essential to be and give your best. I’m working now on giving as much as I can give without hurting myself.

Learning Ashiatsu will allow me to make a difference on those who like medium to firm pressure and those who want to try something different. The long strokes are very relaxing. My practice client at training, Don, a big biker who practices reiki himself, fell asleep!

Photos from training (I’m the one with the short hair):


The power of asking questions

I was working in the student clinic, doing another intern massage. The client assigned to me was someone I had worked on previously. She works at a desk job.

The first time, she had complained of neck pain, and she had said she didn’t want to be poked with fingers or knuckles. So I rubbed and kneaded her neck quite a bit and didn’t do any of the deep massage strokes that I felt could have been so helpful had she not had this aversion because many involve “poking”.

On the client evaluation, she said I didn’t spend enough time on her neck!

So when I got her again, I was determined to get a better result. I brought her back to the bay and asked her if her neck was still bothering her. She said yes.

I asked her to show me where her neck was hurting and gave a little demo by putting my hand on the back of my neck and asking, “Is it about here?”

She said, “No, more like here,” and she ran her hands across the tops of her shoulders.


Just to clarify, I said, “So you’re not feeling any pain or tightness here?” again with my hand on the back of my neck.

She said no.

And of course, I was professional, but meanwhile I was thinking,

Girlfriend, that’s totally your upper trapezius — the top of your shoulder — and not your neck.

Many people’s knowledge of their own anatomy has big blank areas.

I asked if there was anywhere else she desired special attention. She said her lower back was bothering her. She also said not to work on her abs or her hands.

So I went to work. I spent a lot of time on her back, with focus on her tight upper traps and her sacrum/lumbar area. When I thought I had probably done enough, I leaned down and asked her if that was enough or if she wanted me to work some more on her back.

She said to do what I needed to do. I guessed from that that she assumed that the students in the massage clinic have to follow a routine, and that if she wanted more back work, it was out of the question. Not so.

I told her I could work on her back some more if she liked. I told her I could spend most of our hour together on her back if she liked.

She said she’d love some more back work.

So I worked on her back for about 40-45 minutes of our hour together. I palpated and explored. I repeated strokes, did them slowly, and emulated deep massage with my palms to avoid the poking of knuckles and fingertips.

I pulled her scapula in and up to shorten her tight upper trap and asked her if that gave her some relief. She said it did.

I wrung, lifted and rolled, and kneaded. I rocked her torso. I came at areas from many directions. I even gave her tapotement (like drumming) after asking if she’d like it, which I think is the first time I’ve done it as an intern.

When I finished her back, I redraped it with sheet and blanket and just pressed her glutes and backs of legs and feet. I rocked her body from the heels and had her turn over, asking how she was doing. “Fine,” she said, with a look of bliss on her face.

I like that look.

I pressed the fronts of her legs and tops of feet and rolled her legs, just to loosen up the hips and make the legs feel included as parts of the whole body.

I skipped her abs as requested and just worked on her pecs, giving pressure to her arms so they felt included, avoiding her hands as requested.

Then I did some more upper back work from underneath, rubbed and kneaded her neck, and stretched her neck.

I ended with massaging her scalp and a fulcrum/stretch of the back of her head.

(So okay, I know some of this is massage geek talk, but I’m sure you get the big picture. If not, come get a student massage and see for yourself. $35, no tipping.)

That massage was so off the books from the routines I’ve learned and yet so rewarding because I used my resources to clarify what she really wanted, and then I got to be creative, continuing to ask for feedback and giving her more of what she wanted.

She was very, very happy with it. She gave me a fabulous evaluation, especially for taking the time to really find out what she needed.

The upshot is that questions are very, very powerful tools. If you know what you want but aren’t getting the results you want, ask questions. It’s all in the communication, baby.

There is great personal power to be had literally just for the asking, especially if you ask the right questions, to get the results you want, to get another person to open up to you, to get insight into someone else’s map of reality, to create something that’s satisfying.

It’s so simple, yet almost like a secret. Have you asked anyone a real good question today?