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.

How to get centered: the second energy

You’ve heard people say “I’m not feeling centered right now” or “He seems very centered”. If you do not relate to statements about being centered or experience that yourself, you can benefit from increasing your kinesthetic awareness. Being centered is a real aspect of the felt sense that is integral to living a healthy, happy, embodied life.

Like being grounded (my previous post), being centered is a body energy that has a direction:

bullseye

There are many ways to find your center, and there are different names for it: the literal center, the energetic center, the center of gravity. What’s important is to find one that makes you feel stable in your being.

Here’s how to find your literal center:

Stand up barefooted. Wiggle a little to release tension. Ground yourself.

Locate the plane that divides your body into left and right halves. In the front, your sternum (breastbone), navel, and pubic bone mark it; in the back, your spine (unless you have alignment issues like scoliosis).

Here’s a little trivia: This “line” corresponds to two meridians in Chinese medicine, the conception vessel (front) and governing vessel (back).

Now imagine the plane that divides your body into upper and lower halves. It can help to look in a mirror or even a tape measure to find this. Depending on the relative length of your legs, torso, neck, and head, it will lie between your pubic bone and solar plexus somewhere around your navel.

Now imagine the plane that divides your body into front and back, somewhere in the center of your torso.

The place where those three planes meet (left/right, upper/lower, front/back) is your literal center.

three planes dividing the body into halves

To find your energetic center, send your awareness into your literal center. Move your attention around in that area, and you may notice a slightly stronger sensation marking your energetic center. Practice moving your attention out of your energetic center and back in.

A quick way of finding center is to put your hands in prayer position with shoulders relaxed and forearms parallel to the floor. The place where the bottom of your hands meet or thereabouts marks your center. It is not exactly a pinpoint. I experience my center as being about the size of a tennis ball.

Here’s another way to get centered: Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees relaxed, body slightly loose, and close your eyes. Rock slightly forward, shifting more weight onto the balls of your feet. Rock slightly backward toward your heels. Rock to the left and then to the right.

Now center yourself with your weight evenly distributed front/back and left/right. Are you feeling a sense of stability? Good. You’re centered.

Each body also has a center of gravity, which has to do with the body’s mass. Think of ice skaters spinning. They could not perform safely without keen awareness of their centers of gravity.

Usually women’s center of gravity is a bit lower than men’s, because of how the chest and pelvis are proportioned.

If you already know where your center of gravity is, you probably already know how to be grounded and centered. If you don’t know, it’s discovered through movement, and you can begin to discover it by standing and twisting your torso from side to side, or by whirling/spinning.

Whirling Dervishes

Words indicating the centering energy: being centered, off-kilter, balanced.

I hope these methods have helped you experience first-hand being centered.

Now combine it with being grounded, and notice how being both grounded and centered may differ from how you usually experience life. Does it add a dimension of feeling, sensation, or awareness? Does it add richness to everyday experience?

Thanks to Brian Mahan, SEP, for the inspiration.