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.

Now offering Ashiatsu at my downtown studio!

Ashiatsu now available

Good news! I am now offering Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, at my downtown Austin studio, 12th Street Massage, 827 W. 12th. Call 512-507-4184 to schedule an appointment.

Ashiatsu (AOBT) is called “the deepest, most luxurious massage on the planet.” Performed on a standard massage table, I hold onto overhead bars while massaging your body with my feet. Ashiatsu consists of long, flowing, deep strokes with the whole foot as well as targeted work using the heel, toes, or edge of the foot.

Ashiatsu sessions last 60, 75 or 90 minutes. The 60-minute sessions are done on the back. Longer sessions include work on the front and sides of the body and may include work with the hands on your neck, feet, or hands.

If you like the feeling of slow, deep pressure, you will love Ashiatsu. Leveraging the amount of pressure you receive, I can apply up to my full body weight (I weigh in the 110-120 range) to the places on your body that can take it, lightening up on vulnerable areas.

If you’ve never experienced Ashiatsu, I invite you to come check it out. Many, many people love it so much, they never go back to traditional massage. Needless to say, the pressure really refreshes your circulatory and lymphatic systems.

Integrative massage

I also offer integrative massage (Swedish plus the Lauterstein deep massage method, as well as reflexology, acupressure points, stretching, body mobilization techniques, trigger point therapy, Reiki, and/or craniosacral work) at my studio.

How I work

Here’s a little about how I like to work: I always give you the full time you pay for, and if I run into an area that needs extra work, I may run over a few minutes (in that case, it’s on me). If you need to leave by a certain time, please tell me up front. Otherwise, you can take your time getting dressed and enjoy your relaxed state.

Here’s the secret of a really great massage: I do not book sessions back to back like discount massage places do because it’s important to me to be rested, fresh, and present with each person I work on. For that reason, I offer only a limited number of appointments per day. My cancellation policy is 24 hours in advance.

I provide fresh organic cotton sheets, organic oils, aromatherapy if you like it, and nature sounds, soothing music, or silence.

A massage makes a great gift. We all know someone who would be so grateful to receive one. I offer gift certificates in any denomination.

I also offer chair massage and lunchtime yoga classes for employee wellness.

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, RYT, LMT, NCTMB