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.

Massage school classwork over; internship starting

This morning I finished my classwork (except for a couple of makeup classes) at The Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage.

I’ve been in the fastest-paced program available, called “the intensive”. My class started on June 27, 2011, and has now completed 450 hours of training. My 50-hour internship in the school’s student clinic starts on Thursday.

If you are in Austin and would like a $35 student massage from me, click this link to view my December internship schedule. You can also just call the clinic at 512-453-2830 and ask when I’m working and not booked. (Please note that these massages are in demand, and the clinic tends to book several weeks in advance. I’m doing 20 massages in December, 28 in January, and 2 in February, if all goes according to plan, so call soon.)

I want to thank those family members and friends who have let me practice on you during my training. I appreciate your patience and willingness (okay, I didn’t have to twist any arms), and I hope my practice benefitted you and enhanced your well-being. Actually, I hope you loved my touch. I’ve worked on about 25 of you outside of school, generally for longer than an hour, and several of you more than once. Thank you.

I’d also love to thank my classmates. Our class held together pretty well, with not too many drop-outs. We started with 28 and ended with approximately 22. It’s been a pleasure knowing you and working on and with you and receiving your work. I’ve worked on most of you multiple times. Thank you! I’d like to stay in touch.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my teachers at TLC, the apropos nickname for The Lauterstein-Conway school. Your personalities are so vivid, I’ve thought that someone should write a sit-com pilot set at a massage school and pitch it to Hollywood — and much hilarity ensues! Thank you for choosing to practice and teach massage, and for teaching me so much.

I’ve learned a lot about anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology — and I’ve really just begun a lifelong love. I’ve learned the basics of Swedish and sports and deep massage and Shiatsu, BMTs, ROMs, stretches, pressure points, and more. All have made their way into my work. In addition, I learned about business, ethics, energy work, clinical protocols, and so much more it’s hard to even remember at this moment.

I also want to acknowledge Awareness, in which you, I, and all of Creation exists, and recognize its internal guidance to this right-for-me livelihood and so many other things that are right in my life.

I want to especially acknowledge two people who work on me, Bo Boatright and Patrice Sullivan, as being instrumental in encouraging me to do healing work.

Bo asked me to work on him when he was injured. I only had reiki training at the time and had hardly used it, and that was all I could do, but I stayed with him and let the energy pour through. He recognized the quality of my touch and my heart connection, and I am finding that others recognize that sometimes too. Thank you for dancing with me, Bo.

Patrice has been the best role model ever for a learned, very skilled healer and teacher and a happy free spirit who does life her own unique way, and it seems to be working out extremely well for her. We’ve come such a long way together over the past few years in terms of health, relating, and getting my qi flowing well. Thank you for dancing with me, Patrice!

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m dreaming or awake. Is living the dream the same as being truly awake? Today I’m going for dreaming and awake.