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.

Read these books!

I read a lot.

Let me clarify that. I don’t read as much as a few other people read, or as much as I read in the past, but I am a reader. I’ve been an avid reader from a young age, at times indiscriminate but now much more discerning.

It’s that Buddhist saying: “Don’t waste time.” If a book doesn’t hook me early on, I set it aside and try later. It doesn’t mean it’s not good. It just means it’s not relevant enough to what I need to learn in that moment to make the effort feel alive. Energy flows where attention goes. If there’s no energy there, why bother?

The following is a list of books I read in 2010,  plan to read in 2011 (plan, not commit), read before 2010 (and mentioned on this blog) that have shaped my world, and reference books that I dip into but will probably not read cover to cover. Links are included to the books’ pages on Amazon.com; if you buy a book from clicking a link here, I’ll get a very small financial reward — which I appreciate, because blogging takes time.

I’ve mentioned a few of the 2010 books prominently, namely, The Open-Focus Brain, A Symphony in the Brain, Buddha’s Brain, The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process, and What Really Matters. You can do a search for those posts and read what I wrote if you want.

Books read in 2010

Buddha, by Karen Armstrong

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by T.K.V. Desikachar

Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, by A.G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan

The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.

The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process: Transcend Your Toughest Times, by David Bercelli

Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath

A Symphony in the Brain, by Jim Robbins

The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk

What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, by Tony Schwartz

Yoga Sutras, translated by Kofi Busia (PDF file)

2011 Reading List

The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss

Access Your Brain’s Joy Center: The Free Soul Method, by Pete A. Sanders Jr.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain

Beliefs: Pathways to Health & Well-Being, by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom, and Suzi Smith

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

Chants of a Lifetime: Searching for a Heart of Gold, by Krishna Das

The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga: The Authoritative Presentation Based on 30 Years of Direct Study Under the Legendary Yoga Teacher Krishnamacharya, by Srivatsa Ramaswami

Effortless Wellbeing: The Missing Ingredients for Authentic Wellness, by Evan Finer

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, by Lonny S. Jarrett

Transforming #1, by Ron Smothermon, M.D.

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion, by Diane Eshin Rizzo

Yoga Body: Origins of Modern Posture Yoga, by Mark Singleton

Influential books from my past

The complete works of Carlos Castaneda, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Emptiness Dancing, by Adyashanti

The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, by Sandra Maitri

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, by Peter A. Levine

The Healing Triad: Your Liver…Your Lifeline, by Jack Tips

Reference books

Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar

Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska

The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy, by Cyndi Dale

Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, by B.K.S. Iyengar