September 30, 2009

Furling for dollars

Ok, I’ve been doing this massage therapy thing for a while. But two weeks ago I thought I was going to have to hire a Sign-Twirler.

Darn, it was slow. Everybody was busy, out of town, broke or otherwise engaged. I know how to handle these things. I’ve been around. But I must say one can have a crisis or two when it seems like you are playing a part in that Virgin commercial: “Where Is Everyone?”

It happens, I know, to all of us in massage from spas to clinics to house call-only folks. It’s just you don’t get used to it. Especially when you think you are doing all the things that you know pay off in a full book and a chunky paycheck.

So was I waving like a blade of grass in the gentle breeze of life? Did I use the unexpected extra time to finish that c.e.u. course or secret shop the competition?

No. I was getting uptight. Tense enough to think about what would happen to me if I had to get a real job. Oh, no. I used to have a real job. I had enough of them between junior high school and age 35 that I never want to have another one again. Seriously. Massage beats standing in an orange vest with “May I Help You” in big white letters on your back.

Wait a minute, I said to myself in the vast bowling alley of my office. Insecure is good. Insecure works. Insecure can motivate. How can I use this energy to focus? I whipped through the book. Was I re-booking every client? Whom had I forgotten? Who forgot their calendar and dropped off the radar? Am I running on time? Are people getting called back right away? Am I asking clients to refer people? Stinky breath? Dust bunnies in the therapy room?

I audited myself, a fool’s errand, yes, but it does work.

The next week the books had revived, the tundra came back to life. I was tired enough by Wednesday to think about how I could spread some appointments out a little more. The tent revival I had with myself had worked.

It is good to have a little edge here and there to make sure you are not blaming the economy for your slack-jaw ways... Now to schedule a massage for myself...

September 27, 2009

Winter Is Coming: Time for a Sunshine Supplement

Winter is coming . . . I can feel it in the air. I didn’t grow up in Seattle, and frankly I never feared winter until I lived here. Arkansas and Louisiana get cold, but they can still be sunny, which is largely not true in Seattle. And though I thought I was prepared for the gray and rain when I moved here, I found I was not. I came to almost think of the winter as a living thing, the way you learn to see heat in the South or wind in the West: and I hated it because I literally felt my mood drop like a stone down a well whenever the sun said goodbye for the season.

The good news is, I’ve found a lot of help in several sources, including vitamin D. I had my vitamin D levels checked for the first time in Seattle, and found that they were through the floor. I was able to work closely with a nutritionist and use liquid vitamin D to get my levels back to normal. I feel better, I don’t fear winter so much, and I don’t drive family and friends crazy, running around turning on all the lights and mumbling, “It’s too dark in here . . . it’s just too dark in here!”

One thing I always try keep in mind as a massage practitioner is that if I’m not at my best for myself, I can’t be at my best for my clients. Sometimes that means a scented bath, an extra massage, a dinner of comfort food; or in this season, vitamin D.

September 19, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Tiger Balm and Tennis Balls

At home, I like to say, “If you can’t do it with duct tape, WD-40, or Tiger Balm, you probably can’t do it at all.” But in the massage room, my favorite choices are Tiger Balm and tennis balls. Every massage practitioner seems to have at least a couple of favorite tools, and these are mine, especially as tools I can recommend for home use.

I tend to prefer Tiger Balm as a type of liniment or rub for several reasons. One, it’s easy to find at any drugstore or pharmacy, and even though it comes in almost a lip-gloss sized container, a little bit goes a long way. Two, it isn’t too hot or too cold in terms of sensation. It’s warm enough to fake the muscles out a little and make them think they’re warmer and more relaxed than they actually might me, helping break the pain cycle, in my opinion. Also, I don’t like shivering, and really cold rubs have always driven me nuts. In my experience, shivering clients tense up all over again, which is kind of a bummer. And finally, I like the smell . . . I do! Given the strong clove-like smell, Tiger Balm tends to be like anchovy pizza: you either love it or hate it. I have several Tiger Balm-loving clients now with spouses and partners that are happy about the pain relief, but not so happy about the smell of it :-)

As to tennis balls, they are also cheap and easy to find, and if you can’t find a store with a sports section, you can always check the pet section of most grocery stores. When I had little dogs, I used half-sized tennis balls, and spent many amusing hours lying on them for tissue release while my dogs attempted to dig them out from under me. Tennis balls are light and portable and so great for my clients who travel, especially those with low back and hip pain who spend a lot of time sitting in those absurdly tiny airline seats. I highly recommend them to clients who respond well to trigger point work, and it’s easy to teach a down-and-dirty kind of trigger point work just by introducing the tennis ball.

Please feel free to add to this blog by commenting on your own favorite tools. It’s always interesting to see what other people are using and why!

September 16, 2009

Helping the Wounded Warrior

I know we are supposed to be at war, but where, really does one see any signs of the effort? No rations, bonds, enlistment drives or things our parents knew well. The war is distant, a story on the news page. A sad obit inside the local news, a picture of someone looking too young to die.

Those off-in- the-distance wars are the only types I know. What I do see are the survivors, the people who return home to the stillness of our suburban streets with a little baggage from Baghdad.

In my massage practice, I have done massages with veterans of World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War, the Bosnian conflict, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. Vets don’t talk much about their times in war areas, but I do get slips of information here and there to explain some of the souvenirs.

The dark, black blotch on one fellow’s forearm, slowly moving up to the surface, 62 years after Normandy, was shrapnel from a mortar shell.

The scars you can see, however, seem to be more than outnumbered by the scars on veteran’s nervous systems. Back in the USA, vets have told me they freeze when they hear the nightly fireworks at Disneyland. When a plastic bag floats across the freeway lanes, a vet told me he clenches the steering wheel thinking it might be a home-made bomb. One vet told me, he didn’t want a parade or a medal. He just wanted to be able to sleep through the night.

It’s been a long-standing and continuing scandal that soft-tissue injuries and post-war trauma syndromes aren’t given any respect in our country. Such wimps as the British Empire have long recognized and treated shell-shock syndromes with massages, rest and other therapies. The injuries are just as real as the shrapnel from a mortar shell.

In my little massage practice, I try to help. I work with altering the pain cycles, the hyper-vigilance and the rumination arcs that keep veterans awake at night.

Painfully, I see vets now trying to piece themselves together in between tours in Iraq. There is no getting out of the service if you are a reservist and know how to do something, like fly a plane or perform surgery. If you look okay, you can still shoot a gun, you get sent back.

I wish I had even one answer to all the world’s big problems, but I do have a little time, and a little patience, and a little understanding of how the body reacts to constant, powerless stress. That is at least a little help to people who have already given so much for their country.

September 13, 2009

The Fragrant Mind

The Fragrant Mind: Aromatherapy for Personality, Mind, Mood, and Emotion by Valerie Ann Worwood is one of the most well-written and well-rounded texts on the subject that I have ever seen. Worwood has been an aromatherapist for over twenty years and is quite a figure in her field: this is the sort of lady presidents and prime ministers call on when those big red buttons are causing anxiety attacks. Though she has written several books on essential oils and their uses in every imaginable context, this one, I think, is most useful to massage practitioners because it addresses the effect of essential oils on the mind, which in turn, affects the body. And the physical pains that we often deal with in massage are often inextricable from clients’ mental and emotional states.

I became more than a little interested in aromatherapy for massage when I first gave a lavender massage for a tension headache, and it not only helped the client, it lightened my whole day. Then I began to wonder about my own favorite scents, even the smell of things that I consider utilitarian, like Tiger Balm. Why do I love Tiger Balm? After reading The Fragrant Mind, I wonder if it’s the smell of clove, historically connected to soothing pain. In any case, this book is proving to be one of the best purchases I have ever made. It is scientific and thorough, but also readable and practical.* I can see using it as a reference text in both my career and personal life for decades to come.

Like many texts on essentials oils, The Fragrant Mind gives notes on preparing and creating oils, lotions, perfumes, etc. and then formulas for their use in specific negative conditions (addiction, depression, panic attacks). However, it also includes: (1) formulas for creating positive states (contentment, joy, focus); (2) a personality typing of each major essential oil; and (3) the division of people into nine different personality types within the context of essential oils (florals, fruities, herbies, leafies, resinies, rooties, seedies, spicies, woodies).

Determining my own personality type was a bit difficult. After some hours of thinking, I narrowed it down to three of the types, then handed the book to my boyfriend. It took him two minutes to announce “You’re a fruitie.” “How did you decide?” I asked. “Easy,” he said. “It was the only one of the three that said “dislikes authority.” Hmmmm. Point made. Though I could argue that I don’t dislike authority, what I dislike is authority dosed with stupidity. On the other hand, maybe I just need to look up that formula for peacefulness :-) One way or another, it won’t be wasted, either at home or during massage sessions.

*Online retailers such as Amazon allow you to browse through this book’s table of contents before you buy it and make it easy for you to purchase a good used copy, as I did.

September 5, 2009

Cacography and Other Points in Stinky Communication

A friend of mine who subscribes to recently sent me a word-of-the-day that I knew I wanted to blog about: cacography. Cacography (kuh-KOG-ruh-fee) is both simply defined as “bad handwriting” and “incorrect spelling.” The site summary adds an explanation of this word’s history/derivation: “From caco- (bad), from Greek kakos (bad) + -graphy (writing). Caco is ultimately from the Indo-European root kakka-/kaka- (to defecate) which also gave us poppycock, cacophony, and cucking stool.”

It might seem surprising that I’m blogging about bad spelling in a massage context given that we’re not exactly in the rooms working crossword puzzles. But good spelling, and to expand the topic, good grammar are both helpful and necessary in ALL professional fields for various reasons (credibility and clarity to name just two.) And I’m not referring to charting, which is done many times on-the-fly with a bad pen; with charting, you try to do the best you can in the most legible way possible. But most professional communication in massage (e.g. email, newsletters, etc.) involves a computer and a spell-check and perhaps even Internet access to further spelling/grammatical resources. So even if you are one of those people who blame teachers for some people’s inability to learn how to use a comma after ten or so years of repeating and practicing the concept in public school, you can still see that software helps to work around this deficiency.

When I was teaching College English, a student once complained to me that he didn’t see why he was graded for grammar and spelling when he was taking a class on literature. WELL, DUH. That’s one of those moments as an English teacher when you slip outside to take deep breaths and think about trees or something or go raving insane in front of 24 freshmen. However, that student’s attitude is shared by many, and I have even met them in the massage business. I have seen people who routinely produced writing for public consumption that was laughably bad. And I do mean that: when they weren’t wincing, various members of the intended audience were laughing, which is not a good thing. Because truthfully, credibility in authority has to involve literacy . . . at least in this culture. And good communication implies that we are not laughing (or crying) and saying “what the heck does that MEAN?”

No, massage therapists and the non-therapists working with us aren’t professional writers, and our/their writing does not have to be perfect. But we are all professionals, and should, I believe, at the very least shoot for writing that is clean and clear and doesn’t read like a bunch of . . . poppycock.

September 2, 2009

Bamboo Sheets, No Pinholes, Please

Any therapist has to love sheets that feel like silk, breathe so they are not too hot, not too cold, happily opaque and are so light it takes 10 sets to fill a washing machine. Yes, they are wonderful. A therapist’s sheet dream.

I purchased my first four sets of bamboo sheets recently and fell in awe. These are the massage sheets I always wanted. Finally, a set that didn’t weigh too much, didn’t wrinkle too much and did the job! The added green factors – renewable resource, less damaging to farmsoils and naturally anti-microbial are a huge plus!

And I got a deal. Normally about $50 for a set including bottom sheet, top sheet and face cover, I found some on clearance for half that. Awesome. Later, I would find out why they were on clearance.

But the moment I took them out of the package, the honeymoon began. Clients loved them. Silky, lightweight, warming but not too heavy, the utmost everything one would want upon a massage table. As much as clients love flannels, these sheets starting getting requests!

Then, came the rub. After two, maybe three washings, tiny little pinholes popped out of the fabric. Enough to make me wonder if I had dropped a safety pin in the wash. I started flipping sheets one end to the other, trying to avoid the little pinholes revealing the table warmer pad underneath. Clients tend to be picky about details, figuring that the devil is in them. If a therapist has pinhole sheets, what else is not worth caring about? Washing hands?

I sighed, a long deep, zen-breath sigh. These little darlings were way too fragile for my practice. I have some flannel sheets that have lasted more than 5 years – I keep them in the back of the linen closet because the elastic is gone, but I can use them without fear if I run out of the newer ones. Sturdy and very comfy, flannels are the bomb.

These 100-percent bamboo sheets were headed for the recycle bin. I used a few of them for quick sports massages at the Orange County AIDS Walk, where folks didn’t seem to mind, but after that the bamboo sheets were retired.

Yet, I would love to get them back. Have any therapists tried bamboo blends? Different thread counts? Found a solution to the pinholes? Please let me know!

Figure bamboo is here to stay, despite its eccentricities. Some new tastes are too hard to give up.