April 30, 2010

Fertility Rites

It strikes me that May 1st -- May Day -- with its ancient associations with summer and fertility, is a good time to write about... fertility.

When I was a child, I loved to go to the Little Rock Zoo. We lived so close that my mother strolled me over almost everyday to see the "eek-eek-longnoses" (my baby name for the elephants). My OBGYN father liked to call such trips "participation in the great fertility rite" since it seemed every other woman was either pregnant, holding a toddler, pushing an infant, or all three at once. The number of swelling bellies and chubby little fists was almost unreal.

Growing up, such brushes with the fertility rite were more often the norm. After all, fertility is what my father did for a living, in a sense, and all our lives were steeped in labor pains. Fertility was either happy or tedious or both, but never rare. As a grown up and as a massage therapist, though, I've encountered quite a few women who struggled with their fertility. Many times, stress seems to be a barrier to conception. I've seen several cases--as we all have--of women who were so stressed out about getting pregnant that they couldn't get pregnant. Many of these women either stopped trying or stopped trying and adopted, and almost immediately conceived. Once the stress was removed, the fertility energy flowed.

Telling a client not to be stressed, though, is often as effective as ordering her to relax--which is, to say, not effective at all. It's much better to suggest uncomplicated, doable tasks such as thinking positively, taking simple herbs that encourage blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, and perhaps receiving fertility massage. In order to try to help some of my clients who are hungering for fertility, I ordered a DVD entitled Fertility Massage: Nurturing the Spirit into the Womb by Claire Marie Miller. I have to say, I was impressed with what I learned. After watching it three times, and making notes, I was able to incorporate a lot of it into my sessions. Millar combines visualization therapy with some cranial-sacral work, abdominal and pelvic work, and specific reflexology work into a very nurturing massage routine. Although the routine can be performed by a therapist, it is simple enough to be performed by a woman's partner as well. My only complaint about the DVD is technical: whoever did the taping/production might have considered that putting loud music over the voices, etc., might be problematic. But the information is so good that it outweighs such problems.

After using the routine on my clients, I lent them the DVD to take home and view with their partners. They seemed thrilled by the simple but powerful sense of control and purpose that the information gave them. The last time the DVD came back to me, it had a note attached: "Lynna: Thank you for being you!!!" It made me feel like I'd done something that mattered. You might say, it made me feel . . . fertile.

April 21, 2010

Life By the Clock: Why Keeping Within Time Limits is Not Always a Bad Thing

Living life by a clock is not always easy. In fact, it can be quite difficult when you are a sensitive and caring massage therapist often dealing with clients suffering from stress and pain. But like all good things, a massage session must come to an end ... preferably when the schedule says it should. For some very good reasons.

I've been working with an excellent young therapist who seems to have an inborn talent for softening difficult clients. In addition, we've sometimes called her the Queen of the 80 Minute Extension because so many of her 55 minute clients request more time. On the other hand, she was becoming almost infamous for running 10-20 minutes or more over the allotted massage time when the client had NOT requested a paid extension. In talking to her, I explained that while being a sweet, good, caring person is admirable, "going late" is a bad choice for the following reasons:

1. It hurts the therapist. Going late on a regular basis is usually overworking your body and cheating yourself of needed financial compensation.

2. If you work for someone else, it hurts your employer. If that extra 20 mintues is not being paid for, you're not the only one losing potential income.

3. If you work for a clinic or studio, it hurts your team. Clients may come to expect extra time from all the therapists. And if you're doing part of a "couple's massage" (in this case two people coming at the same time with sessions in diffirent rooms), it makes your fellow therapist look bad when she ends the session at the prescribed time and HER client sits there for 15 minutes waiting for a friend or spouse to emerge from YOUR room.

4. It can backfire and hurt the client relationship. While clients do appreciate extra work, unfortunately many people will come to expect extras, and if there is a time when you can't deliver them, resentments occur.

5. It can hurt clients in following sessions. Since you haven't emerged from your room to check, someone may have scheduled you another massage. You may have just worked into 20 minutes of someone else's scheduled time and impacted their day and their health and state of mind.

After speaking to my young therapist several times on this topic, she still insisted that she couldn't get over feeling like she was "throwing clients off the table" and this made her "feel really bad." I replied that although I empathized with her, I stood firm on the reasons stated above. And I shared a few things that I do in order to deal with my own empathy issues. For one, I start talking (murmuring, really) to the client about five minutes before the end of the session, explaining softly some things that I found, any suggestions I have for home care, and what I think we should work on next time. And in cases where more work is obviously needed, I often say things like "I wish we had another hour to work today" or "Your poor neck is still not letting go all the way; maybe next time you could book 80 minutes and we could spend a lot more time soothing those neck muscles." Statements like these show I care. As do my large numbers of rebooks, return clients, and cards and notes thanking me for helping clients in their healing. Point is, I'm a pretty good therapist and can still be a good therapist even while living by that ratty clock.

In massage school, when we students were wringing our hands over the inconceivable task of doing "all this in 50-55 minutes," some instructors told us that if we couldn't get the hang of it, private practice was probably a better option. On the other hand, that can have it's special problems too. I once worked with a lovely, kind, motherly therapist whose bookings were not that high. Mystified, I got on her table, an experience which ended in epiphany. She was all over the board because she had no real plan. She had no real plan because she wasn't watching the clock closely. And she wasn't watching the clock closely, because she'd been doing her own home practice for over 20 years, and having been her own boss, she'd let the clock side. If there is no prescribed time, there is no real plan . . . so how do you ever know when you're finished? She had been willing all those years to accept less money and take on more work for her body because the clock hadn't been important (and because she was an angel). But in the end, that didn't translate very well into a flowing massage or being a good team player.

There are always rare exceptions to the clock rule. For example, a client who has an extreme emotional release at the end of the session may need a few extra minutes to be soothed and to come back down to earth. If another room is available, I've often let such clients stay on the table and compose themselves while I went and started the next session elsewhere. But for the most part, as I used to tell grammar students, you need to know a rule well before you can usefully break it. Learn to live in more harmony with the clock; it's almost always to the benefit of everyone involved.

April 10, 2010


Are you in H.A.L.T?

It's a question I ask myself on days where I'm feeling out of sorts, but still need to be there for my massage clients. "H.A.L.T" stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It's a concept I first learned about in my years sitting in Al-Anon meetings and discussing how to handle difficult problems. The advice goes like this: before you try to address a "difficult" problem, decide whether or not you're in H.A.L.T. Because if you are hungry, angry, lonely, and/or tired, dealing with that issue first may either solve your problem or make it much less difficult to face.

For a massage therapist, I think hungry may be the worst culprit. We get to moving very quickly indeed and sometimes forget to eat or even put off eating until we are dizzy or irritable. Hunger can even lead to fatigue, and then you have H and T going for you. Little things can swell up to incredible size when you are HT. So go to the fridge where you are hopefully keeping some good quality yogurt or raw almonds and at least get a little protein until you can eat again.

Angry and lonely are a little harder to deal with. But if you realize anger or loneliness is beginning to color your mood deep red or blue, you can take a few minutes to consider the issue. A few minutes spent meditating in your space or even out on a sidewalk pacing might be good for you. At the very least, sketching a plan on what steps to take LATER after your work is complete might give you enough temporary closure to get on with what you need to do... and THEN you can call a friend, write a rant, and/or deal with H again (preferably with chocolate).

April 6, 2010

Crunch Time

Doing a massage the other day on a lady who works as an emergency room nurse at a local hospital, I ran into some solid granite.

“I don't like chiropractors,” she said.

Ok. Why?

“We see people in the emergency room all the time. The chiropractor adjusted them and they come in later in pain and they are really messed up.”

Well, that’s a pretty firm belief. I volunteered that I tend to freeze up if I hear crunchies in my neck, so I go to a “soft” or Palmer Method practitioner. They can pretty much adjust me without creepy sound effects, or they use an activator that sets up a vibration that moves the joint.

“I’d never go to one. I hate them,” she said.

Well, that was a good spot to change the subject. It happens. Sure, maybe people have a bad adjustment. But perhaps they ignored advice on hydrating, icing, resting or whatever and ended up in trouble later. Or they froze when they heard the noise.

I do get folks coming in the door, who ask me if I like PTs or chiros or acupuncturists or whomever. I tend to say they are just like doctors and dentists. Some are really good, and some aren’t, and it’s often hard to tell without getting in there and giving it a try.

Then, I will get a first-person story about some horrifying experience or a complete waste of time or money or some-such. I remind myself that someone coming for a massage probably likes massage and may not respond well to another modality. Like keys to a door, one therapy may not fit every person. Sometimes a method may create more problems than it solves, or the practitioner may have missed something that would have led to a different outcome.

I also remind myself that if a therapy is successful, people stop looking for solutions. It’s the iceberg effect, in a way. If a problem is solved with surgery, exercise, adjustment, etc. those people won’t be coming in. Only those who are looking for a therapy that works better for their body will continue to seek help.

What do you say when someone complains about another practitioner, especially when they are a member of another profession? Do you agree they are all quacks? Do you tell them you are the only one to take care of the problem? Are they looking for validation or sympathy? What should you say if anything?

I think saying you are sorry they had that experience is a good answer. It doesn’t smear any profession or practitioner but it does validate the experience. But here I wasn’t dealing with first-hand experience. This was empirical observation, which in some people can lead to granite beliefs about how other tribes (or professions) are clueless idiots.

Of course, one needs to pick one’s moments, too. I sensed this wasn’t one of them.

I ventured another question. What treatment do people get if they are in pain from an adjustment?

“We have to give them Valium or Dilaudid they are in so much pain.”

Well, folks in the emergency room should know best how painkillers work. As a massage therapist, however, I see people who get hooked rather than relieved by painkillers, especially when heavy-duty painkillers given for muscle or joint pain. But that’s another perspective, for another blog.

April 1, 2010

My Happy Little Salt Lamp Sun

What has ended up being one of the best changes ever made to my massage space began almost as a tussle at the last company Christmas party. Instead of a simple gift exchange, we played one of those games where everyone brings a mystery gift priced under $20. Then, everyone pulls a number out of a hat between 1 and whatever number of people are participating. The person with "1" on her slip gets to choose a gift first. Then number "2" can either choose a gift or "steal" the already opened gift. And so it goes on until all the gifts are open and the first person, who has had no chance to steal a gift yet, gets to do so.

To make a long story short, the first gift opened was a salt lamp. And given that I have always admired salt lamps, I promptly stole it when it was my turn ... only to have it stolen back from me at the very end, dang it! The winning therapist brought it to her room at work, where it was so tempting and lovely, that in a month, I went out and bought my own. Now we ALL have them, and we love them.

The long, long history of salt as a purifier, both on the skin and in the air, both physically and spiritually, is well-documented. And there is a wealth of information out there on the Internet that describes the benefits of salt lamps in particular. Personally, I have no experience yet of salt lamps having a measurable effect on allergies, asthma, or any other air/breathing condition. But I will say that I have noticed a positive effect on my mood since I started using it, that is as profound as certain types of aromatherapy. I also find my salt lamp extremely comforting in emotional ways. Though it glows, it does not give me the feeling of winter outside, as a fake fire might. Instead, it's like a happy little sun. (This distinction is important to me when I'm starting to feel that in Seattle it's always winter, and never Christmas ;-) With just the lamp on, there is plenty of light for me to move around without tripping over objects, and yet not enought light to disturb the clients' relaxation. In fact, many of my clients have commented on how much they like my salt lamp, though they add that they sometimes "don't know why."

If you decide to try out a salt lamp, I'd recommend going down to Central Market, where you can get one in a good size for a typical massage space for $20. Or, you can pick one up from Amazon for about $15. I'd also recommend saving whatever information pamphlets come with it so that you can show them to interested clients. Since there are a zillion types of salt lamps out there, from the simple and cheap to the elaborate and expensive, this allows you to give clients basic information without having to become a salt lighting expert.