March 28, 2011

More Spa Memories

Taking a job as a massage therapist at a big spa is a great learning tool for the new therapist. I was a newbie, a rookie, when I worked at a large spa and I did find my way and went on to become a spa owner, employer, and an independent therapist.

So I have been sad that the spa I worked at closed earlier this year. It seemed to be losing market share to less expensive massage chains with better marketing and lower operating costs.

I will share some interesting bits from my time there. It was fun and a learning laboratory. And it was a great place to self-audit my skills and learn from the skills and miss-steps of myself and others.

"Music of the Mind"

We had a nine-disc CD player that piped music throughout the spa. Unfortunately, it seemed after a while that most of the therapists would go absolutely mental if we heard the same songs again, again, and again.

Our fearless lead therapist stepped into the breach and popped some new CDs in the machine. The CDs were very nice, tinkly classical stuff. Not my favorites, really, because of the crescendos and emotions classical music evokes. I was not too thrilled by the association with many movies. Nonetheless, it was a change from the same sorry CDs that had worn ruts through my auditory system.

One afternoon, a client gave me a heads-up that she had been going through a lot lately. She was a mom of twins who had just gone back to work – at the DA’s office. Her first assignment was a murder case. Her Dad was sick, too.

“Get the ice pick out of my shoulder, and then I just want to relax,” she told me.

Right-e-o. The knot took flight; she was starting to soften as we got into the relaxing portion of the massage. Then I felt her body stiffen.

“What’s that music?” she said.

“I think it is Rachmaninoff,” I said. “We just changed out to a new set of CDs and it’s very classical. Do you like it?”

“It reminds me of something,” she said. “I think it is the song from Schindler’s List.”

It wasn’t of note when she came in, but this client was Jewish. The song, it turns out, was played in the back-and-white film just as the little girl in the red coat was separated from her mother and ends up a victim of genocide.

“I can’t believe this place could be so insensitive as to play that song!” she said.

She sat up on the table, wrapped her self up in the sheet and announced her intention to go right to the manager’s office.

“Wait! I’ll go kill the CD! These are new CDs and we had no idea that was on it!” I said.

I ran out to the front desk, popped the offending CD out of the player and put it aside.

It turned out the client graciously forgave us. I had the palps for a while, but I learned my lesson. After that, when I used could choose the music, I used non-thematic new-agey stuff that couldn’t possible end up on a movie score or anywhere else that would evoke some past trauma.

Our lead, a classical fan, was a bit out of joint for a while about it, but eventually classical went south when the spa switched to a satellite service that played all new-agey spa music. We would hear the same songs every two days or so, but at least we weren’t playing romantic music from a tragic scene of a popular movie.

March 17, 2011

In Defense of Envy

When I was in massage school, I heard some pretty bad things about Massage Envy. Mostly, the talk involved a lot of insinuation about slave labor, low wages, and cookie-cutter massages. And yet, that's the first place I went when I graduated and applied for a job. Why? Because Seattle is knee-deep in massage therapists, and I figured if I really wanted to learn to help people and become competitive, then I needed practice. And lots of it. Which is exactly what I got at Seattle's Northgate Massage Envy, and I have never regretted it. At the end of my first year when I was ready to go out and try massage in other venues, I had around an 80% fill-rate and around a 70% request rate. I had wonderful clients, and a strong team of peers who specialized in many, many forms of massage. I had an average tip rate of $15 an hour, bringing my wage up to $30-31 per hour, and I also had full medical insurance and some awesome discounted continuing education hours in hot stone and pregnancy massage. All in all, not a bad deal for a first massage job.

But, I still needed to know what massage was like in other environments. And so after that first job, I worked for two chiropractors, a small massage studio, and a large day spa as an employee. Furthermore, I worked for two small studios as an independent contractor. Recently, my husband and I moved to Lake Stevens and so I changed jobs again. I still work as an independent contractor for a close friend of mine, but for my "steady paycheck" job, I went back to . . . . Massage Envy, this time in Everett. When I mentioned to some of my students in a cupping class that I was going back to Envy, one said "Massage Envy?" in disbelief, and the other said, "Isn't that where all the bad therapists end up?"

Okay, people, enough is enough. Would that all the "bad therapists" ended up at an Envy, because then we'd know where they all were and could quarantine the building or something. Unfortunately, they're scattered around everywhere, just as in every other profession on earth, and I have known them in every massage job I've had. Actually, because my Envy teams were so large and diverse, I've met some of my strongest therapist peers there. Many therapists work for Envy for good reasons:

1. It's flexible. You choose, or help choose, your schedule, and you can change it fairly easily without stress and pain from the employer.

2. It's good extra money. A busy Envy is money you can count on, especially in hard economic times. Many Envy therapists have their own businesses (outside of the non-compete) and use their Envy income to supplement that.

3. It's good practice for new therapists, because you see many, many clients in the full range of ages, body types, etc.

4. It's neat and clean and welcoming and pleasant (unlike the hole one chiropractor stuck me in next to their records room with the 25 year old rickety table and the employees yelling up and down the hall).

5. It has a trained professional staff (unlike the nutty stylist I once worked for who wouldn't let me look at the appointment book because there was "private information in there." Yes, I DO need to know my client's name . . . don't think that's asking too much of privacy.)

6. It offers health insurance benefits. No one else I worked for EVER did that, and health benefits are like gold, especially now.

7. It focuses on massage, and its mission is massage (unlike the chiropractor I worked for who constantly schemed about additional ways to increase income that had nothing to do with either healing or chiropractic or massage.)

8. It's dry. Okay, that sounds weird, but a big day spa with pools and multiple heat rooms never gets quite dry. Mix up all those damp bodies with lubricant and . . . . it's just gross in my opinion.

9. You can form relationships with clients and share their joys as they make positive progress (unlike a big day spa, where clients only come in rarely for "treats.")

10. You can learn from other therapists. I'm a deep touch therapist who specializes in trigger point, Mana Lomi, and cupping (though sadly I can't cup at Envy). And I was thrilled to work with therapists who specialized in everything from Watsu to Table Thai.

Of course, Envy has its drawbacks. It can be difficult to flip a room in 5 minutes, and a 50 massage is on the short end. Also, it is franchise-based, of course, and the nature of the particular owner goes a long way in how happy and healthy the environment is, but that's true of all jobs. So it irritates me that there are people out there who believe in ignorance that Massage Envy is simply the bottom-rung employer where all the "bad therapists go." Same thing with Southerners, right? We're all uneducated, barefoot, and pregnant. And yet, here I am--born and bred in Arkansas--childless and wearing Danskos. And oops, I almost forgot: twelve years ago today, LSU gave me that PhD . . . .

March 14, 2011

Ye Olde Spa

When I was a rookie to the massage field, I took a job, pretty much out of economic desperation, at a large day spa near the big mall. It was, in 1997, the one and only true real spa in the area. I don’t mean fluffy robes, but it actually had the water features that means a real spa – steam, pool, wet rooms and water-based treatments, etc.

This spa had ambitions, five-star ambitions, actually, and I figured I might be able to learn how to make a living at massage and possibly pay my rent in the meantime. It looked pretty spiffy, with a roman-spa feel and design.

I wore my white lab coat and a white polo and uniform pants to fit in for the interview. The new spa director had me give her a massage. I started on time and finished on time, a big deal at a place where one-hour massages are 50 minutes. I thought I was doing grand until I realized I had forgotten to put on deodorant that morning and tried to do a full-body Swedish with my elbows stuck to my sides.
Somehow I managed not to sweat too much during the massage interview and got hired on. There were a lot of therapists working at the spa, and a friend had given me a heads up on how to get by with the herd.

My first day I thought had gone fairly smoothly. I had two massages in a six-hour shift, and one of the experienced therapists was nice enough to show me the ropes, namely where to find sheets and how to fold sheets for an herbal wrap.

I wasn’t as busy as some of the other therapists working that day, and one, a man I’ll call Jon, ran up to me in a panic. He said he was overbooked and asked if I could run the tub in the treatment room while he ran to find his client.
Sure, I was happy to pitch in. I went into the tub room, checked the tub and noticed that the tub switch was set to shower. I looked up and saw the nozzle was pointed right at my head. I turned the switch back to tub and started to run the water, adding salts. When I turned around, I saw Jon was standing in the doorway, peering in at me with a disappointed look on his face.

“The tub’s filling,” I said cheerfully, “Do you need me to do anything else?”
Having survived my first day as a rookie, it turned out that Jon and I became good spa buddies, and it was a truly great place to learn the business.

I heard a few weeks ago that the spa had closed, beat out by the less expensive and more savvy marketing chain spas. It quietly closed it doors, with just a note on the web site thanking its customers and saying goodbye, signed with a generic “the management” sign-off.

March 7, 2011

Body Boot: Chaos to Function

What does the hand of the massage therapist do? Does it glide oil over the body, soothe the skin, quiet the mind? How does someone go from a bundle of jumpy over-primed muscles and fascia to the clear, calm and collected?

I think most therapists have a thousand answers to the question. I’ve had more than a few. I was reading Ida Rolf’s classic book and I think I found a good explanation: We boot.

Yes, we boot.

A bit like what happens when the computer gets slow, the screen gets fuzzy. We hit the switches that take the system down and bring it back up and in doing so restore order. Everything works well again.

Rolf talks about the “glue” we feel under the skin, a material I think more often as “wet cement” in which tissues are just glommed together without orientation or separation. The hand of the therapist knows what should be there and seeks it. The hand talks to each muscle, each tendon, conversing with structures that should glide and coordinate and reminds them of their purpose.

“This is the work, the energy that must be contributed by the hand of a practitioner before the chaotic undifferentiation gives way to orderly pattern.” Rolfing, by Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. Chapter 2, p. 35.

Rolf has a way with words, and with tissues. When we boot, we find those areas that have stopped helping the body and have become dysfunctional. The touch communicates, restores and revives.

Rolfing is a great book. Makes a lot more sense the more massages I do.