November 23, 2011

A Trip to Inglewood

I have been putting this trip to Inglewood off for five years. Sunday, it was finally time to go, to get it done.

We drove up the world’s busiest-seeming freeway to Inglewood, a city across the I-405 from the infamous Los Angeles International Airport. I vaguely remembered the wide city streets, the jumble of 50-something apartment buildings, the “You Buy, We Fry” joints. I’d been there 26 years ago, on a bittersweet, horribly hot summer day. On this return trip, Sunday, Nov. 20th, it was raining.

 When I do massages for people going through life changes, I can feel the tension, the anticipation, the dread, the excitement. The life change might be a wedding day, a retirement, the death of a spouse, death of a parent or child.

When the client is in mourning, I have felt the grief inside the thoracic area, the held shallow breaths, the emotional disconnection from daily life. I’ve always found it special to be able to do massages to relax someone in mourning and help them reconnect with the fact that life goes on.

Life does go on, and it seems to help to share those feelings and be nurtured with a massage. I felt that empathy again on the way to Inglewood, wondering why this neighborhood seemed so different yet unchanged at the same time.

Inglewood Cemetery is incredibly large, set on rolling hills once used for farms. It dates from 1905. The massive entrance opens to huge statues of winged angels, mature trees, ringed by high-rise mausoleums with incredible stained glass windows. I watched ducks and geese peck at the lawn by a man-made lake. It is so large, you need to get a map and drive in.

My first trip here, I had brought my mother, who had never healed from the fact that her Dad went to work one day and never came home. He was killed in an industrial accident when she was 3 years old. She didn’t quite remember everything that had gone on, and shortly after his death, her mother moved the family away from Los Angeles.

I did the research at the public library, sent away for the death certificate and found a copy of the news story that appeared in the paper when he died. He had been trying to save two other construction workers from a live wire when he died of electrocution. The death certificate listed Inglewood Cemetery.

We drove up the same freeway to this now-inner-city neighborhood, got lost and asked directions, trying not to look like rubes. What had been farmland and orchards in my grandfather’s time was now a bedroom community, largely African-American, dense with people, soul-food restaurants and cars.

My mom and I found the grave with the help of the cemetery caretaker. A flat marble headstone, dated 1929, in the center of a massive pot of single graves. She sat by the grave and talked to her Dad for a long time while we fried in the sun. We made the drive home in near-silence. When she was able to speak, she said: “Thanks for taking me.”

Mom died five years ago, and I have had her ashes sitting in the entertainment center at my home. At first, I couldn't even look at the box, let alone think of making the trip to Inglewood again. Finally on Sunday, her birthday, I was able to make the drive.

We found my grandfather’s grave and placed her ashes there. My spouse held the umbrella while I said a few prayers and thanked Mom for taking care of me. I thanked her Dad for taking care of her. My mother was my first experience with nurturing touch.  It is because of her that I have the empathy and nurturing touch to be a massage therapist.

November 21, 2011

Northwest Academy for the Healing Arts

We are pleased to introduce Seattle’s newest massage therapy school. Northwest Academy for the Healing Arts is one of Seattle’s only independent and privately owned massage schools. Located in the heart of West Seattle, this school is dedicated to a high standard of education for its students. Students benefit from structured programs, small class sizes, student-focused instruction and open communication.

Northwest Academy for the Healing Arts is approved by the Washington State Board of Massage, which allows students to apply for a Washington State Massage License upon completion of the program. Northwest Academy offers a 7-month morning program, 9-month evening program and 12-month weekend program and boasts the smallest class sizes compared to other Seattle Massage Schools. Smaller classes allow teachers to get to know their students, creating student- focused lesson plans which reflect the needs of the class collectively. This not only improves the retention of students, it also allows for open communication.

Since Northwest Academy is a small facility, administrative staff has an open door policy. Instructors and students always have access to the director of the school and administrative staff which increases communication and leads to constructive feedback about the school. This environment lets students directly shape the school and improve experiences for future classes. It also leads to accomplishments such as Northwest Academy graduates maintaining a 100% pass rate for the National Massage Licensing Exam on the first try; a huge accomplishment for both students and faculty.

By dedicating their efforts into creating structured programs, maintaining small class sizes, student-focused instruction and open communication, Northwest Academy for the Healing Arts is re-defining the massage school experience.

We are thrilled to welcome Northwest Academy of the Healing Arts to the Find Touch community!

November 20, 2011

The Sophie Pregancy Pillow: Pregnancy Prone

When I first started doing pregnancy massage, I went for the old "grab a big pillow in side-lying and slide another between the knees" method. I really hated the "pregnancy cushion system" that we had: it seemed to have about a million mysterious parts, none of which wanted to hold together in position.

However comfortable they are, though, side-lying pillows do have their limitations. For one thing, you really can't get in enough good neck work. For another, you spend precious time switching sides and restuffing the pillows into position. And most importantly, the client, doesn't ever get to lie face-down. In interviewing pregnant clients, I found that lying facedown was a much missed luxury, and that they would please-please-pretty-please love to lie facedown for an hour.

Then I got pregnant myself, which decided the issue: we would try a "pregnancy cushion system." I avoided the awful one that I'd first been exposed to, and ended up coveting the Prego Pillow. However, the Prego Pillow retails at about $350, which was too rich for our blood at this time. Instead, we opted for trying the Sophie Pregancy Pillow, which retails for a much more affordable $129. We purchased the professional version instead of the home version, which means it's a little sturdier and made of wipe-able material. The Sophie comes with a bag that covers the entire system: in this way, the fabric itself forms a sling over the structure for the client's belly. However, we found that covering the system with a flat sheet and tucking it loosely around the Sophie works just as well. The Sophie does lack the built-in headrest of the Prego Pillow, but we found that double-stacking unattached face cradles works really well (the instruction videos show the use of a regular bed pillow).

Thus far, our clients are very happy lying on their tummies using the Sophie Pregnancy Pillow. If you too have been coveting the Prego Pillow or another more expensive pregnancy pillow system, give the Sophie a try instead--it may be well worth it for your practice.

November 15, 2011

Goals in Practice

One of the things I do every few months is look at my practice goals. Am I working enough? Too much? Am I happy with the clientele? How do I feel about my own massage health and abilities? Enough clients? Doing the work I want to do? Does my practice meet the clients’ needs? Am I making enough money?

Those questions, I suspect, come up to any massage therapist wherever or however they practice. I make a special effort to not only phrase the questions but craft the answers. Am I working toward goals? Treading water? Am I feeling behind or ahead of the curve? These are not easy questions, and it takes objectivity, which about oneself is often in short supply.

Of course, the economy has taken a hellacious slide, and there have been challenges to meet in the face of shrinking income. For all therapists it has been a rough couple of years in terms of business conditions.
I started my private practice in a recession, although that one was shorter-lived and less severe, some days it was a challenge to simply put one foot in front of the other. I remember having itsy-bitsy goals and trying to expand them as my confidence grew. I practiced my practice a lot. I learned to not take rejection to heart, and to stay positive and go with the flow.

If that sounds easy, of course, it isn’t. This year when setting goals I had to list quite a few. One was spending more days at the office to lengthen opportunities to fill the book. More effort to arrive on time whether booked or not, and that’s a tough one, especially after a late night of work. Some of it simply came down to having faith – faith in myself and faith in God above, that I can do what I set my mind to do.

Mind-set is only part of the deal. One of the concrete goals I set was to add about $300 to the weekly gross, in order to make some other goals possible. I looked at what I could do, what my counterparts were doing, and decided to stick to my core business – massage – instead of looking for multiple streams of income that required selling other products.

That was a tough one, because I am good at selling products. I often trained other therapists at my spas on how to sell services and products to customers. But I looked at the sign next to my door – it said massage, not vitamins, essential oils, health water or other products.

I also decided to reward clients for their regularity and faithfulness, rather than giving percent-offs and specials for new clients.

Now as the calendar year draws to a close, I can say I did well on a few things, not so good on others. Getting the gross increased took practice, but it has been steady improvement and now seems second nature. I’m still leaving my house like Dagwood running for the bus on some mornings, and I’m not consistent with client rewards.

These last two months of the year, I’m going to hit the goals again and try to make them work. When I need to alter my practice, I look to myself. Can I do anything about the big things like recessions or more competition or market pricing?

Absolutely. I can work on my own goals and do better. Who was it that said: There’s never any competition going that extra mile in the fast lane….Good gravy, I think it was Mary Kay.

November 7, 2011

Stress and the Disappearing Client

This client was as regular as clockwork. Once a week, during the day, she would come in for a massage to help with an achy hip and stiff neck.

Over the course of several sessions, we identified some contributing factors, such as a high truck step-in that aggravated her hip. We also changed sleeping pillows and adjusted her sitting and walking posture. She liked her massages most of all, however, because it helped with the stress of caring for her ailing husband.

One week she had to take a break for a cold, the next week I was on vacation. She made an appointment for the third week, but called to cancel.

Time slipped by, I called and left a message here and there. I thought something was up. Did I do something she didn't like? Was she seeing another therapist? Did my office look dirty? When clients disappear, you go over the questions in your mind. Is it possible that they have voted with their feet? That’s what most people do, when it comes to doctors, hair stylists, massage therapists, etc. The feet vote and they make tracks.

I looked over my notes and decided to just wait and see. As far as I could tell, she had gotten good results and was doing better each time she saw me. I knew something was up, and my radar, it turned out, was working just fine.

I saw her last week. “ I've driven passed here so many times, and I wanted to stop in,” she said. “But I just couldn't. I had to go to the hospital and be with him.”

Her ailing husband, turned out, had major surgery that did not go well. He had not one but three drug-resistant internal infections after surgery. It had been touch and go for months, to the point they had said their goodbyes to each other one night in intensive care. She had slept in the horrible orange visitor chairs, ate cafeteria food, went home just long enough to feed the dogs.

I suppose that massage therapists expect clients will increase their visits during periods of high stress, but I must admit there are some things that capture all of one’s attention.

“It sucks when all of the people at the hospital know your name,” she said.

I have to agree. I had been on vacation in Hawaii five years ago when my spouse had a heart attack. We had stayed in Honolulu for an extra month while honey recovered from a bypass. I had slept in those horrible chairs, ate the scary cafeteria food (in Hawaii they love SPAM!) and in general ignored myself while taking care of my sweetie. Two nights before we left, I realized I felt about 140 years old and went for a long massage. My, my how it felt good.

“All that matters now is that he is better and you can relax,” I said. “And believe me, I know how you feel.”