The weather in Chicago has gone bananas today (big shock, right?) and I took a restorative yoga class this morning, so I’m in an introspective mood right now.
Have you seen the news ad campaign Whole Foods Market* put out recently? There’s one that I stop and stare at every time I walk past it:
Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love
That simple phrase gets right to the heart of much of the work I’ve been doing and writing about.
For so many years I asked demanded so much from my body, and gave so little back in return. My self-care routine for my first five years of massage practice was eating “healthy” (lots of convenience food, which was all-natural, but still), getting a massage once a month or so, and riding my bike. I had no creative pursuits outside of my profession, and I spent tons of time sitting on my couch and watching T.V.
I want to be very careful to be clear right now, none of that made me a bad person, and it doesn’t mean I deserved the injury I sustained. For my body, that just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t allowing myself as much self-care as I needed and deserved.
That’s why I love that ad so much. What all of my adventuring the past two years has boiled down to is this: I am showing my body that I love it. Slowly, day by day, I am learning to thrive.
*In the interest of full disclosure, my spouse is an employee of Whole Foods Market. They did not pay me to write this and I’m pretty sure I would love this campaign just as much if my household had no affiliation with the store whatsoever.
I love mantras. I used to think they were silly, but that was such a long time ago that I honestly can’t remember what changed my mind. Now I use them all the time. Whenever I feel upset, anxious, or just disconnected from my body, I have a lovely little touchstone that’s always right there.
I’ve had what I might call a life mantra for several years now. It changes every few months as my life and needs for it evolve. Whenever I feel adrift or unfocused it’s nice a nice reminder of where my life is right now.
This past weekend I was finishing up my lymphatic drainage and visceral manipulation training, and I was feeling a little apprehensive about it. It takes a great amount of trust for someone to allow their organs to be manipulated. I am literally moving around the fluids and tissues of their soft underbelly. The practitioner needs to have a clear intention of what they are working with, and be absolutely attuned to their client.
Add in the distraction of the other students, the traffic noise outside, and the general nerves that come from being new to a technique and it can be hard to focus.
A mantra to the rescue! Both mornings before class I would sit and write my daily mantra in that cute little journal. Whenever I felt nervous or in danger of losing my intention I had the right words to bring me back.
It was so helpful, that I’ve decided to continue the practice in my everyday life. Taking the time to sit quietly, come up with the right words, and then write them down is a wonderful way to start the day.
A couple months ago I was in a panic when both the women I share my room with were planning to leave. My mind immediately jumped to all the best nightmare scenarios, mostly about how I would never find new tenants and this beautiful business I’m building was going to crash and burn. That’s a lot of stress.
That’s only the beginning of the story. What I did next would surprise anyone who has known me for longer than the past year.
I paused. I paused and took a deep breath; I asked myself if I was letting my fear hold me back. If I was missing out on an opportunity for something bigger that was made possible by this change in circumstances.
What I realized is that instead of fighting against the opportunity I had just been given by finding tenants to sublet all my available days, I could choose to add more days. More chances for clients to come and see me. I let myself sit with the idea, and the word that came to me was “Abundance”.
Every day since I had that little revelation, I have taken some time to sit with that word and embrace what it will bring to my life in the fall. I made the picture I posted at the top of this and put it on my computer. Every time I sit down to type anything it is in my line of sight; reminding me that I don’t have to be afraid of failure and that I can embrace success.
It’s a small shift that had a huge impact on me.
What word do you want to watch over you today? What would you like to welcome into your life?
The human body has many secrets, and it does not divulge them to anyone, except those who have learned to wait. -Paul Auster
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client come to me for a massage and ask me to fix them. I probably can count the number of times I’ve said that to a fellow massage therapist during the intake. It’s a cry born from many different emotional places: frustration, desperation, laziness, humor, and too many more to list.
One of the most powerful components of massage is its ability to establish and reenforce the mind/body connection. For anyone who spends even part of their day dissociated from their body, the way a massage can serve to welcome the mind back home can seem miraculous. At least, it always does to me when I’m at my lowest.
Over the years, I’ve had many variations of the post-massage conversation where a client will remark on how the session served to remind them that they are human; that their bodies are not machines existing only to serve the mind. That they can only ask so much from their bodies before the body needs to be given something back.
It’s not surprising that so many of us default to this separation of mind from body with the body serving as the mind’s fleshy car. It’s a convenient way to sell us things, and the notion that we can keep demanding more and more from our bodies is pretty seductive.
Because of that, I’ve really tried to resist the “fixing” narrative that people have about massage therapy. I’m not a mechanic and your body isn’t a car. I’m going to boldly argue that even if you’re in pain, you aren’t “broken”. I don’t believe that your body needs to be fixed, but it can be attended to, listened to. The mind/body connection is weakened when we treat our bodies as simple vehicles, massage can help your mind and your body reunite.
What a change a week can make in the spring! The upper 30’s that felt so balmy last week left me shivering yesterday. That returned sensation of permeability to the cold has tapped out some of the energy I was enjoying so much last week. Writing is a chore again. Fortunately, I know this is just a temporary block.
My temptation is to measure myself against last week. To try to force myself to be as productive (or more, right?) so I don’t lose any of the progress I made. Yet yesterday I did something pretty rare for a Tuesday; I gave myself the day off. Not in my usual weekday sense, where I am still writing and exercising and doing all the little things that keep my business running. No, I gave myself permission to be a total coach potato. I gave myself one day to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
So now it’s tomorrow, and I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. Everything feels more clear today, including the fact that between the upswing in massages I’m giving and the downswing in the temperature outside, I need to let myself have some extra rest. You know what? I’m going to take the afternoon off. Whatever writing and cleaning and erranding I don’t get done? I’ll do it tomorrow.
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s finally spring here in Chicago, after what someone told me was the worst February on record (I could double check that, but Spring Fever says not to). Just a week or so ago, I felt as though my down coat and snow boots were permanently attached to me. It’s such a relief to leave them in the closet!
The truth is that there’s a part of me that wants to throw my obligations aside and spend all my time in the sunlight. I feel like I could be perfectly content to sit in a sunny space and watch the flowers grow. Yesterday was a tug-of-war between work and play, and I managed to harness some of that wild energy of new growth into my technical writing.
Today I feel that same urge to abandon my responsibilities and play. I also feel the excited realization that I can embrace that desire for play and bring it to my work. That new green energy, that chaotic expansion, it is the force driving me to write. It is driving me to reach new and deeper levels with my clients. It is a force that could easily drive me to exhaustion if I don’t remain present.
It is spring and all things are possible. Everything is a poem.
Last week was a rough one for me. I think a lot of it was the weather, but whatever was going on I had a difficult time staying present outside my massage room.* I wasn’t even aware of how much I was struggling until I received a massage.
For the past couple of months I have been practicing mindfulness while receiving massage. In my experience, the two enhance each other in this wonderful, organic way, and I would encourage anyone who wants to to give it a try. During this particular massage, I could not be mindful. My mind would shy away each time I invited it back. I decided to try practicing passive relaxation during the session, which eventually calmed me down enough to be mindful again.
What struck me at the time was how valuable it was to have that hour for myself already scheduled into my week. I remember wondering if I would have had the discipline to reset my mind/body connection with that slow passive relaxation if I weren’t already in a situation where there was nothing else that needed my attention.
That’s another benefit of massage, isn’t it? You already have that hour (or 90 minutes, or however long) set aside as you time. You are already engaging in an activity that enhances the mind/body connection.
The massage I received last week ended up being one of the most powerful massage experiences I’ve ever had. I was able to embrace and then release some emotional stuff that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do on my own.* I started to feel like myself again almost as soon as I got off that table.
Your massage is a time for you. Embrace and enjoy that.
* I very rarely have trouble staying present when I’m giving a massage. The very fact that I’m maintaining presence for someone else is what makes it easier.
* For people dealing with trauma, please seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. Massage can be very helpful in dealing with emotions, but massage therapists are not qualified or empowered by law to do anything beyond listen to what our clients choose to share with us about their emotional experiences. This blog assumes no liability for how this post is used.
I recently had an interesting insight after giving a massage. I’ve been incorporating my mindfulness practice into sessions with some of my clients lately, and it seems to be improving the effectiveness of the sessions for them. I’ve really begun embracing my role as a facilitator of healing, and I’ve focused my intention away from “doing” work to creating a space where change can happen.
Many of my clients are perceiving this as energy work, and it seems like energy work to me too. There is a part of my brain that shies away from this categorization because it isn’t like the energy work I have been formally trained in. It’s not something I am actively doing (there’s that word again), it’s something that is happening spontaneously as we focus on particular parts of the client’s body.
The insight that I came to was that the part of me that wants to reject this is part of my ego. The change in my work is benefitting my clients, but it cannot be quantified or studied objectively. I cannot “prove” it to anyone, or explain it with pure logic. Therefore a part of me wants to dismiss it as wishy thinking (and star maths if any of you are fellow “IT Crowd” fans) and never tell anyone about these experiences.
Yet I know from my own experiences of receiving massage in a mindful state that it enhances the work for me. Do I really need mechanistic studies demonstrating effectiveness to accept that something more is happening when massage is given and received in a mindful state? Or is it more that my ego wants to post links to studies here to prove to you all that it makes a difference? I’ve come to believe it’s the latter.
I don’t need a specific name for the space my client and I are making during these mindful massages yet. We can both appreciate that change is happening, and they can get off the table feeling freer and looser. Names can come later.
For the month of January my massage packages are an extra 5% off! Massage is a great way to jumpstart your self-care routine in 2015, and this is a great price. The regular prices are listed on my website.
Now for the bonus fun portion: I am on Instagram! As some of you know, when the wrist pain started I had to quit endurance cycling (for now). So I took up running and had to quit because of joint pain (for now). I went back to taking daily walks, and that’s been pretty nice.
Now that it’s really, really winter here in Chicago I thought it might be extra motivation for me to get out there if I’m documenting my walks in some way. So I pledge to add at least one photo on Instagram per daily walk. If you want to check it out I’m “wellnessadventuring”.
I hope that those of you who are also enduring the deep freeze are finding adventures of your own!