10 Years In: What I’ve Learned from Massage


This November celebrates the official 10 year anniversary of my career as a massage therapist. I am so grateful to be able to High Resolution -103sustain this practice that I love in a way that works for me. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about achieving mastery. He posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing something to achieve mastery. I figure that I’ve averaged between 800 and 1000 massage hours per year. While I may be getting close to Mr. Gladwell’s mastery number, I also delight in how much more there is to learn about my clients and how I can help them.

Countless massages and conversations with people have helped me to understand not only how amazing the human body is, but how many commonalities we have with one another. This job is incredibly unique, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support and dedication of my many clients over the years.

 Ten years in, here are a few observations I’ve made:

We’re all worried about getting older.

Maybe it feels too late to get in shape, or you’re starting to have some aches and pain that you used to not notice after normal activites. Bottom line: we’re aging, and we don’t always handle it very gracefully.  We live in a culture that values youth over the wisdom we gain from aging. Getting older isn’t something that most of us look forward to, and yet it’s coming for us all. Having open, honest conversations with ourselves and each other about the changes that are happening to our bodies and the way we are able to relate in the world can be a first step. Recognizing that we’re not always going to look and feel like our 20 year old selves forever is the hardest part. I always ask people when they express concern around aging: what would you go back and tell your younger self if you had the chance? We are the younger version of our older selves RIGHT NOW, so that advice might be still be relevant.

Movement is really important.

Truly. The difference between my older clients who have had active lives and those who have been sedentary is quite stark. They have more mobility, their quality of life is better, in general they are on less medications, and they aren’t having the same issues in their muscles and joints as my clients who don’t move their bodies. It’s never too late to find some sort of movement that inspires you.

We rarely receive positive touch in a way that doesn’t have an agenda.

I have people who come to me who are very overt about their need to just be touched by someone. I can’t really think of another opportunity that we have to have meaningful touch with with another person that isn’t driven by some agenda or desire. Massage is very unique in this way, and it’s a way to connect with another human being who has been trained to provide a safe space and help you feel good in your body.

how-your-smartphone-is-affecting-your-mind-and-body-science-text-neckWe’re moving really fast, almost all of the time.

We’re constantly connected and often multi-tasking. There’s really nothing to do during a massage but settle in and relax. It’s a opportunity to shut off the constant chatter of to-do lists, email checking and constant status updates. We’re over connected, and this can be a nice time to unplug from that for awhile.

We all have stress, and it manifests in our bodies in very similar ways, but also in very unique ways.

Every person I’ve massaged has, at some point, had a request for upper back and shoulder work. It’s just a place where we hold our stress. It’s most likely due to computer usage, driving and doing most of our tasks in front of us. Every time we reach forward, we have the opportunity to roll our shoulders forward. This creates a stress and tension pattern between the shoulder blades and in the neck. Many of us have this stress pattern. But we also manifest stress in unique ways, and that’s one of the fun parts of being a massage therapist: unlocking these patterns that are unique to your body, and yours alone. You earned these patterns by imprinting your life on your body. The way your body presents its stress tells a story of your life and how you’ve adapted to everything that’s thrown at you on a daily basis.

IMG_3477In general, most people don’t know that much about their body.

I’m always surprised when I realize that my clients don’t know much about what’s happening under their skin. They have some thoughts about the general area that might hurt, but don’t know much else. I’m always happy to whip out an anatomy book with anyone who shows even the slightest interest in knowing more. If you’ve always wondered what exactly it is that is hurting you and what you can do, we’re happy to do our best to explain it to you and show you pictures, as well as help you find ways to stretch and be more in tune with that part of your body to help alleviate some of your pain and tension.

We still think that taking care of ourselves is often a luxury that we either don’t deserve or can’t afford.

It takes both time and money to take care of yourself. These are two things that many of us don’t have in abundance. I’ve heard many people talk about massage as a luxury that they get as a treat. I’m not sure when taking good care of ourselves became a luxury, but I somewhat blame it on the spa industry. This industry caters to indulgence and pampering yourself. It’s great that so many people are receiving massages and other treatments in a spa like setting, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that their marketing efforts have done a disservice to the efficacy of regular massage from a health perspective.

As for the affordability of massage and other self care practices – in the long run taking good care of yourself is much more affordable than a potential, and possibly preventable, health problem down the road.

We still think that it has to hurt in order to be doing something.

Push through the pain and we’ll come out on the other side a better person, right? I’ve learned that deep tissue massage is the not the answer to everything. I think that it has it’s place, but there are many instances where I think another approach might be better and more effective. Many of the more subtle bodywork approaches can be just as, if not more, beneficial.

We don’t take enough time to connect with one another, especially in a healthcare context.

This is one of the great things about working with massage therapists, acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors. We all take the time to understand the bigger picture and how we can fit into it. Here at Watershed Wellness, we take the time to sit and understand your concerns, how we can help, and most importantly, how you can help yourself. It’s been a pretty consistent critique of conventional healthcare models that they don’t have the time to follow through about what happens after you get surgery, or what you can do to make your situation more comfortable. Taking into account the larger context of your quality of life is important to us.


LowResolution-99I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to do a job that is so closely aligned with my own values. Working with people in such intimate proximity has given me perspective and empathy that isn’t common in many careers. And of course, many thanks and lots of love to all of my clients, mentors, coworkers, friends and family who have given me advice, encouragement, and feedback over the years.


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