Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Pregnant Lady

I've given several pre-natal massages (massaging pregnant ladies), but this week's was even more special than usual.

She's about, oh, 6 months pregnant.  She was perfectly healthy, not her first pregnancy; a young beautiful woman, just having the usual lower back discomfort typical in this part of pregnancy.

Not actual client, FYI.

Whenever I begin a massage, I stand for a moment, hands either hovering just above or lightly touching my client's back or head, taking the measure of the day.  Is she stressed? Angry? Sad? Tired? Hurting? Joyous? Relaxed?

She was calm, receptive, and happy.  So happy.  As I loosened tight muscles and mobilized overworked joints, I felt her energy.  It was ... pregnant.  Full. Brimming.

It was like looking at a rich, thick blue fabric, but when you get close, you see the tiny pink pinstripes worked into it.  Multi-layered.  And she was so beautiful.  It was more than just a pretty face, although she would be considered lovely in any situation.  But her skin was so full, so curved. She said it would be ok for me to gently massage her belly, so I did, first mentally asking permission.  Hello, Baby.  I'm helping Mama feel nice.  Sleep well, Baby.

She slept through much of the massage, and upon emerging from the room after the massage, stretched luxuriously and smiled sleepily.

I think she'll be back.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why I Don't Take More Showers

I used to be the "can't live without a shower each and every morning" kind of girl.  Now, I'm lucky if it's every other day.  (Except in the summer time when it's all hot and I sweat.  Then I take lots of showers. Don't hate.)  There's a good reason.

The house can be SILENT -- husband w/headphones on, doing work, kids in rooms reading or whatnot, dogs sleeping.  I think, "This is it.  The moment when I can hop in for my 4-minute shower and get in and out and clean and then get on with my day."

Then. I hear "Mama?" and the door opens.  Then I hear the flapping of little boy feet on the bathroom tile.  Then I hear dog toenails clacking. Then pretty soon, I hear my daughter asking, "What's going on? Why are you in the bathroom, Simon?" Then I start telling everybody to please leave me alone for the 3.7 seconds it takes me to rinse my hair.
Then HUSBAND senses a disturbance in the Force, and comes to see what's up.  And now, in our tiny bathroom, we have two elementary school kids, two confused dogs, and my husband.  And now I can't even get OUT of the shower because there's no damned room.

Finally, I shoo them all out with the threat that I'm actually going to just get out of the shower wet and naked, and if they want that seared into their brains, that's their own problem.  They finally leave.

And I reach for it, only to find they have somehow, for some mysterious reason, taken the towel.

*End Scene*

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: First, Do No Harm. In Fact, Be Gentle. Really, Really Gentle.

There is a wonderful, lovely woman.  She has lots of health issues, and as a result, goes to lots of doctors, therapists, x-ray people, and so on.  It hurts her to stand, to move, to sit, to ... pretty much everything hurts.

When I first saw her, she had been to a physician, a radiologist, and another healthcare person.  The first had scolded her, the second had rushed her and moved her body abruptly for the scans, and the last tried to be calming, but still insisted on prodding her (probably for good reason -- who knows?).

Bu the time she got to me, she was looked like she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She was suffering, and not just physically. She was breathless, wild-eyed, worried, panicky, and limping.

The recommendation from one of her providers was that she "needed deep work on her glutes, etc."

Then I heard as her husband helped her get on the massage table, propping her with pillows, adding an icepack onto an aching limb, and positioning her just so. She was nearly crying with pain.  She sounded so hopeless, so upset.  So frantic.

When I came in, she was breathing hard, and talking at me about her aches and pains. Not to me.  At me.  Protecting herself with words.

I stood near her, still.  I said that the recommendation was that she needed "deep work," but perhaps that the last thing she needed today was someone else hurting her.

She stopped talking for a moment.


"Well, I thought that perhaps instead of doing anything that would cause you distress or pain, I could just help you feel a little better."

"Oh. Well, ok."

I began lightly, gently, to apply warmed lotion to her back. As I moved over her back, shoulders, and arms, I tucked the other parts into the warm, fluffy blanket so she stayed warm.  I kept my movements steady, rhythmic, gentle.  Her shoulders and arms didn't hurt at all, so I spent some time kneading them, taking advantage of the fact that making something feel good can release endorphins in the body.  Endorphins can start a wonderful cascade of relaxation leading to enjoyment, leading to more relaxation.

Within minutes, I heard her breath slow; I felt her relax.  I gently started working on the "problem areas" on her low back and glutes.  They initially tensed up.  I told her quietly that I was only going to do what the muscles let me, and that I would not try to "fix" them, but just warm them up and help the blood flow more easily.  Before long, her surface muscles let go, and then the deeper muscles began to be more flexible.  I did not attempt any deep pressure or any "goal-related" work.  I just tried to let her muscles know that someone out there was not planning on hurting them today.

After our 30 minute massage (that was all she thought she'd be able to handle), her husband helped her off of the table.  He came out while she dressed, saying, "I can't believe it.  She got such relief in just 30 minutes!"
She came out and hugged me, thanked me, and then walked -- WALKED, not limped -- out.

They came in the very next day for another massage.  This time, she looked like an entirely different person.  She had her hair done, some lipstick on, and she actually looked right at me and smiled.  No talking at me.

This massage was different.  She trusted me immediately, and before long, fell asleep.  At the end, I gently shook her shoulder and said that it was time to rejoin the world she was amazed she had slept.

Because she got such tremendous relief from just a 30 minute massage, she has scheduled two to three short massages a week for the next few months.  I can only hope that she continues to feel better.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Lessons In Hot Stone Massage

I recently bought myself some basalt stones to start incorporating hot stone massage into my practice.

A few important things to remember:

1: Rocks don't glide well when they're not oiled or anything.  (I should totally have seen that coming, I suppose.)

2: If you've already lubricated the person's back or the stones with oil or lotion, that's fine.  However, said stones will not stay put on the person's back if you let go of them (like in this picture):

They slide right off. You can pretend that is a new "chakra-enhancing automatic sliding hot stones" technique if you want, but I doubt they'll believe it.

3: If you decide to re-position the stones, and so pile these rather large stones all into one hand whilst getting a squirt of lotion with your other hand, DO NOT  -- I repeat -- DO NOT clutch those couple of large, slippery, hot stones in one hand DIRECTLY ABOVE YOUR CLIENT'S HEAD. Please remember that point.

[No clients or therapists were actually injured in today's massages. Just a little discombobulated.]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: The Tragedy That Is "Massage Music."

I've been trying to find some music to play during massages, but, being a musician, I have some rather stringent guidelines.

1: NO. ENYA.  See here.

2: No symphonic music.  I have played so much of it, I get caught up in it. I find myself accenting along with Berlioz, much to my client's dismay.

3: No panpipe.  For god's sake, no panpipe. I feel like we should go all Terminator and go back in time and sterilize Zamfir's mother.  (I wouldn't kill her -- she may have had other non-panpiper children--wait.  That wouldn't work either.  I'd think of something.)

4: No synthesized covers of pop music.  My ears wanted to suck themselves back into my skull when I heard -- get this -- Greatest Hits by the BEATLES -- on PANPIPE. With synthesized backup. I shudder at the memory.

5: No 'classical' music played (synthesized or real instruments) at excruciatingly slow tempi "because it's for MASSAGE music. That will be so sooooothing." Except for the flutist/massage therapist who is slowly asphyxiating because I always tend to breathe along with the phrases of things I've played. Somewhere out there is an oboist with whom I need to have some serious words. Entre'acte from Carmen (Bizet) is supposed to be Adagio.  Not molto Gravissimo.  (That's not even a real tempo marking)

6: No religious/pentecostal/gospel music hiding as background music.  I recently got to the end of a massage, having used a borrowed CD to try it out.  My client commented that the music had been really upsetting, since it brought to mind years of being forced to go to "Revivals" at his parents' church. Oy.  I had no idea that music was anything but boring, cheezy Muzak (no, the CD case did not say anything about the origins of the melodies. I checked.).

7: Nothing with "surprise accents" or sudden percussion interludes.  Many a comfy massage-trance has been broken by ill-advised use of high-hats, triangle rolls, pings of gongs hit with hard-tipped mallets, or random bird chirps.  Which leads me to...

8: Crickets.  GodDAMN, I hate the crickets.  Does anybody really find that soothing?  Even bird chirps can be intensely irritating.  Anything that comes out of the blue, starts abruptly, and leaves you worrying about when the next occurrence will be is OUT.

9: This is a late add.  THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Just yesterday, I was using a perfectly lovely ooohhhh-ahhhhhhh, bonggggggbonnnnngggggoooooohhhhhh pseudo-asian thing, when ALL OF A SUDDEN, it went all Haunted Mansion on me.  These voices? Sounding like a bunch of ghosts who found some pot and got all stoned and were trying to go around scaring people at the local mall for kicks.  It was truly bizarre. I assume it was synthesizers, since I cannot imagine any singers who would be willing to record themselves making such sounds.  Unless they were also baked.  Possible, I suppose.

As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.  This is why I'm working towards creating, playing, and recording my own music.

At least I know that I won't use any frickin' crickets.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Afraid to Hurt Her Tattoos

I have no tattoos myself, nor do any of my family members, so basically, I have no idea how it feels to have one. I really have no desire for one due to my aversion to having stuff poked into my skin with needles, and because -- just nope. Don't want one.

This does not mean that I don't admire well-executed skin artwork on others, though.

 I have been caught inspecting the arms and shoulders of people ahead of
 me in the line at the grocery store, someone standing near me at a party, or sitting near me at a concert.  Some of the artistry and composition is remarkable.

There is a client who comes for near-weekly massages, and she has spectacular tattoos on her lower- and mid-back. It's an underwater scene with anemones, seaweed, and a few sea creatures.

Week after week, she has a super tense, spasming muscle on one certain spot on her back, and her turtle's head is right on it.  I have become fond of her turtle, because it's just gorgeous. I can't bring myself to really dig in to her poor turtle's head, so I find myself closing my eyes and working by feel so I don't worry that I'm hurting the little guy. Silly, no?

Also, I have named him Eduardo. Eduardo the Turtle.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tales From The (Massage) Table: Art Restoration

Today, I was giving a massage. (Shocking, I know)

I had given about seven yesterday, most of which had been 30 or 45 minute massages, and my first two today were also short.  I marveled that I did not get bored after being asked, yet again, to "focus on my upper back, shoulders, and neck."

As I worked the kinks out of yet another set of rhomboid muscles, another levator scapula, I noticed that I was still entranced. "How is this possible? Why am I not bored to tears? I've had the same basic requests for two days running."

The first thought was Art Restoration.  A person restoring the Old Masters to bright, beautiful glory would not get bored when asked to clean another Rembrandt, another Degas.

 If they were asked to stabilize the pages on a Book of Hours from the Medieval age, would they complain when they got to the eighth page?

 "Geez.  ANOTHER illuminated manuscript.  Le sigh."

No. Of course not.  Having the ability, the training, the talent to touch something of great value, significance, and beauty with your own hands and your tools and restore it? It never gets old.

These beautiful, imperfect, aching people... works of art. Helping them return (at least to some degree) to bright, beautiful glory is my job.  And it is entrancing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tales From The (Massage) Table: Doing Some Good In The World

Today, I did some good.

I worked on an old farmer (the same one), a woman with a chronic autoimmune disease and a spinal problem, someone recovering from a car accident, someone who cares for a sick relative, someone very nervous about selling her house that day, a person who had nothing good to say about herself, and cared for a care-giver.

Possibly I made them all feel better.  They certainly said they felt better. I relaxed the tense, valued the feeling-unvalued, comforted the hurt, cared for the exhausted, and loosened the tight.

And all it took was my hands. And my heart.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being A Non-Flutey Flutist Makes Me Happy

I'm a flutist, but have had the good fortune to hear from many of my colleagues that I "don't seem like a flutist."  By this, they mean that I'm not an utter pain in the ass.
Good god.  Do you see this? A KITTEN, a FLUTE (put together incorrectly, natch), A ROSE, BALLET SLIPPERS *AND* a WHITE PIANO.  It's the grand slam of preciousness.

Anyone who has been in middle school or high school band knows what I'm talking about.  The flute players are the competitive back-biters.  The rumor starters.  The bitches.  Yes, there.  I said it.

Why is this?  Don't know.  It doesn't matter to me WHY it happens -- it just does.  Just like trumpet players are arrogant, tuba players are funny and euphonium players will never get a job, it's a fact.  I have indulged in the Flute Player Syndrome (FPS) while in junior high and high school, I had my comeuppance in undergrad, and even more so in grad school.  It wasn't fun.

I finally learned that in order to be a person MYSELF that I could stand to be around, I had to get off of it.  I needed to develop some tact, some empathy, and a whole lot of modesty.  There's ALWAYS going to be a better flutist.  And she's probably going to be younger, thinner, and have better clothes.  Again, fact.

Know what I found out?  It's more fun to be the nice flute player, as long as you are also a kick BUTT flutist.  People like playing with nice musicians.  People like to hire them!

However, sadly, it's humbling to do this.  I simply had to give up trying to prove that I was the BEST EVER. I just had to act like I am the most awesome KATE around.  Here's the thing -- if I get around another flutist (other musicians too, but mostly flutists) who is still deep in the snotty-attitude thing, my antennae go up and it's HARD to resist the pull.  I want to name-drop, to brag, to talk about all my orchestra jobs, my degrees, my auditions.

I KNOW!  It's wretched.  I have to make a conscious choice to NOT jump into that pit.  It's a deep, DEEP pit.  Lots of people are in there, too.  They are the ones who warm up on "Daphnis and Chloe" when you're getting ready for some community performance.  They're the ones who hear YOU playing your solo that you're going to do on tonight's concert and THEY start playing it too.  Ugh.  You know the type.  That's the mythical "flutist from Juilliard who bent the keys on her competitor's flute the minute before the audition."  I doubt it's ever happened, but if it did, it was a flute player.

Whenever I start out in a new location, I have to remember which flute player I want to be.  Do I want to be the snotty, rude, entitled, name-dropper? Or do I want to be the mature, elegant yet fun, educated and comfortable with herself lady?  It's tough to go with #2 sometimes.  It's so deeply satisfying to rip somebody a new one when they're begging for it.  ("You think YOU'RE hot?  I did  masterclasses with GALWAY, bitch missy!" "I gave Jeanne Baxtresser rides to the airport! She told me she liked my purse!")

I have run into a few flutists in each and every location who fall into the FPS category.  Oh, they are SO easy to spot.

One of their first questions is always -- without fail -- "What kind of flute do you play?"

Gag.  Hint, people:  If you have to ask, you don't deserve to know.  Most of us can tell by looking, and really? It's rarely polite to ask outright, because it implies that their sound comes from the instrument.  Please.  There are ways of finding out.  First think of it this way:  Do you know her/him well enough to ask what brand of underwear they like or what dentist they use?  No?

Probably should mind your own business then.

Introvert Desperation in a Nutshell.

Remember how I told you I was an outgoing introvert?  Here's proof.

When I was in the throes of the "don't touch me, don't talk to me, don't ask me things," I had to cancel our newspaper subscription.  That was something that had been planned long before my mood, so it wasn't a reaction or anything.

I was in a rather "being pecked to death by baby ducks" kind of mood, and clearly didn't much want to chat. 

I made the call, getting more and more irritated by the automated, "Say 'not getting newspaper,' 'vacation service,' or 'cancel service,' thing.  

"Cancel service," sez I.
"I'm sorry. I didn't quite get that.  Please say 'not getting newspaper,' 'vaca...'"
"So, you say your newspaper is in bad condition when you get it. Please specify 'covered in mud,' 'ripped,' 'missing sections,' or 'other.'"
"I didn't quite get that."
"So, you want to transfer delivery to a new address?"

After a few half-hearted bars of "Sweet Caroline," the call was answered chirpily by "Marianne." I informed her of my desire to cancel service.
She (undoubtedly in a call center in northern Oklahoma or someplace) asked me why I was choosing to discontinue service.

I replied, "I don't feel like telling you." 

She paused. She said that the newspapers like to know why people stop service, so they can improve for the future. 

I replied, "I'm sure they do. Still not telling." 
The pregnant pause there was well worth the awkwardness. 

"....Um. Ok. Well, then. Ahhhh, so... canceling. Have a good day!"

ME? An Introvert? Well, drat.

I'm a person who loves a party, loves to be out in front, loves to perform and interact and sparkle.

Naturally, I assumed I was an extrovert. I'm the one who sees the person standing alone at the gathering and goes up and starts a conversation, and grabs a few other people to join us, and then suddenly, we're the loudest corner in the place.


A few days ago, I had a meeting with someone I see periodically to help keep my perspective in line with reality.  We'll call her Julie (as that is her name).

I was describing a recent weekend in which I had been surrounded by those I liked and loved, and they were all very happy and having fun, and they Wanted Me To Have Fun along with them.  Leading up to that weekend, I'd been working, teaching, massaging, "being there" for friends, spending free time preparing for an interview, and such. No sooner had I gotten home from work a few days in a row, then I would go out to Some Fun Event.  By the second or third of such a day, I started feeling kind of nuts.  Kind of desperate.  I wanted to go hide in a hole. I didn't want to be touched, didn't want to be talked to, to be asked, to be needed or even wanted.  I tried standing up and saying that I really needed some time off, and I was reminded that I was "supposed" to enjoy doing fun things, and maybe I just needed to get out and do them, and then I'd be fine.  Maybe I was just a bit tired.

So I went.  I put on the brave happy Let Us Have FUN! face. And after a bit, I did have fun.  I put aside my need for a cave, and rose above and threw myself into the spirit of the day(s). It was fine.


When all was over, I got home and sat down, and was covered in a glaze of "leave me the heck alone or I'm gonna shiv you" that wouldn't go away. It lasted for several days, and for the most part, I was able to cover it up and act fairly normal.  I smiled and was gentle and caring to my kids (mostly), to my students, to my clients. I said the right words, I made my hands do the right things so that people would feel nurtured. But each time I tried to relax by myself, I'd just kind of sit and hold my elbows to my sides and make myself be very small and still. I didn't even want  my dogs to touch me. I didn't want the sun to shine on me. Finally, I just went to bed and napped each time this hit me. I napped quite a lot for a couple of days.

So I went to see Julie, to see if she could help me sort it out.

She started smiling, and I was all, "WHAT? This is FUNNY?" And she shook her head.  "You're an outgoing introvert."

Huh? That's a thing?

Apparently, when a person loves to be involved, to be in the center of things, but then needs some alone time to recharge, that's being an introvert who is outgoing.

I raised a skeptical eyebrow.

She asked, "When you're at a party or something, and it's crazy and fun, but then you walk outside for some air and some space, does the alone-ness feel good and recharging, or does it feel like a let down?"

I acknowledged that it felt good and recharging. "I'm great company for myself!"
I figured everybody felt that way.

Apparently that was incorrect.

So, who'd have thought.  I'm an introvert.

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Farmer

(Taken from a facebook post)

Recently, I massaged a retired farmer. Cows. He raised cows. He loved it! 

He was in because he had some pain and tension in his shoulders and upper back. He tells me this is because of his 'retirement job.' He apparently delivers 55-gallon drums of oil to other farmers. He loads them onto his pickup, straps them in, and then unloads them. And he doesn't like to work with helpers, because "they always seem to get hurt or squashed." 

So here he is, rolling these ginormous drums up onto a truck. And then he started telling me about his GREAT GRAND babies. seven of them, all under two years old. He loves holding them, loving on their tiny little hands, their soft cheeks, their round bellies. Then I thought for a moment, and asked , "How old ARE you?" 

"Oh, around 78."

He's 78. Loading oil drums because he wants to do something he believes in. He likes this oil company.  They had been the one he used for years and years on his farm, and he knows they do right by their customers. 

And he holds and cuddles and strokes his great grand babies. And lives deep in the country "where, in summer, you can't even see the house because of all the green, green trees." His hands were so rough, so hard, so callused. I wonder how he can even feel the skin on these babies. But he does. Oh, he does. Maybe with his heart, but he feels them.

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Alopecia

So, I've been a working massage therapist since about mid-August (about 10 weeks), and I've enjoyed getting to know -- to feel -- so many different types of bodies, so many types of skin, hair, bones, and energies.

There is a disorder called Alopecia.  It is a condition that causes hair loss, sometimes all over a person's body, sometimes in small patches.  There are lots of possible causes, and sometimes it's permanent, sometimes fleeting.

To feel the skin of a person with this condition is heavenly.

I'm fully aware that losing any of one's hair can be stressful, sad, difficult, and angering. I am not in any way trying to dismiss or diminish the reality of those feelings. But to me, it's better than stroking a baby's skin. Babies feel fragile. Even their skin feels fragile and delicate; kind of loose, and you can feel the surface layer separately from the underlying chub. With folks with alopecia, their skin is ... how to describe? The word that comes to mind is "rich." It is velvety, but deeper than that. If you had a piece of very thick-napped velvet and held it in a bowl of water, so it was smooth and glidey and just a bit resistant, that might be it.

And instead of that super fragile feeling you get from baby skin, it's strong.  So strong and resilient. Not porous, not spongy, not careful.  To me, it's the way skin would feel if somehow science in about 200 years figured out how to make skin strong and injury-proof, but still sensitive to touch.

To all my clients (past, present, hopefully future), I enjoy and respect your skin. I hope you do too.