receiving the advice I give, a trip to the dentist

It all started with a tooth ache. Which subsided, thankfully. I headed into the dentist to explore the subsided pain. After some careful investigation, the very nice dentist, gently, suggested I might be experiencing something else. Pain. Hypertoned muscles in the neck, head and face. And perhaps I clench my teeth when I’m working hard to help other people relax.

True confession. I could hide this little story; I’m sure none of you would know. But I think it’s really instructive of what I see quite often. With me as the “patient” I can offer you insights of what I’ll be doing to help decrease my pain and muscle tension. Hopefully there might be something that you can glean from my confession.

  • Use heat & ice. Heat the neck & shoulders to bring fresh blood to these fatigued muscles. If I massage the muscles, using heat is a great first step. A muscle pumped full of blood through dilated blood vessels is much more receptive to massage. Ice constricts blood vessels and soothes muscles, especially after deep massage. Used together heat & cold can manually flush lots of blood through a troublesome muscle group.
  • Get massage – quick! I had a session scheduled last week that had to move to next week. I scheduled another one on Friday with a friend I trade with. 2 in 1 week! Yes, when things get really tight you can gain more from frequent massage, even if it’s 2 shorter sessions. Sounds decadent, but to me it’s just smart. If I can get back on top of this tension, I can go back to my regularly scheduled massages. Sometimes a quick chair massage at Whole Foods can do wonders.
  • Self-massage. I have lots of tricks to get at the muscles that are complaining. For the average person, having a visual picture of where the muscle is can help you massage it more accurately. Short and frequent self-massage is a good strategy. The muscles I’ll be targeting are: suboccipitals, temporalis, masseter, SCMs and trapezius. It’s hard to describe self-massage techniques in writing. It’s very easy to show. If you’re curious, please ask me and I’ll be more than happy to show you some neat (and free!) tricks.
  • Ease up at work. Although I often joke that I should be magically immune from muscle tension, I’m not. With a job where I bend over people for an hour at a time, I have the particular challenge of combating a forward-head posture. I’ve recently heard that for every inch you carry your head forward of mid-line, you need to exert an extra 5 lbs. of strength. This work falls to the muscles on the back of the head, neck and upper back. So…I think a lighter workload for a couple of weeks would be a good idea.
  • Pay attention! The dentist asked if I grind my teeth while I sleep. I don’t believe I do. He than asked if I might clench my teeth while I work – working hard to muscle into someone else’s tight muscles. Now that’s something to consider. Since his suggestion, I have been paying attention while I work to how tight my jaw feels. I think this might be an area where I could improve. As I have noticed tightness in my jaw or face, I have closed my eyes, opened my jaw wide like in a yawn, and moved my jaw side to side. At each of these 3 steps I feel tension drain out of my face. Then I can draw my attention to my shoulders or other areas that are “trying to hard.”

Sometimes it can be hard to receive the same advice you give. But in this case, I was more amused than anything else. How ironic! And kudos to Dr. Kanda for delivering the news in such a gentle, easy-to-respond kind of way.

supermom, good mom, good-enough mom

Early in my induction into mom-hood, I came across the concept of the good-enough mom. Whatever book I was reading at the time suggested, gently, that perhaps we do more harm than good trying to be a perfect mother. Good-enough will do very well by our kids as well as preserve our sanity.

My 2-year-old, new to talking, said to me one time: “Mama, you good-enough mom.” I remember enough of the context to know it was NOT a compliment. But that was years ago AND before I was trying to strike that elusive balance between working for pay and working for the benefit of posterity.

How am I doing now on the continuum of supermom to low-down rotten mom? I’d say the answer for me and many parents lies in the criteria by which we judge ourselves. Most of us will never end on the low-down, rotten end of the spectrum, thankfully.

So what’s the criteria? I recently finished a book titled I was a Really Good Mom before I had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth & Amy Nobile (Chronicle Books, 2007). As you can imagine from the clever title, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and very girlfriendish. I laughed aloud at points and saw myself somewhere in each chapter.

Some of the great recommendations in the book include:

– letting go of unrealistic expectations and therefore guilt at falling short

– swearing off comparing ourselves to other parents and second-guessing our decisions

– saying no to some things in order to say a more complete “Yes!” to the things that are truly important to us and our families

All of these things are easier said than done, and I appreciated how the authors used humor to encourage their readers. The day after I finished reading the book I had a little ah-ha moment.

I was dropping my son off for his last camp day of the summer and then heading to a day’s worth of work. He was staging quite a resistance and I was feeling predictably guilty. This is my number one struggle as a working parent. Although I feel it’s important to have a life outside parenting and housework; although we need me to work, financially speaking; and although I go crazy with too much kid-time, I still succumb to guilty feelings when he’s resistant to the kid-care options I’ve arranged for him while I work. By the time we got to the super-awesome fun place for kids, he jumped out of the car, half-skipped, half-jogged to the entrance and jumped right into playing with the toys when we got there. No protest, no drama. The knot in my stomach relaxed and I consciously let go of the guilt. He would be well cared for and have fun this day. He probably wouldn’t want to leave when I returned.

The guilt I felt was a complete waste of emotional energy. That’s my main lesson to live into. Yes, I’m a good-enough mom and proud of it.

Lastly, NO ONE responded to my last book give-away! Maybe some of you were scared off by me asking you to tell a story in the comments. So, this time, if you are interested in the book I’m giving away (featured last week: The Three-Martini Playdate), please just jot me a note in the comments below or send an email to me: susan (at) susanyoungmassagetherapy (dot) com. It’s a great book and I’d love to get it into someone’s hands. Someone who needs a good laugh!

The 3 martini playdate give-away

Read this book after you read all the attachment parenting books.

I’m doing a little research for a book I may or may not every write about life after kids arrive. The 3 Martini Playdate by Christie Mellor (Chronicle Books) is hysterical and my favorite so far in this genre of books. One night I was reading it by flashlight in the same room my son was trying to fall asleep in. I had to set it down because I kept laughing out loud, thereby prolonging the process of falling asleep by the curious 7-year-old. “Mommy! What are you reading?”

I knew I was going to enjoy the book, when on the first page the author slammed the term “playdate.” I personally loathe the term. Here are a couple of other gems:

All those expensive childproofing locks that you think are securing your arsenal of nail clippers, screwdrivers, and kabob skewers are nothing more than high-powered magnets for children, who have usually figured out how to unlock all of the more complicated ones by the age of two or three anyway. You might as well festoon all your drawers and cabinets with brightly colored flags that say “Hey, You! Kid! Fun and Danger in Here!” (p.25)

Once you’re ready to go, it’s wisest not to ask permission of your progeny. Now would not be the time to say, “Honey, we want to leave in about five minutes, is that okay?” Your child might be having the worst time of his life, but given the opportunity of deciding the fate of the entire family, well, what choice do you think a four-year-old will make? (p. 49)

The demands of a small household in an urban environment may not be quite so great, but I say it is high time we realize that we have a wealth of energetic and affordable labor sitting in front of the television set snacking on overpriced novelty food. Let’s tap this underutilized national resource, for the sake of their characters, and because we can. (p. 68)

I would sum up the book as an encouragement to not lose your life in the minutiae of kid-world, since, eventually those darling kids you’ve doted over drop you like a hot potato at some point.

So, please share a quick funny story in the comments below for a chance to win this book. Your story could be a funny ah-ha moment of parenting or perhaps observing someone else’s wacky parenting. It could be the crazy ways a 7-pound person has brought you to your knees. If you’re the lucky winner and you’re local we can arrange a drop off. If you’re not local, I’ll mail it to you. Good luck!

massage with survivors of abuse & trauma

Today’s topic is a very big one and a very sobering one. I will touch on just a few main points.

Massage therapists who are nationally certified or members of a professional organization like the American Massage Therapy Association, are required to complete a certain number of continuing education credits over a particular time frame. To meet these requirements, I took a course in 2009 that gave an overview of topics related to giving massage to survivors of abuse and trauma. The course did not intend to fully train someone in all aspects of such a big topic, but rather to acquaint the massage therapist with topics they should be aware of and to stimulate thinking about how best to serve clients with abuse or trauma in their past.

Statistics about abuse in the U.S. are very sobering. According to Shonen-Moe and Benjamin (The Ethics of Touch, 2004 p.216) “On the average, one of every five clients a practitioner sees has a history of some kind of trauma or abuse.”  Trauma is such a broad term, it can include extreme or prolonged instances of abuse, a medical trauma, an accident, and other experiences. When I meet with a client for the first time, I ask questions about his or her health. I include this question: “Have you experienced any injuries, surgeries, car accident or traumas?” This gives my client an opportunity to disclose any traumas or abuse he or she has experienced if he or she feels comfortable doing so. Some clients have disclosed incidents and experiences during this health intake; others have disclosed information at another time. Because we experience life through our bodies, it’s relevant to disclose this information in the context of a massage session if the client feels comfortable doing so.

Here are some major issues that might be present when a survivor of abuse and trauma receives a massage:

  • there might be a tendency to dissociate from the body during the session.
  • there might be an aversion or fear of a certain part or parts of the body being touched.
  • the client might feel as though he or she is back at the age or place of the abuse or trauma.
  • the client might feel a loss of control and be afraid, unwilling or unable to speak up about preferences relevant to the massage session (where touch occurs, depth of pressure, temperature, duration of session, wanting to end the session, etc.).
  • there might be strong feelings about an imbalance of power between the client and the massage therapist.

These are just some examples. I’m sure you can imagine others as well. Many clients who have not experienced abuse and trauma describe some nervousness or apprehension before getting a massage, especially with a new therapist or in a new context. Some clients don’t know what to expect and feel uncomfortable asking questions, perhaps because they feel they should know the answer or don’t want to appear to be a novice. If this is true for someone without a prior experience of abuse or trauma, imagine how intimidating the same situation might be for someone who has.

Here are some things I do with all clients to try my best to provide a comfortable context for massage:

  • ask an open-ended question (described above) so that if someone wants to disclose information about abuse or trauma, they have an invitation to do so.
  • provide a physical environment that is safe, private, and non-sexualized.
  • communicate in clear terms. This includes agreeing with my client what parts of the body will be massaged. The less that’s left to the imagination, the better. If during the session, another plan develops, we agree on this together or wait to implement that plan during another session. (For example, low back pain is a problem. We agree before the session to massage the back. After feeling the back I feel the hamstrings might be contributing to the tight low back muscles. I would state this opinion and ask if the client wishes me to massage the hamstrings also.)
  • orient the client to the massage table, describing that it is dressed like a bed, with a top sheet and bottom sheet. I state that the client will be in between the sheets, covered by the top sheet. I show the face cradle and describe how it can be adjusted to provide a comfortable fit for each person.
  • provide appropriate “draping.” Draping is a term that means covering the body with a sheet and possibly a blanket as well to keep private body parts covered. I make sure the sheet is opaque enough that it provides visual privacy. (I’ve received massage some places where the sheet was so thin, I felt uncovered even though technically I was.)
  • inform the client that communication is very important and invited during the session. If the client wishes a change in the massage technique, the music, lighting, temperature, all of these types of feedback are important and invited. I mention that reading minds was not covered in massage school, so I rely on people to communicate if they want a change. I also give an example like: “It’s simple and I’m not at all offended. You can just say, ‘Oh, I’d like that pressure a little lighter or a little deeper.’ I’d rather have you speak up so that I can modify the massage than you wait until the massage is over and feel disappointed.” I feel that stating some of these communication items up-front goes a long way to evening out the imbalance that is often felt between a client and therapist.
  • invite feedback after the session. Whatever was difficult to communicate during the session, might come out easier after the session.

If someone discloses prior abuse or trauma before the session begins, I also do the following:

  • ask what the client’s goals are regarding massage. If there are specific goals for addressing prior abuse and trauma, the conversation goes a different way than if there are more generic goals of relaxing or working on specific muscle tension. See more below.
  • explain that massage can take place while the client is fully dressed or undressed. It’s up to the client, not me, to decide what he or she is comfortable with.
  • invite feedback as described above, but also go into a bit more detail about how in prior experiences the client may not have felt or had control over what happened to the body, but that this is different. The client does have control and is invited to use that control to maintain a feeling of safety.
  • ask if there are places on the body he or she would not like me to massage. Of course it’s illegal for a massage therapist to massage any genitals, breasts or enter any orifices. I speak clearly about gluteal muscles and make sure permission is granted before massaging this area whether that’s on the skin or through the sheet and blanket.
  • suggest a non-verbal signal the client can use to let me know he or she wants the session to pause or end. This can be used if the client is having a difficult time speaking up.
  • keep the lights a bit brighter.

As I mentioned, these are just a few things I’ve developed over the years and insights gained from the course I took regarding working with survivors of abuse and trauma. There are many benefits a client can gain through massage if he or she has a specific goal of using massage to aid in healing and recovery from abuse and trauma. For example, receiving massage or touch therapy can help the survivor regain body control, redefine physical boundaries that feel safe, experience the pleasure of safe, non-sexual touch, and regain a sense of dignity and respect for his or her body. There are some prerequisites that both client and therapist would need to meet before launching into such an endeavor. At a minimum, the client would need to be in some kind of professional therapeutic relationship with someone with training on abuse and trauma (most likely a psychotherapist). The massage therapist would need advanced training in working with survivors of abuse and trauma. Again, I’ve just touched on very few of the aspects within this topic. If you have any questions you’d like to ask in the comments or through email, I welcome you to contact me. My email is susan (at) susanyoungmassagetherapy (dot) com. Thanks for reading.