Archive for December 9th, 2006

One of the things I get asked pretty often by my clients and friends is what made me become a massage therapist.

There are so many answers to that question, I hardly know where to begin. 

When I was a very little girl, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, honestly.  What kind of a question is that to ask a five year old?  Little children have no concept of what  possibilities even exist; how in the world can they answer that question?

That aside, when I was little and people asked me that question, I sometimes said “I want to heal people.  I want to make them feel better.”  The adult who had posed the question would respond, “Oh!   You want to be a doctor!  How wonderful!”  If they were a particularly negative soul, they would tell me that it was very hard for girls to get to be doctors, that maybe I ought to be a nurse instead.   My radical mother would always retort that “Women can be what ever they want to be.  We should not be limited by our sex!” 

Thirty years later, when I was Navy wife working as executive secretary and receptionist for a property management firm, I was working to realize my dream of a job that would allow me make people feel better, to heal them, and to also spend more time in my garden.  I was very tired of being locked into an 8 to 5 job, and the phones!  My God, the stricture of being required to answer a ringing line before it had sounded out three times, no matter what I was doing at the time!   I was expected to tend the copy machine, do the filing, answer the phone, type letters and help the billing department stuff envelopes.   The stress was about to kill me.  Plus my boss, a lovely woman, was starting to pressure me to wear high heels.  And makeup.  As if this would make me more effective at my job.

What led up to me becoming an incredibly good secretary is the subject of a trilogy, so I’m glossing over that.   Suffice it to say that soon after I started college I got the first indication from the cosmos that I was supposed to be a massage therapist.  I was toying with the idea of majoring in music, but I also knew I wanted to do something about preparing for medical school.  So I hadn’t declared a major.  I was taking violin lessons, playing in orchestra, taking music history, and doing freshman biology, algebra, and swimming.

The University Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra had a tradition of having potluck dinners after concerts.  We would generally be hosted by someone who had a sauna.  We would all take a sauna together, eat, and then give each other backrubs.   Musicians always have aches and pains.  Maintaining an embouchure or holding up a flute or bowing a stringed instrument makes your neck stiff, your shoulders tight, your forearms sore, and sometimes your fingers even go numb.   I displayed a knack for unwinding tissue, encouraging it to let go of the spasm and relearn its proper length.  Within months, people were arguing over who was going to get a backrub from me.   “You got Ellie last time!  I need her,” I would hear some aching string player whine to a horn player during intermission at the concert.   It got so sometimes I would end up giving two or three rubs during the course of an evening.

People would say “Gee, you are good at this.  You should do it for a living.”

“Right!” I’d think sarcastically.  “How am I supposed to make a living doing this?  Are there so many rich people around here?  Or celebrities?  I don’t hear a lot about people getting massages around here.”  At the same time I felt flattered that so many people wanted me to touch them. 

In fact, one time I showed up for my piano lesson with JPB,  and he greeted me at the door of his office with his right arm wrapped around to the left back side of his neck.  “Oh Ellie,” he exclaimed in his beautiful French accent.  “I know you are supposed to have a lesson, but please.  My neck, my shoulder!  Could you maybe  — no! –You know I am playing with the orchestra (he was our faculty soloist performing Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto with us), that Beethoven is such a beast, so long, so heavy.  I have been practicing so many hours, and now — ”  He broke off dramatically, his voice broke.  “I’m not sure I’ll be able to perform Saturday (yes, this occurred right before the concert), I have to do the dress rehearsal Friday. . .”

He went on.  I was standing there trying to disguise my deep sigh of relief.  “Thank God for small favors.  My prayers are answered!”  I had been standing in front of his door in the full knowledge that I was NOT prepared for my lesson, that I had not successfully memorized the entire Scarlatti sonata that I was supposed to have memorized, largely due to a midnight escapade I shall not describe.  I had been anticipating a tirade about how important it was to practice if you were going to be serious about your art.  A reprieve!  He wanted a backrub, would I please do him the favor, he’d make up my lesson later in the week, blah blah blah. 

What could I do?  I graciously acquiesced and worked out the knots in his neck and shoulder.   Don’t think I didn’t buckle down and get that sonata memorized PDQ, either.  You don’t tempt fate when it gives you an opportunity like that!

Many years later, at a chamber music camp in Long Beach, I unwound a rhomboid in spasm for the resident violist.  He told the first violinist about me, and I worked out the pain in his neck and forearms.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed playing music all day so much I developed an unreasonable desire to try to be come a professional musician and play orchestral and chamber music.  

Actually, I had good enough teachers and coaching that I actually got accepted to attend the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a viola major despite the fact that I whacked off the end of my left index finger in an encounter with a chainsaw while Pete and I were bringing in part of our winter wood supply about three weeks before I was scheduled to make my audition tape.   Talk about stress. 

That was nothing compared to what it was like to try to go to school with a bunch of horny kids and play my instrument for eight hours a day in addition to going to harmony class.  Well, and then I also met another man, fell in love, built a whole flower garden, learned about baseball, and walked on the beach too.  With all that going on, it didn’t take long for carpal tunnel syndrome to strike my bow arm.  It was the damned Bruckner Symphony #4 that did it.  Him with his washes of sound created by the strings for the brass to play glorious floating melodies over. 

Eventually, after years of pain and travail, getting a new teacher, taking a leave of absence, and trying to learn to be relaxed when I played the viola, I just gave up on the instrument.  Then I rested.  My wrist and hand got better, I was no longer experiencing shooting pain. I ran across that violist mentioned above and started doing landscape maintenance for the property where he had a music festival going on.  He remembered my massage skills better than my viola skills, and recommended my work to some of the guest artists at the festival.  Suddenly I saw who I could market my skills to.   Those “other” skills,  the ones that had turned up over and over in my life. 

And so I went to massage school, while Jim was stationed at Mare Island and I was working for the property management company.  Studying massage at night and typing all day and doing gardening during the off times resulted in an immediate flareup of my carpal tunnel syndrome.

I stormed into J’s office.  She was the owner, founder and main teacher of the massage school I was attending.  I pitched a fit in her office, all about how I had had to quit one career that I had wanted so bad because of my damned arms, now another the doorway to another one was being slammed shut in my face, by the same appendages.  She listened to me rave for a few minutes, and then she said, “Look.  My colleague DW specializes in carpal tunnel syndrome.  He’s giving a class on the subject next week; why don’t you contact him and see if you can take it?” 

I pointed out that the class  pre-requisite was to have fininshed the Certification program, and I was still in the middle of it. 

“Oh, that’s true.”  She thought for a moment, trying to find an ethical way out of that dilemma.  “But,” she exclaimed triumphantly finally, “You have carpal tunnel syndrome.  A doctor even has diagnosed it.  He will need a model for the class.”  She nodded satisfied.  “Call him up and suggest it to him.”

I took the class, and afterwards it had made such a difference I contacted DW and asked him for a regular series of appointments to address the problem.  He worked on me for 4 sessions spaced 10 days apart.   I believe that what he was doing was Ida Rolf’s structural integration work coupled with Neuromuscular re-training.   After my sessions he taught me proper stretching techniques for self care.

My carpal tunnel syndrome resolved itself, and I have not had trouble with it since.  And I have been doing massage professionally for 15 years now. 

And that is how I got into doing massage.

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