I get asked all the time “why did you become a massage therapist?” and “what drew you to this career choice?” As with most things in life, there is a simple answer and a more in-depth answer to these questions. Simply put, because I love massages! Also, I love helping people and I have always been a tactile person. Put those three things together and you get a massage therapist.
In order for me to truly answer the above questions, I would have to talk about my life growing up; my upbringing, my experiences, where I have been and where I want to go, but that would be a whole autobiography! So, without going into my full life history in detail, I will just give you the summarized version of why and what lead me to become a massage therapist.
First, I grew up in a tactile family. We are all huggers, love a good back scratch, and enjoy shoulder rubs. They feel good and there is something to be said by these nonverbal actions that convey love, caring, strength, understanding, comfort, and wellness. I learned from an early age that the power of touch has strong healing capabilities. It can soothe the body and soul. It can calm the mind. As I got older and dancing became my sport of choice, I realized that massages can also help reduce sore muscles and increase recovery time. I found myself frequently massaging my own feet and calves between practices and competitions.
I then went down to Eugene and attended University of Oregon to get my four year bachelor’s degree. During that time, I found myself asking for massage gift certificates for every Christmas and birthday. I found massages to be a great way to relieve stress and tension, especially after finishing taking all those finals. I soon noticed that my friends would often have me give them shoulder and back massages, as well as neck and scalp massages. I am not sure how that happened, but I enjoyed giving them! That’s when I first started to think about becoming a massage therapist, in college.
Needless to say, I stuck to my course and completed my four years and got my college degree. Then, as with most twenty-something year olds, I worked various jobs after college, from retail, to non-profits, to working for a major health insurance company. I loved the structured, organized daily tasks to complete and the steady pay checks. I didn’t, however, like being cooped up inside and working in cubical-land all day. I have no problem with authority, but I hated feeling like I was in the movie “Office Space” where I would have five different people tell me that I made one little mistake. That’s when I came back to my thoughts about massage therapy. I was about to turn thirty and did some soul searching about what I really wanted to do and who I wanted to be in life. What was my passion? I wanted to find a way that I could help people. I loved the non-profit work, but it was all behind the scenes work, not really knowing if what I was doing was truly benefiting people’s lives in a positive way. I wanted to be more tactile, more hands on. Then it all became clear; massage. I love to receive massages, I enjoy giving massages, and massage is a tactile, hands-on approach to helping others feel better and promotes health and healing. The decision was made. I did my research and made the decision to enroll in East West College of the Healing Arts and became a massage therapist. It was the best decision I have ever made. This September I will have been a LMT for 5 years, self-employed, and loving every minute of it. I found my passion in massage and made it my career. (As some of my clients know, I still work part-time for a non-profit. I haven’t been able to completely give that up yet, but I know I will soon retire from that job and just focus solely on my passions and career.)
So that's it in a nutshell! I am fortunate to have found my passion and to be able to make a career of it. When you love what you do, it isn't a job. It's fun. It's enjoyable. It's my zen place.
Pain. Everyone experiences it. Some deal with pain chronically, while others may just have an occasional pain. In either case, no one likes to be in pain and filling up on medications is not typically an ideal way to deal with the pain. There have been many studies done on pain management. Below I have compiled a list of some proven, non-drug, alternatives to pain management. Try a couple and see if they help make a difference in your life.
1. Meditation & Yoga. Both are a great form of a mind-body relaxation technique. Focusing on your breath will help ease anxiety, reduce muscle tension, and enhance your stress coping mechanisms. Yoga helps promote both strength and flexibility, while calming the mind and decreasing stress. Reducing stress is very helpful when dealing with pain because stress can make the pain feel worse.
2. Acupuncture. The ancient Chinese healing art where a licensed practitioner places needles into certain points on the skin (know as meridian points) to promote the regulation of movement and to correct any imbalances of energy flow within the body. Not only has it been shown to help reduce pain, but it also helps to improve the functioning of the nervous system and musculoskeletal system, which is often the cause of the pain.
3. Chiropractic. When your source of pain is more structural in nature, chiropractic is a great step in reducing and relieving pain. A chiropractor does manual adjustments to the joints of the spine, as well as other joints and muscles, to realign the body and promote self-healing. When the body is in correct alignment, the physical pain should decrease.
4. Massage. Besides the wonderful relaxation affects that massage offers, it also influences the muscles, circulation, and lymphatic and nervous systems. It reduces muscle tension and boosts the levels of endorphins and serotonin, which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood regulator, and it reduces stress hormone levels. All these affects demonstrate statistically significant reductions in pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.
5. Nutrition & Hydration. Drinking plenty of water is good advice for anyone, but especially those dealing with pain. Dehydration can cause your muscles to tense and it can aggravate chronic pain symptoms such as headaches. Nutrition and diet are extremely important too. Maintaining an easy-to-digest diet, free from processed foods, can alleviate inflammation. Knowing which foods you are allergic or sensitive to, and avoiding those items will help alleviate pain as well. What you consume can dramatically impact how you feel and by fueling your body with the proper nutrients, you can help speed up the recovery and healing process, which will help reduce your pain. For a great link to a nutritional guideline, check out: http://www.naturalpathhealthcenter.com/2010/06/28/five-ways-to-manage-chronic-pain-through-nutrition/
6. Therapeutic Exercises – Range of motion exercises can improve function and lessen pain. Physical exercise programs such as Qigong or Tai Chi can also help control pain. Qigong is an ancient Chinese health care system that integrates physical posture, breathing techniques, and focused intentions. The gentle, rhythmic movements of Qigong reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality, and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions. Tai Chi originated in China as a martial art, but is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation”. People who practice Tai Chi move their bodies slowly, gently, and with awareness, while breathing deeply. This ancient martial art can be beneficial for emotional and physical ailments, including chronic pain. Both have been shown to help manage and reduce chronic pain.
There are plenty more non-drug options out there for you to explore as well. Our bodies are complex and have the ability to heal itself if we allow it. Consult with your doctors, try some alternative pain management options, and investigate others that I did not list today. Remember, pain management is a lifestyle. You have to commit to adding them into your life’s routine on a regular and consistent basis, especially if you are dealing with chronic pain. Incorporate them into your life and start relieving the pain.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.