Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaBloPoMo: Lessons

I've seen a whole lot of this in the past month
It's the end of NaBloPoMo 2013, and I've learned a few things about this blogging gig over the past month:

30 posts in 30 days, while working, taking classes, parenting, hosting the holidays, and having a partner switch jobs is not so much realistic. But I figure 28/30 is still pretty good.

Posting every day is not only challenging/impossible, it's also neither most effective nor most enjoyable. I'd say the point of blogging is to connect with you, the reader -- and to that end, having a new post every single day isn't particularly effective, as each gets lost behind the other, and particularly good posts, ones that have the potential to be truly useful for you, have too short a time in the sun and get too easily skipped. And while I've loved getting back into the blogging habit, the artificial urgency of posting every day isn't compatible with the calm, centered, supportive tone I want to offer you with this blog and in my practice (nor that I want to live with daily!).

Writing about massage just takes a shift in thinking. My previous blogging life was significantly more introspective (and yet also declamatory), which as +Dale Favier and I discussed early in the month is not so much compatible with the discretion and confidentiality we promise our clients. Yet when I shifted my thinking from me (my natural state as a human/American) to you (my natural state as a massage therapist), I realized there's so much I can write about, that feels both important to me and useful to you. Which brings us to:

There's a lot more I want to say, and I mean to say it. I'm nowhere near out of ideas for blog posts, for articles and suggestions that can help you with your health and body-positive journey. I think I made it maybe halfway through my collected-ideas list, and those were only the ones I thought important enough to jot down when I happened to be by the computer. So while the once-a-day posting schedule is officially over, stick around, because there's lots more blogging to come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Shopping? Try Massage Gift Certificates!

Quality gift certificates for quality massage
Although I'm firmly and obviously of the opinion that massage is so much more than just a luxury, I know it can be hard for people who haven't yet realized the physical and mental health benefits of massage to lay down the money for that first appointment.

That's where you come in!

You, this gift-giving season, have the opportunity to offer the people on your list a chance for pain relief, for radical acceptance, for relaxation, for anxiety reduction, for feeling better in their bodies and feeling better about themselves.

I know you know someone who could use all that. And if they, and you, are very, very lucky, they're in or near Portland, Oregon, and you, smart cookie!, get to avoid holiday traffic and crowded queues and wrapping paper origami and tape entanglements and scissor accidents, because you, lucky duck!, are reading this now and get to cross that special someone off your list with just a few simple clicks.

See, I'll make it super easy for you:

What service would you like a gift certificate for?
Who is the lucky recipient?
Gift Message (Optional)

There! Now you can relax with your shopping done, knowing they get to relax in the care of fully capable hands (and elbows). Have some nog.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to Eat Leftovers

You don't have to eat leftovers like this
(but you can, if you want)
Eat leftovers alone, with family, while laughing, because they're there.

Eat leftovers in candlelight, in the container, microwaved, creatively remixed.

Eat leftovers until you are full, until you remember that the pie will still be there tomorrow (or at least again next year), until you're done.

Eat leftovers even though you ate past comfort yesterday, because that was yesterday and today your body still needs fuel and you still deserve to find pleasure in nourishment.

Eat leftovers if you're lucky enough to have them, if you enjoy them, if you choose to.

Eat leftovers that have been properly refrigerated because food-borne illness will ruin your weekend.

Eat leftovers the way you eat everything else: for nutrition and with joy, because it's there and because you love it, slowly and mindfully if you have the time, with compassion and care and quickly if you don't. Eat until you have accomplished the goal that is your reason for eating: until you are no longer hungry, until you have sopped up that last bit of soup, until you're ready to go out and dance (or shop, or parent, or work, or walk the dog), until you can taste grandfather's pie and political rants and feel grandmother's gnarled hand holding yours.

Food is culture, food is care, food is calories, food is nutrition and nourishment, food is memory and family. And today, leftovers are food with all the work done yesterday. So eat leftovers without guilt or shame, in pleasure and compassion.

Bon appetit!

Picture by semarr, Creative Commons licensed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Radical acceptance and frozen pie crusts

I've been sprinting for weeks, it feels like, pulled by business, family, household, partner, and personal needs. I've mostly stayed on the healthy-productive side of the line, but there have definitely been days when I veer into the frantic-counterproductive zone.

So today, I bought a pie crust. I bought croutons instead of loaves of bread to cut up and dry. I picked up a bottle of oil at the store I was in, rather than traveling to another store to refill a bottle I already had.

And I forgave myself. Laughing-loving-nonattachment compassion, for the beautiful ridiculousness of my desire to make an entire traditional turkey dinner from scratch, for my heartbreaking unnecessary guilt at "failing" to do so, for the way I pout and whine and resist forgiveness, resist rest, resist guidance back to center. How lovely I am in my messy humanity. How funny. How worthy.

I won't be making a pie crust this year. But I will be making space to breathe and be.


I'm also forgiving myself for not having a picture on this post.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What a massage therapist does

Balance many hats.
CC image by Small_Realm on Flickr
As a massage therapist, I:

fold sheets
sweep floors
scrub sinks
listen to very mellow music

learn carpentry
graphic design
and business administration

take notes
make calls

keep my fingernails ridiculously short

pour water
bring kleenex
witness your tears

empty the trash
pay bills
and always keep receipts

forget what I learned in school
(go back and learn the half that is helpful better)

oil my elbows

     because I want to
     because life is funny


(when I get the chance)

help you

In short: there is no job in the world I could possibly love more.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Belly Love

The Belly Project
A Celebration of Women, Mothers, and Reproductive Choice
Growing up, this poster hung (or, okay, most of the time was propped on the floor) in my parents' bathroom.

I would sit sometimes and just study it -- study the bellies, the bios, the birth histories captured in so few words. I would peer at the bodies pictured, and match the bellies I saw to the bellies of my mother, my aunts, my friends.

I'd study waistlines and pantlines and imagine the bellies hidden underneath: Would she look like top right? No no, maybe bottom right.

I'd sit and wonder, Which would mine become?

I sat and I stared and I found beauty in them all -- and in my mother, my aunts, my friends, my future self. I fell in love with bellies because of this poster.

It hangs now in my office bathroom. It's not an ideal thing -- not enough visible bodies of color, lacking an acknowledgement that not only women birth, that there are so many routes to motherhood -- but like the bellies pictured, like my belly, like yours, it is a beautiful, beloved thing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Whoops -- or, how to keep dancing after a misstep

This is how everyone is staring at me -- in my mind.
I missed blogging yesterday altogether. That happens when I figure I'll do it after the movie, only to not get home until after midnight (hey, that ridiculous card game needed to be played afterward, over a plate of fried cauliflower!).

I have a historical tendency to run toward avoidance when I miss a deadline, a class, an appointment. I have a hard time coming back, of showing up and being vulnerable in front of my classmates, my editors, my therapists again, and in my mind plays an awful tape of all the horrible things I think they're thinking about me.

But, I get to be the (massage) therapist now. And yes, on rare occasion regulars don't reschedule when they said they'd planned to. And you know what I'm thinking?

I hope she's okay. 

I wonder if he's feeling better? 

Oh good, they must have found a great massage therapist closer to them.

And when they do come back? I'm so happy to see you!

That's it. Truly. I meet my clients with joy, with acceptance, with nonjudgment, however long it's been since I've seen them. And it occurred to me today, as I could feel my brain scrambling to climb on that old tired treadmill of self-recrimination -- don't I deserve the same?

Don't you?

I think I do. I think we do. And so I offer it to myself -- ah, that feels better, lighter -- and to you.

What have you missed out on recently? What projects or relationships have you built up stories in your mind about? What if you thanked those stories, and patted them on the head, and send them outside to play? What if you knew you were just fine the way you are, missed deadlines and all? What would you be freer to do?

If you feel comfortable, I'd love to read your answers in the comments. But there are no deadlines or demands here, only invitation, only welcome, only goodwill.


What's with the pic? Apparently, Flickr thinks "whoops" means "whooping cranes". This tickled me, and in the spirit of dancing with the missteps, I'm going with it. Creative Commons licensed, by NaturesFan1226.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Baby body love

Down to your tiny toddler toes.
CC image courtesy Dylan Parker on Flickr
I'm putting my shoes on, my 26 month old standing next to me, feet still bare. She wraps her arms around her chest, rubbing her hands down her pudgy sides, twisting and craning to see herself better, and declares: "I like my bo-dy! I like my bo-dy! Do you like my bo-dy, mom-my?"

Yes, sweetie. Yes I do.

May you feel this way forever. May you have a lifetime of such moments. May you be as in love with your body at 22 and 42 and 82 as you are now. For you are beautiful, child, your stocky rolly shapely perfectly imperfect body a miracle, a joy. May you always know it, down to your bones, down to your toes, down to your deepest truest you-ness. So may it be.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013

Each year on November 20th, we take time to remember and grieve those people who were murdered around the world in the past twelve months due to violent anti-transgender bigotry. As always, most of the murdered in the past year are trans women of color; this reflects something fundamental, and fundamentally flawed, about our world.

Please join me in taking this day to grieve these lost lives and remembering how much more work is needed to achieve justice for all. If there is a vigil close to you, please consider attending respectfully, if not to mourn then to honor and hold the space for those who do.

TDOR 2013 lists of the dead. (Trigger warning for brief descriptions of each person's murder.)

TDOR 2013 events and locations

In memory.

CC image courtesy spcbrass

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The HAES Holiday Survival Guide, even if you're not in Portland Oregon!

There are some excellent parts of the holiday season.
CC image courtesy simplyla on Flickr
The autumn/winter holidays can be stressful for many, especially if food or body issues were a part of your childhood, and even more so if they remain part of your current family dynamics. Fortunately, two amazing women are here to help the holidays go more smoothly, in a body-positive, weight-neutral way -- and it's all online, so you can get the support you need no matter where you are or what your travel plans look like.

HAES® For the Holidays

Golda Poretsky is a Health at Every Size® coach who runs Body Love Wellness. This winter, she's offering a 30 day coaching program by email and Facebook to help you navigate all the challenges of food, family, and taking care of yourself in this stressful time. You can sign up now or in the next week, with the course starting the day before American Thanksgiving (perfect timing, no?). She's offering the course for $49, or a two payment plan of $25 each. What a great gift for to offer yourself -- and your family, as you keep your cool and stay calm and centered and with a sense of humor.

Movin' Easy Through the Holidays

Gillian of Mindfully Active is offering this group coaching program through December 31st to easily and joyfully keep moving (or bring movement into your life) during the holidays. Her body-positive online coaching supports you where you are now, and offers ways that are easy, enjoyable, and fast to incorporate more movement into your life. The program is a bargain at $10 for more than a month of support, with 50% of the proceeds being donated to the Tillamook County Women's Resource Center.

Here at Holding Space Massage

In the next weeks, I'll be posting more tips, suggestions, and encouragement for how to stay centered in and compassionate toward your body during this season of stress and celebration, family and frustration. And of course, nothing helps you feel better in your body and reduce your stress more than getting a massage. But I encourage you to make use of all the help you can get, and these are two affordable, accessible resources you can take with you wherever this holiday season takes you.

Note: I am not affiliated with either of these business, and do not receive any compensation for your participation in either of them. I have not yet experienced either of the courses myself and make these recommendations based on my observation of these two coaches as a fan of their online work.

Monday, November 18, 2013

5 questions to help you find a body-positive massage therapist

"There's treasure everywhere!" CC image by on Flickr
I get emails pretty regularly from people who have found my site and want to know if I know anyone who specializes in body-positive/fat-friendly/trans*-positive massage in their area. Sadly, most of the time I have to answer "no". I have dreams and plans of creating a referral network for just these sorts of inquiries, but that's likely years off from any usefulness. In the meantime, what's a person to do?

First, I want to say on behalf of my profession, most of us want to be welcoming to everyone. Most of us could not care less about what you look like. Most of us are in this work because we truly love massage, and bodies, and the dazzling diversity of humanity. Most of us are accepting, caring people, and most of the time it's just a matter of finding someone who offers the style of massage you're seeking.

That said, I understand how hard it is to live in a marginalized body, one that you may simultaneously be ashamed and protective of, and that you're not going to risk making yourself as vulnerable as you are on a massage table unless you know the therapist working with you is going to celebrate and welcome you specifically. And yet, there are a great number of therapists out there who may not advertise explicitly as body-positive, but nonetheless are compassionate, mindful, and welcoming. But how to find one?

To help you, here are five questions that can help you find a body-positive massage therapist to honor with a chance at working with you:

1) What is their massage focus?

Body-positive massage therapists come in all modalities: Swedish, Thai, shiatsu, and so on. But looking at what a therapist's treatment focus is will tell you a lot about the sort of massage you'll find there. I know several excellent massage therapists I'd be happy to go to if I had a sports or vehicle injury, but they're not who I'd pick to see when what I want to work on is healing the feeling that my body is betraying me. Scan their website or marketing materials, and see if they focus on sports, luxury, injury treatment (all legit focuses!), or if they acknowledge and work with the emotional component of massage. They might not use the phrases "body-positive", "Heath at Every Size" or "Transgender welcoming", but looking at their focus can help narrow down the field.

2) Do they offer "cellulite massage" or affiliate with weight loss products?

It's hard to be body-positive if you're also promoting the message that a body isn't good enough exactly as it is.

3) What does their intake form look like?

A caveat here that intake forms are surprisingly difficult to create and many therapists simply use a standardized one someone else has made to look professional. But for many of us, having an intake that reflects our values is important enough we put in the effort, and whether or not a therapist has done can tell you a lot. Look for open-ended questions rather than a list of pathologies and diseases. See if emotional experiences are mentioned, or if the form asks for your reason for coming for massage. Check if they ask for your gender or pronoun and whether they allow for a nonbinary or self-supplied answer. Are questions about pregnancy listed under "For female clients", or does the form allow you to answer the questions that are relevant to you, without rigid gender ideas?

(Many massage therapists offer their forms online; if they don't, as I do not yet, you can email or call and ask for a copy.)

4) What are reviewers saying about them?

Look on places like Google+ or Yelp for reviews. What are the good reviews loving about them? What are the reasons people didn't like them? Remember, a "bad" review from one person might be a matter of mis-match between the client and the massage therapist; you can learn just as much about someone by what people didn't like as what they did. If the raves are primarily about injury treatment, increased range of motion, or say something like "it hurt so much but was worth it!" you may have found a great massage therapist, but probably not one with the focus you're looking for.

5) What does the massage therapist say?

It's true, sometimes the best way to get answers is to simply ask. Of course no one is going to say they refuse to treat any decent client, but you can ask about their experience in working with people of size, or people with body image issues, whether they know much about dysphoria or trauma, and whether they consider their work primarily physical, or integrative, or ___? Talking with the practitioner will also give you a feel for whether you want to work with this person, whether they have existing expertise in your needs or not.

What did I miss? How did you find your amazing massage therapist? If you haven't yet, what are you willing to try to find one near you?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

6 things you might not know about me

1) I am a huge, second-generation sci-fi/fantasy geek. My first three crushes were from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know more about Doctor Who than any one person really needs to. I read probably 2-4 novels' worth of fanfiction a week (hey, it's cheaper than my dad's 2-7 hardback novels a week habit). And yes, my parents really did name me after an Elvish princess.
Sometimes I combine numbers 1 and 3
and create epically geeky knitting patterns

2) I've been with my lifemate since I was 16, and yet I still have to stop my eyes from rolling when someone talks about their "high school sweetheart".

3) I'm a really skilled knitter. I rarely have time these days, but there have been periods when you'd hardly see me without needles in hand. I'm not great at making large, repetitive patterns, but there's almost no such thing as a pattern too hard for me. The more complex, the more I have to figure out, the happier I am. (Except Fair Isle type colorwork. I can do it, I just don't like to.)

4) I used to tutor Spanish and math in high school. I never quite made it to fluency in Spanish, but I was really good at helping beginners start to feel comfortable with the language. And I come from math-loving people, so although I tend not to think of myself as exceptionally good at math, it's always been familiar and fun for me.

5) We are a one-car family, and, except for a short time when my partner was working nights in a city 60 miles away from the bike-unfriendly town we were living in, we always have been.

6) I didn't have my hair cut, at all, until I was 16. Since then, I have shaved it bald, dyed it dozens of times, spent five years not ever cutting or dying or blow-drying it, let it grow, cut it myself, and splurged on quality salon styles. Mostly recently I've gone butch-short, and I absolutely unabashedly love it.

Want to play along? Leave 1-6 things about yourself in the comments, or share a blog link where you've answered!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Meet the massage therapist's healthcare team

Even massage therapists need someone to help them relax and be well, right? Well, I'm lucky enough to have a whole team. Among them are:

Reina, aka Catareina the Feline Queen, in her favorite spot

Specialties include heat therapy (seen here applying warmth to my neck and shoulder), relaxing high-speed vibration, and the best two-pawed kneading in town. She's the applied-bodywork therapist, but I also have on my team:

Chaos, aka KC McChaos, in his favorite spot (and mid-lick)

He's responsible for overseeing the movement part of my healthcare regimen. He makes sure my arms get a thorough workout while my hands get a luxurious furry sensory experience. He's quite emphatic about the therapeutic effects of walking, and is playful but strict about ensuring that I partake frequently. The prescribed distances have shortened in recent years, but he hasn't given up on my health yet.

Sure, I also have at my disposal and occasionally call upon the skills of a massage therapist, a physical therapist, a chiropractor, a physician, two children (what Chaos lacks in exercising my endurance, they work diligently to more than make up for), a gaggle of friends, a lifemate, and my own self and experience, but honestly, I'm just not sure my wellness would be where it is today without these two.

Who's on your healthcare team?

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Why should I trust you?" Or, the most common question I get from people who aren't yet comfortable with massage

Tiny Flowers, CC licensed by WhatiMom on Flickr
The question is rarely phrased this way. Usually it's hidden behind a cascade of questions about the details of how a massage session works, or in the silent void of no questions at all. It's in "Oh, I can't imagine doing that" and "Haha, no one wants to see this body naked." It's the pushed-away pull of unmet needs. "Why should I trust you?" and even more simply: "Can I trust you?"

And here's my answer: I don't know if you can. And I'm not sure you should.

What, really? That's the answer you're going with?


I'm not sure you can trust me because trust is very little about me and almost everything with you. And I'm not sure you should trust me, because I don't know how not-trusting is serving you in this moment. But if you're disinclined to trust, I trust that there's a very good reason for that. Distrust can be protective. Distrust can be a healthy, appropriate response to trauma, to life in a marginalized body.

Distrust can also get in the way of healing, of health, of connection -- and if you want to work around it, past it, through it, I am absolutely here for you.

But I can't say whether you can trust me. And I won't say whether you should. My hope for you, if you're asking this question (aloud or danced around or behind the fortress walls inside your mind), is that you learn more and more to trust your judgment, to evaluate your dis/trust for its reasonableness and accuracy (or lack thereof), to sift through your experiences and habits and beliefs and patterns of relationship for what is valuable -- because so much of it is! -- and to allow yourself to leave behind that which you decide no longer serves you. I'll be so happy for you if that happens, whether or not it results in me specifically gaining your trust.

A promise I can't make -- and many more I can

I cannot promise I will be entirely safe for you. All ways of feeling about and relating to your body are welcome on my table, without judgment, without exception. But I am human, and you are human, and I do not know with perfect certainty how to avoid all unwanted triggers of painful memories and feelings. I cannot promise absolute safety, and I won't do you the disservice of pretending I can.

But I can promise that I will show up with my full presence if you choose to work with me. I will be here with you in this moment and hold the space for whatever is alive for you, whatever you are working through with your body. I will offer you informed choice for any treatment. I will ask your permission for where you wish to receive touch. I will respect your desires for areas to be covered, to be avoided, or to be honored and acknowledged without touch. I will allow you to see all records I keep about our sessions. I will never speak of your confidences outside of my office, except as required by law for your and others' safety. I will admit my ignorance when it exists and the limits of my work and my expertise. I will create a space where you and your beautiful-amazing-resilient-hurting body feel welcome and supported to the best of my ability. And I will never tell you to stop asking questions and just trust me.

Why should you trust me?

I don't know. But I hope you can answer that for yourself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

5 Therapies Complementary to Mindful Massage

"Feldenkrais" by waltercolor on Flickr. Creative Commons licensed
While no one can or should pursue every treatment modality out there, most people find that combining two or three complementary practices most efficiently supports their healing process. To that end, here are five therapies I find support the work I do in massage, and vice versa, and mention which health conditions or goals are best suited for each in my experience and opinion. (Items are listed in no particular order; I could not pick a top favorite out of any of these!)

1) Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education

(Related modalities include the Alexander Technique and Spacial Dynamics.) Feldenkrais Method could be called "neuromuscular reprogramming". It could also be called "movement integration", "coordination training", and "bloody effective". The goal of Feldenkrais, whether one-on-one sessions or group classes, is to bring awareness, ease, and function to previously limited or painful movements and activities. I recommend it for people with old injuries that are continuing to hinder their desired activities, but I also have found it useful for clients who, for reasons of trauma or dysphoria, have an incomplete "mental map" of their bodies and potential movement.

2) Chiropractic

For some acute and chronic injuries, and for many of the physical aches and pains of pregnancy and new parenthood, I highly recommend a good chiropractor. In my experience, most pregnant people and new parents (whether they gave birth or not) would benefit from care with a skilled, parenthood-focused practitioner. Chiropractic adjustments can help you, well, adjust to the quite different demands of life with a baby.

3) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

(Otherwise known as just "therapy" or "talk therapy", though it is important to note that non-CBT methods of talk therapy do exist.) While massage performs excellently at reducing anxiety and assisting in processing emotions, any significant psycho-emotional concerns should also be addressed under the care of a licensed counselor or therapist. Many times we "bring up" old history or emotions on the table, and CBT can help you understand and shift your thinking around those events or feelings.

3a) EMDR, or eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, may be especially effective at "clearing out" the feelings sometimes awakened in massage.

4) Dialectal Behavior Therapy

DBT, as opposed to CBT, is a specific protocol, grounded in both mindfulness and entirely mundane practical skills, that excels at treating "personality" disorders, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions that are not well-served by other forms of traditional treatments. I am unlikely to recommend DBT to any client, but I find mindfulness-based massage makes an excellent adjunctive therapy for people who are successfully using DBT.

5) Fat Yoga or Curvy Yoga

Yes, I'm a fan of yoga for people generally, but there's something especially empowering about yoga for those of us who are fat or plus sized. Not only is yoga a wonderful mindful-movement practice, engaging in a workout traditionally seen as only for the ultra-lithe can be a huge subversive self-esteem boost. If you're lucky enough to have access to Fat Yoga, Curvy Yoga, or similar fat-positive classes, I encourage you to check them out -- even if you're not feeling confident about reclaiming those words for yourself yet.

What are your favorite therapeutic modalities or activities, whether to complement or in place of massage?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In the space between making plans and following your breath grows your life

There are roots to watch for, yes,
but also beauty in the journey.
CC image courtesy grant_loy on Flickr
I don't know if anyone has ever mentioned, but starting a business takes just a wee bit of time.

I have been known to understate things on occasion.

I also may have mentioned that I have two small children.

And further, I have plans beyond this business and being a part of this family. (Shocking, but so very true!)

And then yesterday +Barry Hatfield shared a post, titled Finishing, in which he directs the reader:

What do you want to do? What do you want to have finished when it’s time to go? Have you said "I’ve always wanted to …"

Do those things.

And oh, this hits me hard. Because as much as my hurryscurry runaround brain wishes, I cannot do all things, all at once. I probably can't even do all things one at a time. There are days, while building this business, attending to the twenty things that all need to be done yesterday (or last month, or whoops last year), that I get frantic, caught up in the insistence, in the pressure, the unrelenting slipping of time, the thoughts that each day passing is one fewer left to get finished, each hour put toward one endeavor is one less for every other and how can I possibly choose? must! try! to do! more!

And then I stop.

I breathe.

I get/give a massage.

I notice what-is in this moment.

I attend to my beautiful, messy, demanding, miraculous, human body.

And I remember: the only way to finish is to do. And the only way to do, the only way that works for me, is living in just this moment. This breath. This movement. This hour. Paying attention to what is before me now: a client, a child, a class, a chance to plan.

And trusting that in this way, if I be lucky and live my full, I may finish a few worthy works.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A love letter to my body

Body love. CC image by schipul on Flickr
Thank you feet, for being my solid connection to the ground. I love your width, your sturdy shape, your recovering arches.

Thank you ankles, in pain for so long, for learning to be vulnerable again, and so allowing me to stand well once more.

Thank you legs, awesome muscular fat shapely legs, for running and biking and dancing me through life.

Thank you hamstrings, so tight, so like my father's, my brother's, my son's. I love you for reminding me of my limits, of the tangible ways I am who I am from.

My hips. Oh, my beautiful hips. Wide and wiggly and laced so fine with silver, since we were oh so young. Thank you, thank you for relearning to sway, to swing, to bounce, to glide.

You and I, back, we still have our negotiations, and I love you for it. I love you for keeping me honest, for teaching me the frustrating beauty of incremental progress.

I shouldn't have a favorite, shoulders, but I do, and you are they. Round and freckled, strong and smooth, I love your look, your feel, your work, your steady, smooth presence. Thank you for your willingness to just show up, over and over.

Thank you arms, jiggly, strong, streaked, solid arms. You may not be able to push me up, but you hold my babies, embrace my friends, massage my clients, play my music. Thank you for being my way to touch my world.

And arms wrap us back down to belly. You didn't think I'd forget you, did you dear one? Thank you for squishing, thank you for bouncing back, thank you for swaying and sagging and saying I am here and I always will be and thus giving me the chance to learn unconditional, unhindered, enthusiastic love.

I've written whole letters just to you, breasts, my Dorito-shaped queens, so grant me forgiveness as I move on...

Thank you chest, my beautiful chest, for forgiving me for burning you again and again in my reckless sunscreen-skipping youth (of just last summer), for growing freckles and wrinkles, for growing older with me so well.

Thank you neck, for your folds, for your chins, for your length and creaks and quirks. I love you for learning to look behind me again, for learning for the first time to hold my head up high.

And head, well, it's harder here to say "you". So thank you, for being the closest to the "I", for giving the lie to any fiction that I am not my body. Thank you for being the truth that I am you and so my neck, back, ankles, feet. I love you. (I love me.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Introvert or extrovert? Yes! Or, 5 Reasons Why Ambiverts Make Great Massage Therapists

Vase or faces? Yes!
+Kat Mayerovitch  and +Allissa Haines wrote a pair of articles called 5 Reasons Introverts Make Great Massage Therapists and 5 Reasons Extroverts Make Great Massage Therapists. And they're great, as far as they go. Heck, they were so great I recognized myself in both of them.

And why shouldn't I? The world is not in fact divided into two distinct and distinctly dissimilar groups, whether we're talking gender or sexuality or social interactions. "Introversion" and "extroversion" both represent traits (or rather, collections of traits) that all humans can have in varying amounts. Some of us may have so little of one set and so much of another that the identity "extrovert" or "introvert" makes sense -- for them.

But for many of us, when asked if we'd rather spend time at a party, or alone in our homes; whether we get energy from a vigorous discussion with our peers, or feel overwhelmed at the back-and-forth of ideas; whether we like to speak up or enjoy the silence: the answer is "yes!" Or "sometimes". Or "it depends".

For many of us, the answer to "introversion or extroversion?" is "ambiversion please!"

And so, here are my five reasons why ambiverts make great massage therapists:

Ambiverts are energized by interacting with other people, especially one-on-one

For someone strongly at the introvert end of the scale, any interaction with others, such as a long intake interview, may leave them drained and in need of alone time to be shored up. For someone much more on the extrovert side of things, the mostly quiet, low-interaction environment of massage may leave them feeling lonely and craving interaction. For an ambivert, though, moving in and out of silence, and interacting intensely with one other person, can be just right, nourishing our needs for both solitude and community.

Ambiverts balance learning and intuition

Extroverts may thrive on the promises of exactitude found in textbook knowledge, or may be great empaths able to "read" other people. Introverts may find themselves open to others' energies, or retreat into the solitude of book learning. But most people at the far ends of the spectrum find the method that works for them and stick with it (and make great massage therapists, if in very different ways, because of it!). Ambiverts, though, thrive on BOTH book learning and interpersonal learning, on academic knowledge and the subtle senses we can't quite follow consciously. Or, as one person explained her experience of my massage recently, ambiverts often have "a balance between treatment and presence".

Ambiverts answer questions without being pushy

Introverts, though they may be profoundly expert in their field, can struggle to find a way to express the answers they know when put on the spot unexpectedly. Extroverts know the answer before you ask, and want to help by making sure you hear it. Ambiverts are excellent at waiting until you're ready to hear about recommendations for home-care stretches, or how a Health at Every Size approach to food and movement can help you get off the dieting roller coaster, and then at giving you just enough information to satisfy your curiosity.

Ambiverts can match your energy

Whether you've come in for your massage off a high-intensity workout or already chill and serene from sitting meditation, ambiverts can meet you where you are, reflecting back your joy and syncing with your slow wave with equal ease.

Ambiverts can help moderate your energy

Sometimes massage comes at the end of day filled with crises (or what people around you think are crises -- the red sippy cup is dirty! The Anderson file is due next week!), and you haven't yet shaken the anxiety and adrenaline that have allowed you to run from one situation to another. Or you're in a funk and haven't yet figured out how to explain what it is you need from that day's session. Ambiverts have a lot of practice moving from one emotional-energetic state to another, as we switch from energizing off chaotic groups or calm solitude, and we can use that to help bring you back to center, or draw you out of yourself.

There you have it: 15 reasons total why great massage therapists come in all flavors, ensuring that there is definitely a massage therapist out there for you.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Seeing things through

The table was set, and so I sat.
A confession: today's post exists solely because of NaBloPoMo. I have a great post scheduled for tomorrow, but didn't manage to schedule something for today. And then, the day happened. Life happened. (A migraine happened.) I spent a lovely five hours having a monthly dinner with very dear friends, after a slightly-less-lovely three hours grocery shopping (blissfully alone). I am, if I be frank, quite ready for bed.

Except, there's NaBloPoMo. And I made a commitment. There're no direct consequences for failing to follow through. Not a single one, not one drop less income, not a smidgen less chance of booking a client.

There's just me. And a commitment. And a desire to see things through.

I make mistakes sometimes, miss deadlines, miss opportunities. I'm human, it happens. But this? Seeing something through, for no reason other than I said I would, and I wish to? It's a bit silly. You could call me a bit stubborn. But I'm proud of it, too, somewhat secretly, slyly. It's what makes me me, Arwyn. I show up, even when I'm not entirely sure what to say, even when there's not much stopping me from slinking away.

I said I would. And so I'm here. That's reason enough.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"What Does Massage Do?"

A crew of hilarious and dedicated massage practitioners and fans at the +National Holistic Institute made this great parody of the so-popular What Does the Fox Say? It's worth a watch for both light-hearted amusement and basic education.

(My 6 year old watched this with me today, and had this commentary: "I can see why they called it What Does Massage Do? because they sing that a lot in the song. Actually I could use a massage, I have some tight muscles!" Ah, the wisdom of children.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Massage for Women Who Aren't Yet Comfortable in Their Bodies

CC Image by susivinh from Flickr
I'm taking a business class right now, through the amazing not-for-profit MercyCorpsNW, because I want to be better able to serve my clients. I already give a great massage ("Best massage I've ever had." - Emily M.), but in order to be able to do the massage I love, I need to have the scaffolding of good business practices in place. And, frankly, I love being a small business owner, and have been having so much fun learning and connecting with other local people who are or want to be self-employed.

It's a great class, and I'm incredibly lucky to be taking it with Rebecca and Wade, owners of Santeria, Portland's best Mexican restaurant. This week we practiced a fifteen word "unique value proposition", which is a very business-y phrase to mean "what you do". During the break this week they each, separately, came up to me afterward to compliment me on mine. Here's it is:

"I help women who aren't yet comfortable in their bodies, through massage and radical acceptance."

(Count it!)

I'm not entirely sure this is correct, though it is definitely a large portion of what I do. I'm still working on it.

But I wanted to talk about the word "yet", which is my favorite part of this sentence. I love "yet". "Yet" is such a full word, both acknowledging the reality of now and creating space for the future. "Yet" is hope, is opportunity, is potential. "Yet" is mindful, is accepting, is compassionate. "Yet" is the space between pessimism, which closes itself off to any good in the future, and optimism, which dishonors the darkness of now.

I haven't finished putting my website together yet.

I haven't figured out how to communicate the wholeness of what I do in fifteen words yet.

I haven't yet made my entry way as beautiful as I know it can be.

But I will.

What are you holding the space for in your life right now? What are some of your "yets"?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

7 Ways to Keep Feeling Blissful After Your Massage

More like this please!
Don't you wish that amazing feeling of just having gotten a massage could last throughout your week? Well, here are seven ways you can get back to that state, or at least something like it (and without the fancy post-massage hair):

1. Sleep. A massage will help you sleep better anyway: take advantage of it! Practice good sleep hygiene (as much as you can, if you have small children in your bed or house like I do), and try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night -- and if that seems too outrageous a request, try for it the night after your massage at least.

2. Take a walk. What? But massage is just lying down! While that's true, massage and walking have many of the same effects: less anxiety, more energy, easier movement, and an uplifted mood. Even better is if you're able to walk in nature, or with a good friend.

3. Give a hug. The best part about giving a hug? You get a hug back. Although we don't tend to acknowledge it, touch is a vital need for most of humanity, as important as sleep and food and shelter. So find someone safe, and hug it out.

4. Smile. Smiling, especially with your whole face, lifts your mood, reduces stress, and improves your outlook on life. The neurology that controls your muscles and the neurology that affect and reflect your mood are inextricably linked, so while of course we smile when we're happy, to some extent we're happy when we smile too.

5. Don't smile. Yup, I totally contradicted myself just then, except I also absolutely didn't. While smiling can improve your mood, it's also necessary to not smile sometimes. Just like with massage, sometimes the feelings that come up as we go about our daily lives are big and dark or sad. Just like your massage therapist does, hold that space for yourself to simply feel the pain or fear or grief, and offer yourself compassion for it. It's okay to not smile.

6. Look at beautiful people. Which is to say, look at people, because we all contain beauty, and if you look long enough, you'll start seeing it in everyone. Including in you.

And of course:

7. Book another massage. Because isn't it easier to relax today knowing that tomorrow or next week or next month you get to feel the bliss of massage again?

Those are my ideas (and what I try to do between my own massage appointments). What do you do to bring that feeling into the rest of your life?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wanting and Waiting to Be a Massage Therapist

I didn't know getting through the fence was an option. I only knew I loved to swim.
CC image courtesy cwillbounds on Flickr
I didn’t always want to be a massage therapist.

I come from a learnéd background. There are half a dozen graduate degrees, including three doctorates, in my close family. It was understood, in my family, that I would go to college, go to graduate school, and then immediately embark on a career that I would pursue until I retired.

That isn’t what happened.

I didn’t always want to be a massage therapist, and in fact, growing up, I couldn’t -- could not -- even imagine the possibility, so far removed it was from anything I knew. And yet, I massaged.

I always massaged.

I massaged shoulders and scratched heads. I ran my hands down friends’ backs, and reached out to squeeze sad hands. Sleepovers meant longer massages, oils and lotions if the receiver was daring, me figuring out how to work without wrinkling tshirts the rest of the time.

(Sleepovers meant kinks in my back, as I knelt and twisted and leaned to reach my face-smashed-in-the-couch friends.)

(It was always worth it.)

There was never a time when I didn’t massage, squeeze, console, caress, glide, hold, touch, be present with -- but it wasn’t until I allowed myself to receive massage, to realize its profoundly, deceptively simple power, to reorder my thinking from “fluffy-spa-luxury-thing” to a professional version of the connecting-healing work I’d engaged in since I could remember, that I could see myself making this my living, my life.

I didn’t always want to be a massage therapist. But I think I always was waiting to be one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to be a great massage receiver: speak up!

"But I only wanted a foot massage!"
A version of this post originally appeared in June 2013

It can be hard to know what to do if you've never had a massage before. When do you undress? How much? When do you get on the table? How do you get on the table? A skilled massage therapist should help you answer these questions*, but may not remind you of the most important part of being on the table: speaking up!

I know, massage is supposed to be quiet, right? Perfect and blissful and totally, completely relaxed, with "magic hands" that know right where to go to de-stress your tensest muscles. And sometimes it's even like that.

But here's the secret: us massage therapists? We're not perfect. We're not mind-readers. And although yes, sometimes our ability to find your right-there spots is uncanny, intuition and experience aren't 100%. We need something more: communication. From you.

That wonderful, blissful, completely relaxing experience you're looking for is what we want for you too, which is why we love it when you speak up and tell us exactly where it hurts, when we're going too deep, when something could be just a bit better. As I tell every client when they get on the table, there's no such thing as "interrupting my work": my job is to help you, and I do that best when I know what exactly it is you want. This is why I love the 5-point massage scale, because the more we are able to communicate (often with just a few words) the closer we can get to the ideal massage session.

After all, speaking up doesn't have to mean criticism! Sometimes the best feedback is letting us know what it is you love, or when we've reached that "sweet spot" in pressure. But if something isn't quite right, we want and need to know that, too. Far from taking it personally, I guarantee that caring massage therapists feel relieved when we know we can fix a discomfort for a client.

Here are some things clients have said to me (and I've appreciated every single one):

  • "Actually, can you turn the music down a little?"
  • "Oh, right there, that's where it hurts."
  • "Ow, that's too much."
  • "The blanket fell off my feet."
  • "Can you go back to my right shoulder again before I roll over?"
  • "This is my favorite part!" [during scalp massage]
  • "I think that's enough today." [when working an emotionally-heavy area]
  • "Can I get another pillow for my knees?"

(Of course, only sometimes is the client quite so eloquent. Often it's a muffled, slurred word or two, or even a hum -- and that's its own gratifying feedback.)

So here's your homework, if you really want to be a better massage receiver:

The next massage you have, speak up and give your therapist feedback, three times. It can be before, during, or even after the massage, though I recommend you say it when you think it, if you're at all able. What we don't want is you to sit there, pulling away from the experience, wondering "should I say something? maybe she'll figure it out... oh dear, maybe I should say something!" If you think it, the answer is yes! Please do!

You get a better massage, the therapist knows more about what you like, or don't, for next time, and both of you walk away knowing you helped each other have a better experience. Everybody wins.

*To answer the above frequently asked questions: after the therapist has left the room; as much as you want; after getting undressed; and ask if you need help. Between the sheets, please.

Photo credits: Kristy Topping on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fat (n.): "best or most rewarding part"

Fat and beautiful are not opposites
Allow me to sing the praises of fat massage.

I work a lot with fat clients*. I've been fat all my life, and I've been fat and pregnant twice, so I know just how frustrating it can be to worry about whether I will be safe and feel secure when I see a new massage therapist on a new table. Before even starting school, I resolved that in my practice bodies of all size would be welcome and would feel celebrated.

Massaging fat bodies both is and isn't different than massaging thinner bodies. I've had massage where it felt like the therapist didn't want to touch my fat -- which is to say, they didn't want to touch me -- as though it were contagious, or didn't need touch, or that I'd be upset if reminded of the abundance of my flesh. To which I say, both as a fat person and as a massage professional: hooey.

With thinner clients, an LMT can get away with a very superficial touch, gliding over the skin yet still, slightly, massaging the muscular layer. Working with a fat client calls me to slow down, to sink deep, to differentiate between the layers of the body, to feel what I'm doing.

On the other side, I've heard some LMTs complain they don't like working with fat clients because they can't "access" the deeper layers of the body, but this only shows they either have no experience, no idea what they're doing, or no willingness to learn. We absolutely can access all the same parts (and sometimes more easily!) as on a thinner body; fat clients can and should get the same quality massage as any other client.

I have never had a body on my table I didn't think was beautiful; I've never had a body on my table I didn't enjoy massaging. And yet, sometimes, fat is the "best or most rewarding part".

*Why do I use the word "fat"? Well, why not? The word "overweight" implies that there is some weight that I, a fat woman, am "over", "obesity" is a clinical term defined by the ratio of height to weight and says nothing about the corpulence of the body in question, and "fluffy" is a great descriptor... for a kitten. Because I do not believe fat is a bad thing to be, I do not think of "fat" as a bad word, any more than other relative descriptive words like "tall" and "young".

CC image credit: Mattias H on Flickr

Definition of fat via Etymonline.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo, where I blog every day for 30 days. If you'd like to make sure you don't miss a day (unless I do), you can follow the RSS feed or get emailed every post by signing up to the right; if you'd like to be emailed only the weekly highlights, as well as updates about the practice and tips on improving your relationship with your body, subscribe to the Holding Space Massage Newsletter.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Hurts so good": massage and "the sweet spot"

Not a massage tool. CC image courtesy Cellular Immunity on Flickr
There are lots of places in Portland you can go and have an elbow or thumb dug into you until it hurts, sometimes until it bruises, in the name of massage therapy. And hey, if that’s your thing? Go for it, with my blessing. I have a couple names to give you, great therapists who are happy to dig in as hard as you want.

That’s not what I do.

Some people mistake that type of work with a deeper level of work -- “deep tissue” -- when the truth is I can get just as deep in your body. I just take a little more time, and get a lot more “permission” from the tissues first. People who think pain is inherently therapeutic -- that if it hurts, it must be “doing something” -- can have a hard time understanding a slower, less invasive type of massage. That’s when I introduce the out-of-5 scale.

I find a 10 point scale too incremental, and trying to figure out whether a particular sensation is a 7 or an 8 pulls people out of their experience and into their heads. A 5 point scale seems just right, though for people who dislike numbers, I sometimes suggest a stoplight schema (green-yellow-red) instead.

In this scale, 3 is usually the “sweet spot”, what many people call “hurts so good” -- and how do we define that? It’s where the sensation might be intense, even potentially painful, but it’s something you are capable of relaxing into and breathing through. If you feel like you’re having to tense up in response to the sensation in order to cope with it, deliberately or unconsciously, that’s too much for the work we’re trying to do (which, after all, is meant to leave you relaxed!).

Sometimes, though, you might find that though your body can handle a 3-level of intensity somewhere -- you’re not tensing up in response to it -- it’s just “too much” for whatever reason. And that’s just fine! I always ask clients to let me know (whether by speaking up or waving a hand or wiggling a foot if you’re feeling non-verbal) if they want me to back off or move on, for whatever reason.

Some people want to be tenderized, worked on until it hurts and then some, which is a fully legitimate desire. But if you want a little more tender touch, more attention to your experience of the massage, find a therapist who works in “the sweet spot”.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo, where I attempt to put up a new blog post every day for 30 days. If you'd like to make sure you don't miss a day (unless I do), you can follow the RSS feed or get emails of every post by signing up to the right; if you'd like to see what I deem the highlights, as well as updates about the practice and future tips on improving your relationship with your body, subscribe to the Holding Space Massage Newsletter.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The aloneness of writing, the silence of massage, and the is-ness of being

Dreaming of Writing, CC image courtesy Lyn Lomasi on Flickr
I used to be a blogger. (I used to blog? Tricky thing, that "to be" verb -- was blogging something I did, or a function of who I was? Why does my language make me choose between these?)

Anyway, I did. Regularly, moderately popularly. So diving in to blogging for massage -- something about which I am at least as passionate about as what I used to blog about and which has the added incentive of a significantly higher return on investment -- should be easy, right?

But it's not been, and I, being me, have been trying to figure out why.

Lying in bed, brain stuffed full of Google+, social media strategies, business plan writing, branding advice -- all those things I need to master in order to do the thing I already am great at, apparently -- and turning the question over in my head, in the dark and still and soft snoringness of night, it came to me:

The me-of-massage doesn't talk.

I mean, I do, obviously -- I talk with my clients, I talk about the session's plan, I talk about the reasons and benefits and risks of proposed treatments -- but mostly, mostly, I am silent. I listen.

I listen to you, to your words, to the things left unspoken. I listen to your questions, and your complaints, and your exhaustion-frustration-celebrations about your body, your day, your life.

I listen to your body, your tender spots and pain and patterns of holding, your thickness and depth, your beauty and resiliency and willingness to live.

Writing can put me in touch with many, but it's essentially a solitary act: me, alone, with my keyboard. Massage is mostly silent, but is innately you-and-me, together -- emphasis on you, and we. There's little me, and she is quiet, watchful, attentive, present, not at all the declamatory I I'm using to pulling out when writing.

But here I am -- me, you, I, she, we, alone-together. Just like I struggled to master a more social way of writing when I first started blogging, just like it challenged me to reconnect with quiet presence when I first studied massage, I am committed to showing up, to making mistakes, to forgiving myself and trying again. Declamation, yes, and compassion too, sending words into the wifi and waiting in stillness for you to unfold: this I will do.

Will you join me?

This post marks the beginning of my participation in November 2013 NaBloPoMo, where I attempt to put up a new blog post every day for 30 days. If you'd like to make sure you don't miss a day (unless I do), you can follow the RSS feed; if you'd like to see what I deem the highlights, as well as updates about the practice and future tips on improving your relationship with your body, subscribe to the Holding Space Massage Newsletter.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pardon our dust! Or, sometimes it takes a little mess to make a better massage website

CC image from patruby83 on Flickr
The site's all here! ...okay, maybe it still needs a little work.
Welcome to the new home of Holding Space Massage online! All the former content is here, and we're working diligently at getting it back to a clean, comfortable, easily navigable like you're used to -- but this time, with streamlined features and a much easier blogging format.

And what does this mean for you?

  • You get to hear from me more often! 
  • You'll get more insight into bodywork and your relationship with your body. 
  • You'll see more tips and more resources on improving your body-image, and on making peace with and making the best of the things about your body/mind you cannot change. 
  • You'll learn more about me and what's going on at Holding Space Massage (and it's all good things!). 
  • You'll be introduced to topics you didn't even know you wanted to know about -- but you really, really do.

I dunno about you, but I'm excited (and that's not just the Halloween candy talking!).