Massage Matters

Mindful musings on massage, muscles, and moxie

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gimmicks, Gimcrackery, and Goodness

The most important consideration about a massage is whether it is good. But what constitutes a “good” massage? The short answer is that it does what you, the client, want/need. The longer answer requires answering in the affirmative to questions such as the following. Were the techniques, modalities, and level of pressure appropriate for what you hoped the massage would accomplish? Did you feel like the therapist had really listened to you and did what you’d asked? Did you feel better (more relaxed, experiencing less discomfort) not only immediately after the massage but in the day or two following? Did your therapist do everything she could to make you comfortable?

Beyond such considerations, there are a variety of extras that may enhance the massage for you, everything from the overall environment of the massage space to the kind of linens used. Such so-called extras can even be therapeutic in the hands of someone professionally trained to, for instance, use essential oils for aromatherapy. The trick is to distinguish between tools that are used with professionalism and knowledge and those that are mere gimcrackery—for instance, the application of tuning forks by someone not trained in sound therapy.

Gimmicks should also be viewed with caution. All too often, the word “gimmick” bears greatest resemblance to the part of its definition delineating it as “a concealed, usually devious aspect” of a deal—for instance, “massage” parlors that offer 24-hour service. But a gimmick doesn’t necessarily have to be a bellwether for something subpar. A gimmick that is “an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem” used to increase the genuine appeal of a service or product or that incidentally draws attention to something of real value doesn’t warrant the same sort of caution as its less respectable counterpart. In other words, a gimmick can also be an honest means to a good end.

For example, my recent venture of delivering massage to clients in their homes via bicycle could at first glance be construed as a gimmick. And in the sense that transporting a massage table via bicycle is a novel way to do so, it is, in fact, a gimmick. But the motivation for buying a Dutch WorkCycles bike so that I could haul a massage table was not to bring attention to my massage business—though doing so would without a doubt be a happy by-product. Further, it is the quality of my massage—not the fact that I ride a crazy-cool massage-table-carrying bicycle—that persuades people to schedule with me.

So if not primarily for the publicity, why have I embarked on this enterprise? In the main, I have done so because (1) I love bicycling, (2) I hated having to burn fossil fuels in order to go just a few miles to a client’s home, and (3) I work with a lot of athletes and so I feel using my own power to move about adds to my credibility with them. As it turns out, the bakfiets (pronounced bahk-feets and translated as “box bike”) is also incredibly fun to ride!

On the bakfiets, you sit much lower than on a “regular” bike, similar to someone riding a chopper. It is a position that makes me feel relaxed and incapable of hurry, as though I were piloting a ship. And though I’ve not carried as much as the 300-pound load limit, for the most part, I haven’t felt especially burdened by whatever I’ve carried in the box so far. (I’ve taken my five-year-old nephew for rides and used it to carry nearly a hundred pounds of groceries, as well as having transported my massage table.)

In addition to the physical pleasure of the ride, there is the added pleasure of reaping oodles of positive attention and admiration. The day after my partner Kathy and I purchased the bakfiets, I rode it about five miles to the Trader Joe’s grocery in Park Ridge, IL, with Kathy accompanying me on her own bicycle. Though I wasn’t aware of it, Kathy tells me I “turned a lot of heads.” I couldn’t help but notice, however, the things people called out as we passed by. “That is the best bike ever!” “Awesome bike!” “Where did you get that bike? Did you have it specially made?” “Did you build that bike yourself?” I even drew amused chuckles from an elderly woman waiting for her bus. At stoplights, I was engaged in lengthier conversations with nearby motorists. At Central Avenue and Northwest Highway, a Vietnamese man told me the bike reminded him of a kind of bike used in his homeland, and at Raven Avenue, a pale man with dreadlocks quizzed me about where to purchase such a vehicle. There were also questions about what I used the box to carry. The latter sort of question has mostly ceased since I mounted my banners on it, with my logo and the declaration “Pedaling massage to you,” but passersby are no less amazed by the vehicle itself or by its purpose.

When I first used the bike for its intended purpose, I received surprisingly little notice. First, it was near rush hour on a weekday, and not on the weekend as when I’d ridden it otherwise, and so people were more in hurry (hence the rush in “rush hour”!) and less inclined to stop and marvel. Second, I took more residential streets to get to my client’s home so there were simply fewer people out and about. When I arrived at my destination, though, the eleven-year-old boy who lives there was rendered nearly speechless by how “cool” my mode of transport was.

Since that first trip, and since affixing the banners, in addition to the comments about the bike itself, I’ve gotten many comments from strangers on the street and in parking lots about what a neat thing I’m doing and what a great way to advertise. The banners have even generated some networking. In the parking lot of the Trader Joe’s in Wrigleyville, a musician who composes music for massage and relaxation, Michael Strening Jr. (, approached me to pass along his business card and ask for mine. Now he’s spreading the word about me and I am buying his CD of piano compositions to use in my massages and to sell.

Even at this early stage of my latest endeavor, it’s clear that the “gimmick” of this strange cargo bike is generating a little buzz for me. And that’s nice. But in the end, what will really matter is whether I give the people what they want: a darn good massage.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Massage and Weight Loss

It may seem too good to be true that massage can help you with a weight-loss program. There are many ways, however, in which massage therapy will indeed support your exercise and weight-loss goals. Massage is unlikely to have a direct impact on weight loss, such as physically bursting fat capsules as some have claimed. This doesn’t mean, however, that the benefits are not real.

To begin with, massage will improve your flexibility by loosening tight muscles. Muscles that are therapeutically manipulated will experience an increase in blood flow, which helps lubricate muscle fibers that are sticking together. And an added benefit of loosening tight muscles is that you will be less stiff and sore, making it easier for you to stay on track as you work toward achieving your objectives. In short, because massage increases oxygenation of muscle tissue, it can shorten recovery times and prolong endurance.

Massage can also help reduce your risk of injury, especially as you increase your level of activity, putting greater stress on muscles that have been less active. By stretching and manipulating the connective tissue that enwraps all muscle tissue, massage can help reduce adhesions, or scar tissues, which are common with muscle injury.

Further, research has shown that massage will increase metabolic rate, thereby allowing your muscles to burn more calories. This improved metabolic rate is a result of the endorphins released during massage. Endorphins, as you probably know, make you feel better, too, and will help you remain motivated and active.

Another frequent factor in weight gain is the production of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress and has been shown to increase appetite and cause fat to be deposited in the abdominal area. Exercise is the best way to reduce cortisol levels, but massage can reduce it as well by lessening your stress level.

Digestive health is another critical factor if you are going to achieve your target weight, since the digestive tract supplies your body with the fuel it needs for energy and eliminates waste products. Abdominal massage not only promotes digestion, it also reduces constipation, bloating, and flatulence, all of which are factors in belly size. Abdominal massage should therefore be given serious consideration if you are intent on decreasing your body size.

Finally, although losing weight and regular exercise are rewards in themselves—improving your health, your self-esteem, and so on—the results are not instant and it can be easy to feel discouraged. Therefore, if you are working hard, it’s important to find healthy ways to reward yourself regularly to maintain your motivation. Massage is an excellent way to do that because not only does it feel great but it can also be an important adjunct to any exercise and diet plan.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exactly What Is a Knot in Your Muscle?

Clients often come to me with a “knot” in their back or their necks. And occasionally, one of them will ask me the question I’ve just posed above: “Exactly what is a knot?” I swear that they’re picturing a nice little half hitch or slipknot in their muscle fibers. But a knot, in this context, is less like something you learn in Boy Scouts, with loops and twists, and more like what you find in a piece of wood: a hard place.

In reality, a knot in the muscle occurs when a section of the muscle becomes constricted (or compressed). The scientific term for this state is a myofascial trigger point, with myo meaning muscle and fascial referring to the connective tissue surrounding the muscle. Knots can form when some event generates a reaction in which the muscle never relaxes, which leads to a muscle spasm. The spasm creates a sense of chronic tightness—a.k.a. “a knot.” The word spasm might seem to suggest a sudden series of muscle contractions and relaxations—a jumpiness in the muscle—but a spasm can also be a single prolonged involuntary muscle contraction, or abnormal tightness.

Muscle constriction can also occur as a result of small amounts of scar tissue developing through an injury or even just repetitive motion, from microscopic damage to muscle fibers. Scar tissue is an inflexible collagen fibrous material that, once created, can adhere to muscle fibers, preventing them from sliding back and forth over one another as they should, as well as to connective tissue, reducing muscle flexibility. Muscle fibers can also adhere to one another as a result of, for example, dehydration.

One of the reasons that massage is so effective at treating knots is that it helps loosen such adhesions, allowing the muscle fibers to slide over each other again, and it also helps reintegrate the scar tissue into the muscle, reducing its inelasticity and thereby restoring the muscle to a more flexible state.