Massage Matters

Mindful musings on massage, muscles, and moxie

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lights! Camera! Massage!

As you might imagine, going from being an in-house manuscript editor for the University of Chicago Press to becoming a massage therapist involves quite a number of changes. One of the toughest adjustments for me, though, has been to promote myself to potential clients. At the Press, someone put work on my desk, I did it, and then I got more. But since no one is depositing clients on my doorstep, it’s up to me to find them. No one likes a pushy massage therapist—it’s anathema to our image of the nurturing, mellow, healing soul that is the massage therapist. But it’s also a fact of business that if no one knows you exist, no one can take advantage of your services.

I am, therefore, always on the lookout for creative ways to bring myself—or, more to the point, my special therapeutic abilities—to the public’s attention. In the growing field of massage therapy, which is becoming increasingly accepted as a therapy, it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd. But when I decided to start using the bakfiets, or Dutch cargo bike, to deliver my services to clients, table and all, I knew I was doing something that set me apart and would give me the opportunity to show clients what really matters: my skill as a therapist.

After sending out a dozen or more press releases to local media, I was contacted by the Chicago TV show 190 North for inclusion in a segment they were doing on “bring-it-to-me services.” The host of the show, Janet Davies, had recently done an interview with my friend, the photographer Barbara Karant, about her book Small Dog, Big Dog for the 4 o’clock news on WLS TV ( Barbara warned me that they were relatively low budget in that I’d be responsible for my own hair and makeup. This is not good news for someone who goes for what we’ll kindly call the natural look. Barbara strongly advised that I find someone to do makeup for me in order to avoid looking washed out on camera.

Having a shortage of cosmetology friends in my life, I decided to contact the Aveda Institute to see if someone there could do makeup for me. When I called for an appointment, the receptionist made a point of telling me they were low on their “seasonal colors” and suggested that if I had any makeup to which I was partial I bring it along. This compelled me to admit that I have no makeup: the last time I wore makeup was probably my sister’s wedding—some three decades ago! Aveda did a nice job of creating a very natural look, but despite their assurances that I would not sweat away the makeup during the two-mile bike ride—with massage table on board, of course—to where the 190 North segment would be shot, I’m not sure how much lip gloss and blush made it there with me.

The filming itself was a lesson in self-consciousness, which I actually already have a lot of experience in—feeling self-conscious, that is: I have very little experience being filmed. First, they had me ride around the corner and down the street on my bakfiets, all of which they filmed. They had given me the instruction not to look at the camera, which made me develop a sort of amnesia in which it was as though I had never ridden down a street where there was not a camera filming me! Where was I supposed to look, if not at the camera? I looked at the houses across the street, up into the trees, at the road underneath my wheels.

That extremely taxing activity completed, they next filmed me pushing my bike up the curb, parking it, taking off my helmet, unloading my massage table, carrying everything up the stairs, and setting everything up. I couldn’t imagine they would use much, if any, of that footage, riveting though it was to see me perform these mundane tasks.

The table now set up in Janet Davies’s living room—for it turns out we would be shooting in her home and I would be demonstrating my massage skills on the hostess herself—Ms. Davies proceeded to interview me while I perched on the edge of the blue-flowered sheets I’d put on the table. I wasn’t nervous about the interview because I knew all the answers to her questions, since they were about me, and I wasn’t worried about putting myself in jeopardy with the law as, say, a suspect to a crime might be. Perhaps I ought to have worried a little more than I did, though, since natural doesn’t always equal appealing. However, the only portion of the interview that actually made it to the air was my answer to a single question that highlighted my strong suit without making me seem totally self-aggrandizing, since I was quoting from my clients.

The interview was followed by the main attraction: a massage. But the massage was anything but typical. To begin with—and this may surprise you—I’m not usually under bright lights being filmed while I work. Ignoring that aberration, though, there was also the fact that Ms. Davies was nearly fully clothed under the sheet, allowing me access to about 4 or 5 inches of her back—which was akin to a pilot having a short runway for take off. My gliding strokes, consequently, were truncated, so I moved rather quickly from warm up to demonstrating my trigger point work. Finding trigger points, or knots, and releasing them is essentially my calling card, so showing off that part of my massage made some sense. But I’m pretty sure on camera it looks like I’m merely using Ms. Davies for a leaning post since the camera can’t capture either the knot or its release. Like a host of a cooking show, however, I will need to trust that viewers will be able to imagine how delicious the outcome is.

After some compressions, muscle stripping, and myofascial release work on her arms, I got to spend a short amount of time massaging her neck before the producer announced it was time for Ms. Davies to do the lead-in for the next segment of the show, which would be filmed elsewhere. First they tried a camera angle over her head as it lied cradled in my hands. (“Don’t just hold her head—do some massaging,” the producer directed. “I’m doing tractioning,” I objected, but that, of course, is about as visually interesting as watching Jello set, so I complied with something more active.)

After moving the sheet up closer Ms. Davies’s neck, having her turn her head to the side, and another variation or two, the producer decided this camera angle just wasn’t working. So they had Ms. Davies turn over. The cameraman toyed with shooting through the face cradle, but that was a short-lived idea. I didn’t get to see what the shot looked like, but I can imagine her face looked rather squashed and pruney, viewed from that angle. Probably not the sort of view of their star they wanted the audience to take away from the episode.

Finally, they decided she should fold her arms in front of her with her head propped on them. By the time we got that far, I knew her line by heart and could have said it myself, but they suggested I continue to massage her while she spoke, so I inanely kneaded her shoulders while she delivered the line. Inanely, I say, because it was a rather poor representation of how I would actually conduct a massage—beginning with the fact that Ms. Davies, in that position was far from relaxed, especially given that her neck was crooked so she could look up at the camera. I found myself hoping that any massage therapists viewing this would understand that what they were seeing was not how I would have staged the massage. But I wasn’t the director of this production, only a bit player.

After we packed everything up—me, my table and oils; the crew, their cameras, sound and lighting equipment—we went outside to shoot the lead-in to my segment. Ms. Davies was going to say a line or two, and then I was to ride onto the scene, into the camera’s view. Now, having taken to heart their earlier exhortation not to engage with the camera, when I pulled up on the bakfiets, I simply stopped at the curb next to Ms. Davies. “You could smile!” the producer said. “And maybe reply to the question.” So we did another take in which I grinned my way to the curb and gave a hearty “sure thing” to the question, “Hey, Knot Whisperer, can I get a massage?” Though they felt that was a good take, they decided to do another “just in case,” but this time I didn’t brake early enough and bumped my way onto the curb. We all laughed, and they said they’d use the earlier take, but on later viewing they must have spotted something amiss with it because they ended up airing my ungainly bumping into the curb.

I hoped this faux pas, like the inane shoulder kneading, would be overlooked by viewers. But when the segment aired, a client’s eleven-year-old son said to me, “I saw you on 190 Nor-orth. Way to bump into curb.” And then he acted out my wheel banging into the curb before he dashed off to another room. Can’t put anything over on an eleven-year-old!

Though inquiries have been slow to come in, following the segment’s airing, I’m fairly certain it’s not because of my less-than-balletic bike riding. People will continue to see the 190 North segment online and I’m definitely on people’s radar: visits to my Knot Whisperer Facebook page were up more than 200 from the previous week. So now, when viewers do need a massage, the Knot Whisperer will ride again in their minds’ eyes and up to their doorsteps—which I will take care not to run into with the bakfiets!

If you’d like to see the finished product, you can find it at The Knot Whisperer starts her “star” turn at the 6:33 minute mark.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starring in the Role of Client: You

Getting a massage seems straightforward enough—you lie on a table and let a qualified therapist employ massage techniques to soothe your body—but a surprising number of people aren’t entirely sure what is expected of them during a massage. No doubt, differences exist depending on the therapist, the venue, the type of massage, and so on, but there are some general tips that would probably apply to many massage situations. Below are a number of things to keep in mind for your next massage, in order of importance—in terms of resulting a session that you will find effective and enjoyable—rather than in the chronological order of a given massage.

  1. Undress to whatever level you feel comfortable. There is no right or wrong; you just want to do whatever is going to allow you to rest most easily. A few things to consider when deciding how much clothing to remove, however, are that (a) by Illinois state law and the training of any reputable therapist, you will be completely covered during the massage except for whatever isolated area is being worked; (b) if women leave their bras on, it is next to impossible for the therapist to do any long flowing strokes; (c) if shorts are worn, the therapist may be impeded from doing effective work in the glutes and/or hamstrings, for instance; and (d) absolutely none of this applies if you are getting a chair massage or a massage in an open space!
  2. This is your time to relax! Try not to worry about anticipating what the therapist wants you to do—mostly, what the therapist wants you to do is let your muscles go slack. If the therapist needs your head or a limb to be in a different position, she will move it for you. There may be times when the therapist will want your assistance—for example, when it’s time to turn over—and at those times, she will explain what she needs you to do. Otherwise, just try to be. Forget about thinking, forget about moving: just feel. Of course, we are not all equally skilled at letting go, but that’s the goal.
  3. Communicate. As with any good relationship, clear and honest communication is a key component. Before the massage, take time to speak with your therapist about what you are looking for in terms of outcome and about what you want your massage experience to be. In general, talking during the massage is not expected—and can actually detract from your being able to fully relax—but if the massage is not proceeding the way you had hoped or if anything gives you pain or otherwise makes you feel uncomfortable about the massage, let your therapist know. Massage therapists are knowledgeable about a variety of techniques, but each of us experiences them differently. Because everyone’s level of sensitivity is different and because our preferences are unique to each of us, it is difficult for the therapist to know what feels good and/or effective for you and what doesn’t—unless you tell him. This also applies to temperature: if you feel too warm or too cold during the massage, let your therapist know so he can take steps to make you better able to enjoy your massage.
  4. Following the massage, ask the therapist for self-care tips if she doesn’t provide them. Are there stretches that would be helpful for relieving or preventing particular muscles issues? Are there things you can do at home to alleviate remaining muscle pain? What tools are effective for addressing recurring muscle pain?
  5. While not required, a clean “work surface” is much appreciated by the therapist. It’s not always possible, of course, to arrive at your massage appointment sweat- and odor-free (I’m thinking, for instance, of Chicago’s notoriously hot and humid summers), but whatever efforts you make along those lines will be beneficial to the therapist and, therefore, ultimately to your massage.
  6. If you have long hair, consider putting it up in some way that will keep it out of the way. Doing so not only keeps your hair from getting oily, but it also allows the therapist to focus on the work at hand rather than on repeatedly trying to move your hair aside.

In sum, your main responsibility as a client is to help make it possible for your therapist to give you the best massage of which she is capable. In the unlikely event that you find yourself in an unredeemingly unpleasant massage situation, remember that you always have the option to end a massage early if it seems you and the therapist are just not on the same wavelength. However, when you keep in mind the above points, you are giving both yourself and your therapist a fair chance at achieving a satisfying outcome.