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Massage Today
July, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 07

Learning the Right Way to Get Started in this Business

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

So many students of massage ask me, "How do I get started?" To me, it is not how to get started, it is IF you get started. You have to start where you are with a goal and start working toward it.

Most of the time, new therapists "just want to help people" and because of the lack of emphasis placed on entrepreneurism and self-promotion in massage school curriculums, they are at a loss as to how to reach the people they desire to help. Often, instructors in massage schools are teaching because they could not create a successful practice for themselves. Another common path to teaching is they destroyed themselves physically using poor body mechanics and now are teaching those to their students.

We handicap our students with unqualified "educators." We shouldn't be surprised at the outcomes. We so desperately need instructor standards but that gets in the way of several different cash flows, so the focus is on hours.

To students of lousy massage schools – it is now up to you to acquire the skills you are lacking on your own. Keep the faith and keep focused on your desires and goals. Find the resources, magazines, DVDs, continuing education programs, the Internet, etc., and get the skills you need to market yourself and your services.

An Aquarian Paradigm

When I came into the massage profession, way back in the last century, the paradigm was (as one of my favorite instructors called it) "Piscean." It was from the Age of Suffering. The "no pain-no gain," philosophy applied to massage as well as to athletics. This was somewhat understandable for the more dense bodies of the time, when everything required more physical effort. Cars required strength to drive. Keyboards of the day, called typewriters (or pianos), required strength to push the keys down. Vacuum cleaners were very heavy and not self-propelled. People needed to endure the therapy to get better. One had to suffer for one's mistakes. While we are still tied to the Laws of Cause and Effect today, people are less dense physically. We now have more mental-emotional stress on our systems and fewer physically exertive requirements. (This is why we now have to "work-out" to stay fit, as opposed to a couple generations ago that "physically worked" and thus were fit.) However, about that same time, a more "Aquarian" paradigm was arising. This was lighter, softer, more energetic ways of changing the body and relieving pain. Some systems were grounded in the physical sciences of anatomy, physiology, and neurology. Others were more esoteric, subtle, or energetic.

massage therapy - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark As we learn more about the body, we have come to realize that pain-causing therapies are not as productive as once thought. Pain activates the nociceptors and causes contraction, not relaxation. We have learned that stimulating the mechano-receptors, adequately but not excessively, will cause the most "relaxation" of muscles. While "deep tissue massage", which has become massage sold by the pound - usually ineptly applied - will satisfy some patients' masochistic needs emotionally, it is far from the best way to relax either muscle tissue or the nervous system. In addition, such therapies are physically demanding on the therapists and sadly many skilled therapists are forced to give up massage after a few years due to massage related injuries of thumbs, fingers wrists, shoulders, backs, etc. While many of these injuries are directly related to poor body-mechanics training in massage schools, many people who are drawn to the profession just do not have the physical capacity to perform strenuous, repetitive techniques. It is so sad to see therapists who have worked so hard to learn great techniques and built up a successful practice, then have to give up the work they love due to occupational injury.

Throughout my 28 year career, I have performed and taught many very physical forms of massage and my students have done very well with them because I was blessed to have been taught good body-mechanics at the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics and passed them along to my students. However, even with the finest of body-mechanics, repetitive activity can take its toll.

I have always appreciated the "physicalness" of massage. But I have felt and taught for some time that what we are doing is really just a game of stimulus-response with the nervous system. Muscles are very good soldiers. They do exactly what they are told to do by the nervous system. They can contract or relax and they do so very precisely on command. You cannot beat a muscle into relaxation, try as some might. Even if you can, and some believe you can - okay fine - but why put the patient and yourself through that unnecessarily when all you have to do is give a gentle, quick stimulus to the mechano-receptors and let them cue the nervous system to relax a particular muscle?

Actually, the body does this every time we move. It is called reciprocal inhibition. Sherrington's Second Law says that when a muscle is contracted, its antagonist is inhibited (relaxed). Now, this inhibition only lasts for the moments of movement, but why can't this mechanism be utilized in a way that does last and in fact "resets" muscle tonus to "normal" or "default" levels? Many therapists have asked this question and some have experimented with ways to accomplish it. However, their methods were sadly lacking, inconsistent, unpredictable, incomplete and short lived.

Finally, someone who happens to be a good friend and colleague, has taken the time to do the research and put in the thousands of hours of clinical time to perfect a system to accomplish the desired results. His name is Lawrence Woods and he calls this system Neural Reset Therapy® (NRT). As I mentioned in my last column, this is the biggest advance in massage technique I have found in my 28 years as a therapist. It is the equivalent of the impact St. John Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) had on my practice and the profession in the late 1980's. It is a game changer.

Imagine having a patient contract a particular muscle against a simulative resistance for a few seconds, resulting in the "resetting" of the tonus of a target muscle. Imagine being able to relax a muscle by stimulating the same muscle on the opposite side of the body, thus not having to press into or stretch the tight or painful muscle at all! Imagine that you can accomplish this with large movements, without much strength, no holding tender points or deep stripping through tissues, straining your thumbs. The patient gets almost instant pain relief without experiencing any pain during the process. This is NRT ( in action. It has completely changed my way of addressing soft tissue, has taken virtually all the load and strain off my body and brought about relief from a variety of problems from athletic injuries to neurological disorders for my clients.

Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB.


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