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Massage Today
August, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 08

Challenges in the Treatment Room Can Bring Self Awareness

By Ann Brown, LMT

When I put on my writing hat for Massage Today, I usually feel I should speak about the spa industry, spa management, climbing up the corporate ladder or trying to bridge the gap between massage and spa (a relationship that is good, but could always be better).

But beyond any executive or management level tasks that are on my mind, I still find myself back at the massage table and it is in this grounding that I find myself challenged. In my day-to-day role as spa director, I do at times step up to our spa's needs and provide hands-on therapy myself to our clients, standing at that massage table, in the same place as you. It is in that place that I sometimes find myself confronted with challenges I wasn't expecting.

I am very engaged in my work in the spa industry as it relates to massage, and I know you are, too. As engaging as the work is, I get stuck with my own responses with clients. Whether it is appointments cancelled minutes before the massage starts, clients in bad moods, clients that just aren't getting better or when I might, per chance, not be in the best of moods. We don't work in a vacuum and we are affected by the distances between ourselves, our clients and what we would like to have happen.

Recently, I found myself taken by an email I received from Wayne Dyer's organization about his daughter Serena's book, Don't Die with Your Music Still in You. The book's message hit a chord (no pun intended) with me and what I realize are my challenges with massage clients.

massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark In her book, Serena says, "I'm always interested when I see acquaintances posting positive quotes and inspirational messages on Facebook and Twitter, yet I know that they're incredibly judgmental in their day-to-day lives. I hear them talk poorly about their friends and see them treat some people better than others. It's as if they don't believe the waitress is of the same caliber as the priest or lawyer, and therefore she does not deserve the same kind treatment."

To be honest, when I read that, I had to question myself. Do I do that on some level? While I strive to treat everyone with kindness, how much do I subconsciously judge others? Do I judge my clients when they don't meet my expectations or cause me a bit of challenge?

I filter everything that happens in my daily life, minute-to-minute. Part of this filter allows me to scan my environment and/or person and put them in a category. I think I've done this since I was a young child and I am sure it first came about to provide safety for me. I would scan people to check facial expressions and make sure they were friendly and not going to harm me. We all have basic survival mechanisms we use to protect ourselves from harm and maybe it is a primal part of our brain that helped the cavemen and cave ladies watch for danger including cliffs, animals, predators, storms, etc.

Even Serena admits that she has been guilty of these same judgmental behaviors. "We're all evolving. But I am becoming ever more aware of the judgment that creeps into my life. I observe it, even embrace it, and then let it go. I'm trying to live more positively, knowing that who I used to be, or what I used to do, does not shape who I am or what I do today."

As I have grown up, my adult filter has a tendency to judge and make assessments before I really know a person's whole story. Whether welcoming regular massage clients or first timers, we typically tend to assume things that we really don't know for hard facts. Do some of these sentences ever apply to you and your thoughts? "This client doesn't want to get better and will not do the work." "This client really doesn't have the financial resources to see me regularly." "This client is needy and stuck and I cannot really help."

I trust that all massage therapists want to help clients with wellness/prevention and rehabilitation and relaxation. I know this intention to help get them better can sometimes cause frustration when the desired results are not achieved. A positive attitude can do all kinds of things to help achieve results and that positivity must start with me and I must share it with my client.

Serena Dyer's words have helped me just try and embrace the good and keep things positive. "We can talk about positivity until the cows come home. But if we have constant thoughts of negativity, we will only find more negativity showing up in our lives. In order to see things change, we have to change the way we think about things. As the Abraham-Hicks teachings say, stop telling it like it is and start telling it like you want it to be. Life isn't happening to you, it is responding to you."

Once I get negative about another person, I have infected myself. That is not what I want for myself and that is not what I want for you. Wayne Dyer puts it best, "An eye for an eye keeps the whole world blind. Don't forget that."

Standing at the massage table, I look back over my career and I think about Serena's words. I see how the spa is not a job, but part of who I am, and I am grateful. I am grateful for the zigs and zags that I didn't plan on in my life, but that sparked my interest in the spa industry and kept me here. I have learned so much and know that it would take many lifetimes to even scrape the surface of all the spa history and understand the theories and fundamentals that originated thousands of years ago.

We are in a profession that dips deep into the past and connects deep with clients – and often times helps us connect deep within ourselves. As Serena puts forth in the title of her book, don't die with your music still in you. We all have music within ourselves, and we all work to find the rhythms and learn our life lessons that let our music loose. Cultivating a spirit of openness with our clients and forgiveness for ourselves when we falter helps let our music sing.

Ann Brown, a licensed massage therapist, is a member of the International Spa Association's board of directors and serves as spa director at Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo. She also provides management consulting services through Spa Insight Consulting.


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