reflections on bodywork.

IMG_8300

by guest blogger S.C., WSW client since 2013

I wanted to take a moment to share how much West Side Wellness has made a direct impact on my life.  In 2015, the Supreme Court granted me and my beloved the legal right to marry, and in June of 2016, in a beautiful meadow in Vermont, surrounded by friends and family, I married my person.

But it was a long journey, and it would never have happened without the absolutely amazing team of massage magicians at West Side Wellness who made it possible.

At first, we considered eloping.  My parents passed away years ago, and my person’s parents live in Puerto Rico.  We knew it would be difficult to afford a wedding on our own.  I have 8 siblings – and when our parents passed away, the two youngest were 9 and 10.  We ended up adopting them as siblings and raising them together.  We’re incredibly close, but they are scattered, with many on the West Coast – it’s incredibly rare for us all to be able to afford to travel to see each other.

We both decided it was worth the sacrifice to save for a wedding, so that we could see the faces of our beloved family and friends and spend precious time with them.

I ended up taking four jobs – one of which was driving for Uber on my off days.  Almost immediately, I started experiencing intense pain from 10-12 hour driving shifts.

Here is where the magicians came in – every week, I made an appointment or two and every week, they relieved the pain enough to continue driving for one more week.  More than once, my passenger changed the destination mid-ride, causing me to be late for my massage appointment, and every time the gloriously kind humans at West Side Wellness were flexible and thoughtful and just all around awesome human beings.

On the day of my wedding, it was such an incredibly beautiful moment to look out and see my siblings and chosen family and friends gazing back at me.  We had three glorious days to bask in the love of this enormous cuddle puddle.  One moment I will remember forever is the moment I saw one of my younger brothers – we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years; we simply ran towards each other crying, arms outstretched.

If it weren’t for the empathy and talent and incredible patience on the part of the team of massage therapists that worked on me, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the wedding, and I would have missed out on an experience I will cherish for the rest of my days on this planet.

THANK YOU so much for the gift you give to the community!

All the thanks in the world,

S.C.

Advertisements

bodywork: it brings up your shit.

IMG_7555

One thing seasoned bodyworkers know is that trauma gets stored in the tissues. Stress, toxins, emotional trauma, physical trauma: these accumulate in muscle and fascia as we move through life. We’ve all got little stockpiles of garbage hidden away here and there. It’s not unnatural; it’s part of living, but sometimes the dumpster overflows – and that’s when we start to feel pain and get sick.

Bodywork can help release stored tension or trauma. Sometimes this feels fantastic, but often, we have to experience the muck as it gets cleared from our system. A mentor once offered me a helpful metaphor: if you scoop up sludge from the bottom of a pond, you’re gonna kick up some mud. The water will be cloudy till it all settles back down again.

This happened to me the other day. I received a wonderful session that was so relaxing, I fell asleep in the middle of it. But almost immediately afterward, I felt nauseous. That was followed by a flare up of my pain condition which lasted two days. I understood what was happening, so I didn’t panic. I let myself take it easy while by body did its thing. I helped it along by doing a sauna. Then, almost like magic, the pain cleared and I felt physically more at ease.

There are things we can do to lessen this effect: be hydrated prior to receiving work, stay hydrated afterwards, do gentle movement like walking or stretching to get the fluids moving; sauna, epsom salt soaks, rest. In my case, I entered into the session a little sleep deprived, depleted, and sad (and then I requested work on the psoas, which can bring up really old stuff), so I shouldn’t have been surprised to feel cruddy afterwards.

The takeaway: sometimes healing isn’t pretty. It’s a “process,” as they say. Bodywork is potent medicine. It teaches us self-awareness, which ultimately leads to resilience.

Jen Raimondi, owner West Side Wellness

core values.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.07.33 PM

Owner’s note: at WSW, we all belong to either the AMTA or the ABMP, professional massage associations which ask members to pledge to uphold ethical standards of care. But we wanted to take that a little further and develop our own statement of core values as a practice. Here’s what we’ve got:

We treat everyone with respect. We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe here.

We refrain from judgement. Our job is to bear witness and hold space. Our goal is to be sure clients know their needs have been heard, honored, and met.

Reminding clients of their power and self-efficacy is empowering. Empowerment is what helps people heal.

Our work is client-directed. It’s a cooperative effort between client and therapist. Healing happens when the client is ready.

Our own education is ongoing.

We strive to be present.

We strive to be professional.

We strive to model compassion.

We strive to keep our prices reasonable.

We claim no miracles.

We care for the Providence community we’re part of.

Massage is service, in the highest sense of the word. To perform bodywork is an honor and a privilege. Our work is humility.

deep thoughts.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 5.48.28 PM

Owner’s note: at WSW, we get a lot of clients requesting “deep tissue.” We feel this is an inaccurate term, so we try to dig a little deeper (heh heh) to discover what you truly seek.

If you walk in our door requesting “deep tissue,” we like to start with a conversation about your needs, goals, and expectations. We talk about our techniques and limitations. Finally, we suggest an approach, and if it sounds good to you, off we go.

Many people think massage has to hurt to be effective. This is not true. A skilled therapist can access your deepest tissues or manipulate the fascial layer without causing pain. So if your goal is to free your psoas, or to loosen some adhesions, we can do that without too much discomfort.

That’s not to say that intensity, or “good pain,” is always a bad thing. Some of you are wired to receive intense sensations in a positive way. You find it relaxing; it helps you experience deep release. You might enjoy a little endorphin rush. If you know that about yourself, don’t feel embarrassed to tell us.

That said, it also helps to differentiate intensity from pressure. Sometimes compression itself can be super calming, like those ThunderShirts for dogs. It’s totally possible for us to provide pressure, or compression, without causing pain.

As you can see, the more we discuss your needs, and the more we differentiate techniques and intentions, the more we can fine-tune our work for you. Each therapist at WSW has different skill sets, too, so knowing what you’re looking for will help us match you with the right LMT.

Someone once shared this piece by Alok Vaid-Menon with me (you should read the whole thing):

“Susan tells me that her job as a masseuse is not necessarily to get rid of the pain, but rather to bear witness to it. To recognize it. To affirm it. She says that we live in a country — a world — that teaches us at every level that our hurt is a story we made up. And we internalize that to our core and write it into every muscle in our body. “I am wrong, I am wrong, I am wrong.” She says that sometimes acknowledgment can be its own sort of antidote. That sometimes people just need to hear that what happened to them was not their fault. That people tend to know what is best for themselves, they’ve just been told over and over again that they don’t.”

Though we’ll tell you when certain techniques are contra-indicated for certain health conditions, it’s not our job to judge you for what you seek. Most importantly, know that your consent, before and throughout your treatment, is paramount. Because if you feel that your needs are heard and met, you’ll feel safe, and our work will be more effective.

 

core values, work in progress.

1801269_701749783209614_1206294973_o

Owner’s note: here at WSW, we’ve been having ongoing discussions about how we’d like to define our core values as a practice. The process is ongoing, but here are some thoughts I’ve had along the way.

Part of what makes WSW special is that we understand that different approaches work for different people. Touching another person is a privilege, and the simple act of laying on hands, with presence, is sacred. It heals. Any additional techniques (provided they’re done with mindfulness and skill) are icing on the cake. One reason we charge the same amount for different bodywork modalities is because we view all bodywork as equally healing and equally valuable.

It’s appropriate (and good) to educate you about the different options we can provide, and to say why we think you might want to try them. But for us to value one modality over another would be inappropriate. It’s your job to sample and decide what works for you. I believe it’s unethical to let a client make us their guru. The healthy client is the one who is shown that the healing work happens within them; as massage therapists, we are simply objective facilitators.

Listening to you, and letting you know you’ve been heard, is deeply therapeutic, regardless of the nature of the conversation. It’s important, and it’s planned for, at our practice. Our duty is to bear witness, and to affirm that you know what is best for you. Sometimes your time spent with us is the only time in your life when you can ask for, and receive, what you want. We’re here to treat, and to educate, but above all, to honor your right to make decisions about your body and your experiences, and to remind you that you have a right to have your needs met.

it’s not about us.

Owner’s note: I was invited to speak at the 2015 graduation ceremony for CCRI’s massage therapy program. This is what I said to the assembled newly minted massage therapists (it describes my business philosophy to this day):

Thank you for inviting me to speak, everyone. I am honored.

As you prepare to set out in a new life direction, I’m sure you’re curious about what led me to be where I am, so I will give you a little summary.

I am 39 years old. I have a masters degree in Sculpture from RISD. I spent many years and countless hours in studios in Pawtucket mill buildings, making challenging work but never making a living. I was lucky in that I was able to teach at RISD, but I knew that teaching art was also an unreliable income. I wanted to do something to help make change in health care, so I went to massage school at the Santa Fe School of Massage in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2007, with the intention of teaching art part-time and doing massage part-time. When I returned to Rhode Island, the economy crashed, art schools were not hiring, and the only jobs I found were actually at massage practices.

I worked for other massage therapists for three years. During that time, I received informal apprentice-style instruction in myofascial work from my friend Andraly Horn. When a small office space became available for rent on Broadway in Providence, I made an instinctual but rushed decision to start my own practice. On January 1, 2011, I opened West Side Wellness with zero money in the bank and thousands of dollars owed to a debt repayment program, and therefore no access to business loans. The only cash I had was a couple thousand dollars borrowed from friends and family. The only security I had was that my sister was my landlord at home.

This level of bootstrapping is not for the faint of heart. I don’t advise it! I lived without heat in my apartment for two winters. I don’t think I would have had the will to do it if I hadn’t already lived at poverty level as an artist. To me, starting the business seemed like the only option I had left for survival and growth.

Sort of to my surprise, my business has indeed grown and thrived. One of the best choices I have made is to have excellent massage therapists working for my practice. I try to create a good working environment for them, and in turn, they keep my business in business. Another crucial decision was having someone help me manage my finances. I wouldn’t be in business without the hard work and support of many others.

In 2014, I was able to take out a modest business loan to pay for the buildout of our new office. After so many years of struggling, this makes me very proud. But I am prouder that I have created something that is bigger than myself. My business doesn’t just pay my bills, it is a source of livelihood for others. I have created space for me and my team to help thousands of people feel better. I am excited to say that we have also started to offer community workshops and continuing education for massage therapists. Most importantly, my practice is doing what I set out to do: treat and honor all kinds of regular folks, from people living at poverty level to people who are very high earners, and everyone in between.

Jenny asked me to talk about my journey — well, that’s it, in a nutshell. I am sure you guys are getting all kinds of good career advice from the excellent instructors here at CCRI. I’m not sure how much business advice I can give — I’m just figuring things out as I go, myself. What I can offer is some stuff I have learned about massage in the eight years I have been doing it.

The most important thing to remember is that the practice of massage is not about you.

Although we may not like to frame it this way, massage is service, in the highest form of that word. It’s service in the same sense that doctoring, mentoring, feeding the hungry, teaching, nursing, volunteering, and guiding people through yoga or meditation are service: it is serving the greater good. When you perform a massage, you are serving the needs of another human being. This is an honor and a privilege. When you give someone a massage, it is your humble duty to listen to what they say and listen to what their body is telling you. It’s not about you, your personality, or your state of mind. It’s hard, but it is service. If you accept this, you will help people heal.

Massage is not about you in that it’s not about your name or your ego. For a modest example, I chose not to use my own name when I named my practice. This left me room to bring in other massage therapists, and it left me room to shift towards the role of manager as the practice grew. But more importantly, it made the practice not about me. People come to our practice because of our good work and our welcoming philosophy, not because I or anyone else are gurus. Sometimes practitioners guru-fy themselves to feel important. But guru-fying oneself disempowers one’s clients. Empowerment is what helps people heal.

Conversely, massage is not about you in that the issues you help people with are not your problems. It’s ok to empathize, to temporarily feel their pain, but let it pass through you. You are there to listen, and to do the good work you do, but it’s not your responsibility to take those problems home with you. If you do, you will burn out. A burned-out massage therapist doesn’t do good work. You’re too tired, and you’re sick of peoples’ pain and problems. Your responsibility is to take care of yourself. Figure out how to restore, replenish, strengthen, and stay healthy. If your work environment isn’t supporting you, move on. If you aren’t able to pay your bills, make changes. Diversify your life experience. Seek support. A supported massage therapist with well-grounded professional boundaries helps people heal.

Finally, massage is not about you in that it’s a two-way street: healing through bodywork is a cooperative effort between client and therapist. Massage is a science and an art; it involves knowledge, skill, creativity, and intuition. But the most brilliant massage therapist in the world would be nowhere without a collaborative relationship with his or her clients. This means that healing happens when the client is ready. It means healing happens when the client takes part in the process, whatever that may entail. It also means that healing happens when the therapist is able to communicate to the client, though words or massage, that the client’s needs have been heard, honored, and met.

To close, I’m going to quote some thoughts and statements from the website for POCA Tech, the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture’s new technical school for community acupuncturists. If you haven’t heard of community acupuncture, you should google it. The following sentences are out of order and out of context, so I hope you do check out their website sometime for the full picture. I mainly want to communicate a sense of their philosophy of healing, which is a huge inspiration for me and my practice:

It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s an important one. If worldly success and recognition are important to you, … if validation from “the system” is something you want, this is not … for you. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. Welcome to witnessing more pain and more courage than you ever imagined the world could hold. Welcome to doing work that you’ll never fully understand. Welcome to failure and miracles. Welcome to worrying about what everything costs and what your patients can pay; welcome to bootstrapping and scavenging and making do; welcome to creativity and joy and frustration. Welcome to being tested over and over, and we don’t just mean quizzes or the national certifying exam.”

Above all, have faith that even as a beginner, as long as you bring presence and intention to your work, you will help people. May you all stay humble while making a decent living. May you all find support. May you all do good, healing work for the greater good. Good luck!

we’re not your guru.

Owner’s note: I wrote this back in 2011, the year WSW began. I think it’s still relevant today!

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between what we’re doing at WSW and the usual way massage is practiced. We’re not doing anything original – other therapists offer shorter sessions; other practices have various ways to help clients with tight budgets; other businesses focus on the therapeutic, healing side of massage.

But our overall philosophy is different. I can sum it up in one statement: we’re not your guru. We are all skilled, sensitive therapists. But it’s not about us, or our personalities. It’s about you, and what you bring to the table.

Let me put it this way: it’s not about trudging through the jungle, climbing a mountain, and spending hours drinking tea with an all-knowing hermit in a cave who gives you the secrets of the universe and heals you with a single touch. I mean, that’s a once in a lifetime experience, and most of us never have the chance to go on a journey like that. What I want to create is an everyday place of healing. It’s more of an urban idea because it’s community-based. I see WSW making a whole lot of people feel a little bit better, a little bit at a time; eventually, the whole community is happier and healthier. Many of you know that I go to Providence Community Acupuncture… they’ve definitely inspired what I’m trying to do: make folks see well-being as a valuable, but not unreachable, goal.

So there you go. We’re urban and country, practical and magical. We’ve got stellar therapists and we’re ready to go, so help spread the word by forwarding this to friends!