Over a year ago, I was going through some major life changes both personally and professionally. You could say I came to a crossroads. I had to make some choices about who I wanted to be as a professional Pilates teacher and what that meant to me personally going forward in my life.
There are basically 2 types of Pilates teachers. The ones that go for the burn, the sweat, and quivering muscles. They teach more to the general public and can be found in large studios or gyms. The other type uses Pilates as a tool in rehabilitation and functional training for clients with special needs. They are found in small studios, PT, or chiropractic clinics working one on one with clients or small groups. These are the teachers that you should seek out when your doctor recommends Pilates for your low back pain.
Both these types of Pilates teachers are great for different reasons and I really thought I could do both. However, when many people started coming to me because they were hurting, I found that what I needed to do is embrace this clientele and get more training. But what kind of training? I could take the Pilates knowledge and experience only so far, but I knew the answer was more manual therapy than physical therapy.
Once I realized I needed to add massage to my skills, there was no looking back.
Luckily, I have a good friend who runs a massage school. I signed up two weeks before the course started; I hectically rearranged my work schedule and promised my clients that this would be to their benefit!
Little did I know that when I embarked on this educational journey, I wouldn’t just be gaining skills to help my clients, I would be helping myself.
In massage school some of the learning is at a desk and in books but the rest is all hands on (no pun intended). I had to learn how to develop my touch. Every day I went to school I had to touch and be touched. This was a new and somewhat scary idea. I didn’t quite know if I was going to be good at this.
Human touch is highly underrated as a healing tool. Many times in that first three months all I was doing was Swedish strokes, a more spa like massage. There wasn’t any “deep tissue” therapy, just moving blood and lymph. This type of massage is highly beneficial for the nervous and circulatory systems. Moving blood and lymph to tissues is what keeps them hydrated, feeds nutrients and takes out waste.
During that year, I was managing a business, going to school, and discovering the challenges of being a newly single mom. There were many times I just didn’t think I was going to make it. One thing I knew for sure was that twice a week I could lie on a table and get a good massage and for that hour, I would let go of it all and just relax. I would drift off into a pleasant meditative state. I would awake refreshed and my head and heart would feel lighter.
I kept a regular schedule of Pilates and Yoga on my off days and even when I felt sore muscles, I knew I would be getting a massage to work it all out. I felt that I recovered more quickly and could move into deeper poses in my Yoga class because the fascia and connective tissue in my body was suppler.
I noticed that my fellow students were changing too. I saw one who suffered a knee injury during a snowmobiling accident feel relief from inflammation and pain. She was able to walk a little better and within two to three weeks her knee range of motion drastically improved just from massage. Our postures changed as well. Tight necks and backs were slowly unwound. We were standing up straighter, old aches and pains went away.
But even more surprising, our lives were changing as well. Our attitudes about challenges or the stress of what to do after graduation subsided. A confidence grew in us. I could say that in some ways it was better than therapy. You may ask, how can massage be more effective than therapy?
Well, most of us live in the sympathetic nervous system known as the “fight or flight.” It is most affected by stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety. The parasympathetic “rest and digest” is responsible for bringing our heart rate down, increasing our deep breathing, decreasing our blood pressure and otherwise soothing our body. In massage one of the goals is to get into parasympathetic, so that healing can take place. “Healing” being the key word. It could be the need to heal from emotional or physical trauma. It could be facing a new challenge with strength and grace.
But too often we wait to get a massage until we are over that edge either physically or mentally.
We wait until we are broken. How many of you have waited? I admit I am one of those people now. I enjoyed the fruits of regular massage with Pilates and Yoga last year. Now I am giving massages but not receiving them. My body is stiffer, little aches and pains are creeping up here and there. Yoga poses are a little harder. Recovery takes a little longer. My sleep is more disruptive and I’m moody. The only thing that is different this year is that I am not getting massage.
So here is my challenge to you. Try getting routine massages. See if you feel a difference, especially if you are facing challenges in your life that cause you stress. Stress can be your worst enemy. Massage isn’t just for that pulled muscle, cramps, or aches and pains. It is also preventative. It keeps tissue supple and hydrated and on an emotional level it relieves stress and anxiety. The great Greek Hippocrates, also known as the father of medicine, recommended a combination of massage, diet, exercise, fresh air, rest, and music to help restore the body to a healthy state.
Last year was one of my most hectic years and I sometimes wonder how I did it all. But when I look back I also know I learned more about my own healing and recovery. In the end, the decision to go to massage school to help more of my clients actually ended up helping me.