Questions #13 and #14

Today’s CoAnQuMo counts for two days of blogging action — and it so happens the two questions I am going to answer are related. Imagine that!

Question #13: How often to receive massage and when can you tell in your body that you need it?

Question #14: When you receive bodywork, are you able to relax or do you critique the work?

What perfectly-timed questions because I just received a massage yesterday afternoon!

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Here’s my answer to the first question:

While in massage school, I received massage four-five times a week (either in class or as a practice client for classmates). Being a “practice body” is a different experience than getting a professional massage because I needed to give critical feedback to my fellow classmates during and after the massage. I also had to endure the occasional draping wedgie, accidental boob flashing, or uncomfortable positioning. We all did; we were learning. I couldn’t fully let go and just experience the massage for the most part. But at that point in my life, I received massage a lot. And this is when my BRAIN learned to turn on in a massage.

During the seven years I was in private practice, my goal was to receive massage twice a month: once from someone I paid and once from a peer in which we traded massage. That twice-a-month pattern sometimes happened, though often not due to finances. As a solo-preneur (and being unmarried at the time), my healthcare coverage did not include massage, so I had to pay out-of-pocket for those seven years. So I tried for once-a-month, but sometimes three-four months would pass without massage self-care.

Now that I have insurance (through my husband’s health coverage), 16 massages a year are covered. Huzzah! So I make sure to get at least one massage a month — AND I can afford it ($10.08 + tip!). For the past several years I’ve also added in CranioSacral work from a woman who doesn’t take insurance, but from whom I receive immense physical and emotional benefits. She’s a licensed social worker, too, so we do a sort of hybrid of bodywork and psychotherapy. It’s perfect for me.

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How do I know when I need a massage? When self-care strategies, stretching, and my own self-massage just don’t seem to quell the aches, pains, and tightness I feel in my body, I know I need bodywork. There have been times, too, when I just yearned for therapeutic touch for emotional reasons. When stressed, my body goes into wild anxiety mode. To calm my nervous system, massage is certainly one tool in my toolbox. I’ve also gotten a massage when I’ve felt pretty “okay,” but because I know all of the immense health benefits, I would get one anyway to maintain good balance, calm, circulation, and groundedness.

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On to question #14: Can I fully relax when I receive a massage or am I thinking about the massage and critiquing it?

Great question! And I’d love to hear other bodywork practitioners who have experiences with this!

Because of my massage training, it’s very hard *not* to think about what’s happening when I receive a massage. When I was giving massage more regularly than I am now, I used to love to see many different practitioners so that I could pick up “new tricks” to use in my own practice. A lot of my continuing education hasn’t come from taking classes, but in receiving massages from different practitioners!

In terms of critique, I don’t necessarily focus on, for example, someone’s petrissage technique not being up to par. Most likely, I have the same thoughts and feelings that come up for non-massage practitioners. For instance, I received a massage once where the practitioner was talking about cancer for the first 20 minutes. Not okay. During a different massage, the practitioner, wanted to “talk shop” with me about my practice. Very distracting and heady. In yet another session, the practitioner massaged only one butt cheek (my left glut muscles and not my right ones), so I felt off-balance and strange about the whole thing. You’d probably have similar reactions. Sure, I might notice something technical that feels off, but most likely you’d feel it, too, you just might not have a name for it.

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As I transition out of giving massage, I notice, like I did yesterday, that I can let go just a bit more. I am no longer trying to pick up new techniques to use. I also have gotten into the habit of not telling the practitioner that I’ve been a massage therapist, too, because sometimes this works against me during the massage (like the person who wanted to “talk shop”).

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Do I have some overall critiques regarding massages in general? Yes, indeed!

First, I believe massage practitioners should communicate more and better during the massage. There are subtle, non-intrusive ways to talk that don’t disrupt the relaxation process at all. There is no reason for me to feel like I have to be a silent recipient in my massage, as if I have no agency. Ask me what I notice. Check in more often about sensation. Do more with mind-body connection. That’s what I miss about the massages I not only used to give, but it’s largely missing in the ones I receive, too. Massage need not be silent. It can be, for sure, but if someone wants to truly be seen, heard, and deeply understood as they are relaxing on the table, there needs to be a trusting line of communication open. That’s my preference, bias, and hope.

And by communication, I don’t mean talking about the weather or about the news. It’s a funnel of communication that goes directly to the body. The body always talks and both practitioner and client need to listen. These are the most powerful massages for me.

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Ah, so much more to say about this. Perhaps I should teach a class on communication during a massage, huh? I sure have the energy for it!

How do YOU know when you need a massage? And, whether you are a massage therapist or not, do you critique the massage as you are receiving a session?

I wanna know!

kneadly yours,

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About Courtney Putnam

I first came to healing work through art and writing. Creating collage art and poetry in particular allowed me to deeply understand the benefit of self-expression in the healing process. But, I also began to see the benefit of bodywork (manual work in the form of massage and energywork in the form of Reiki) as keys to unlocking the emotional stresses we hold in our bodies. I became a Reiki practitioner in 2002, received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2003, received my massage license in the spring of 2006, and became a Reiki Master in 2010. In my practice I bring together these three areas -- the body, the mind, and the spirit (or energy body) -- so others may experience profound and positive change in their lives.
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