Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic Massage is less known and less in the limelight as other bodywork techniques, but no less effective – especially when it comes to treating some specific medical or psychological conditions.  The following is an excerpt from Mirka Knaster’s book Discovering the Body’s Wisdom, which gives a great overview of the technique.  We have quoted from the book before because it gives such concise summaries of many bodywork modalities.  We can also recommend it to those of our readers who are inclined to study bodywork in order to take it up as a profession, as a first glimpse introduction to this vast field.

“Most Massages stimulate movement of the lymph as a matter of course, but lymphatic massage provides external pressure specifically to affect this flow.  Different versions come from different parts of the world – Ayurvedic from India, Huna from Hawaii, and Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), developed by Danish physical therapists Estrid & Emil Vodder in France in the 1930s.”

“To understand the function of lymphatic massage, it is useful to know the role lymph plays in your body’s health.  Like its red brother blood, milky white lymph filters foreign matter and removes excess fluid, protein and waste products from the tissues and transports them to the blood to be circulated and eliminated.  If the lymph did not do its job, you would die from protein poisoning within twenty-four hours.”

“But unlike the blood, lymph does not have a heart to pump it through the body.  It moves along slowly, with assistance from several forces.  The contractions of voluntary muscles (which is one reason why exercise is so beneficial) and intestinal muscles (in peristalsis) squeeze lymph vessels.  The pulsations of nearby arteries massage them, too, and the negative pressure in the chest cavity provides suction.  External hands on stimulation helps increase the passage of lymph, especially when it gets backed up.”

“Lymph collects at nearly eight hundred nodes throughout the body, with two hundred in the neck alone.  When nodes become swollen in the neck, armpit or groin, the areas feel tender.  And when the ankles, feet, legs, arms and hands become thick with accumulated fluid, you have edema.  Lymphedema also may occur following the removal of lymph nodes due to cancer.”

“Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a gentle, precise and rhythmic method performed especially in clinics in Europe, where it has become the fourth most prescribed massage technique by medical doctors.  Therapists and doctors report good results for sprains and bruises, ouffiness in the face following cosmetic or dental surgery, and muscular spasms from overuse or chronic tension.  It also figures in the treatment of sinusitis, burns, acne, scars, arthritis, emphysema, migraines, tinnitus, trigeminal neuralgia, spinal injuries, and some cerebral disorders.  For patients who have undergone such operations as hysterectomy, prostectomy and mastectomy, clinical evidence indicates that MLD moves fluid when an area can no longer perform this function.  If begun before the fifth month of pregnancy, it can serve as a preventive for swelling and stretch marks.  Research by European scientists confirms the effects of MLD.”

“Unlike regular massage, MLD is very light and does not penetrate to the level of your muscles.  That is because almost half of your body’s lymph lies within the superficial layers below the skin.  There is a deeper technique for dealing with spasms in the lymph vessels that drain the muscles.  In a session I had, I was surprised that the physical therapist’s touch was as gentle as a feather.  In the late 1970s, I had learned a different kind of lymphatic massage that called for stronger action, and thereafter I had assumed that deep pressure was necessary to affect the lymph.” 

“Whether light or deep, MLD an on/off pulsing pressure, like a smooth pumping action, which has an immediate lulling, relaxing effect on your autonomic nervous system.  It also uses other manipulation techniques – scooping, rotary and stationary circles.  Therapists follow the pathway of the lymph and move in the direction of muscle fibers, the same as the lymph vessels.  MLD can be effective even when the therapist can’t work directly on the affected area because of severe burns or other conditions.  Massaging the opposite side of the body, or near the site can bring the same needed result.”

In India, you can learn the basics of Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) at the Aithein Bodywork Academy, which offers a 40-hour introductory course, with certification.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Words from a T’ai Chi Instructor

We consider learning and practice of the basic form of T’ai Chi a must for anyone who wants to learn and practice bodywork because it will teach the aspirant and fledgling practitioner to take a stance at the massage table that will support the work by giving you leverage – by empowering you to act from your body’s center of gravity.  But apart from the body mechanics, there is something else to T’ai Chi that will help you.  You learn to be in a natural flow.  In this respect, the spirit of T’ai Chi and the spirit of bodywork are one and the same.  This is what T’ai Chi master Hua Ching Ni has to say about it:

In doing T’ai Chi movement and in living our lives, our goal is to be healthy and normal.  Nothing special, just normal.  The movement in T’ai Chi practice is a constant, healthy flow, not an erratic flow that is subnormal or abnormal.”

“Part of living a healthy, spiritual life includes being active in the morning and reposeful in the evening.  A healthy schedule is good for your practice as well as for your health and your overall wellbeing.  Do those things that are of lasting benefit rather than short lived advantage or immediate gratification.”

“A practitioner of self-cultivation [and of bodywork we might add] practices endurance under pressure and maintains balance when there is no trouble.  Therefore, an achieved one, like the center of the universe, is inexhaustible.”

“Our goal is to fully achieve ourselves while living within the inescapable network of worldly life.  Other spiritual traditions claim that liberation means giving up worldly life to live as a hermit in the forest or as a beggar in the streets.  That kind of liberation is only a futile attempt to escape from life.  Life is an inescapable network in which everyone is involved.  True freedom from difficulties, be they conceptual, spiritual or physical, cannot be found in an artificial lifestyle.  A truly achieved person is someone whose spirit is free, whatever the circumstances of life happen to be; in other words,  a healthy person who is able to rise above passing troubles that have no real importance.”

“Doing T’ai Chi is so simple.  When I describe it intellectually it may sound complicated, but that is not the reality.  When you truly practice a gentle physical art such as T’ai Chi movement [or a protocol of a specific bodywork treatment] it is not just an exercise [not just a professional service], it is life.  In life, each moment and each action expresses the same integral truth that T’ai Chi movement embodies and expresses.  Nothing can separate you or your actions from that truth.”

Do your T’ai Chi and your bodywork as if they were one and the same, which in essence they are, albeit not in form.  You will be successful in life and work alike because you are balanced and steady; because you know how to pace yourself.  It is important for you that you sense how you should pace yourself in all circumstances.  There is a story that explains the importance of pacing oneself:

“A young man traveled far to meet a famous teacher.  When he finally met that teacher, the teacher asked, “What do you want from me?”
         “I wish to be your student and become wise in spirit and skillful in the ways of the world. How long must I study?”
         “A minimum of twenty years,” the teacher replied.
“Twenty years is a long time”, said the young man.  “What if I study twice as hard as all your other students, can I do it in ten?”
         “No, then it would take forty years”, was the teacher’s reply.
“Why is that? If I work very hard it should be less?”
“No.  When you are fixated on achievement the might becomes tight and one is further from achievement than before.”

In bodywork as in T’ai Chi: Be consistent but do NOT push yourself.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Safe Spa: Before Giving Spa Treatments You Need to Look into the Client’s Health History

No doubt, visiting a spa has become popular in India.  But if spas want to remain popular they will have to sharpen their profile.  In the future not only will they need to appear as champions of tasteful interior design and superficial pampering.  They will also need to become centers of therapeutic excellence – naturally without compromising on the other aspects that attract people to come, like for example a quiet and serene atmosphere filled with pleasant fragrances.

More than advanced technology, therapeutic excellence requires therapeutic skills in the form of a well-trained staff, as well as certain guidelines regarding the suitability of certain treatments for certain clients.  At present there are still spas here in this country that fail to ask prospective clients for their health information before they give treatment.  However asking these questions, in some cases can be vital, if unpleasant side effects are to be avoided and customer satisfaction guaranteed.  Even though this is not taken into account by everyone in the business just yet, like massage, spa treatments might be completely contraindicated; or contraindicated without a physician’s release; or contraindicated for a specific body area; or at least require adaptive measures and increased vigilance.  Such restrictions may apply to probably 20% of the people who enquire about treatments.

 According to Lynne McNees, president of the International SPA Association, “Good spas will ask you a lot of questions.  Staff, whether verbally or in an intake form, should inquire about your allergies, medications and conditions, and it is your responsibility to be upfront.  People with high blood pressure, for instance, need to know they should avoid warm wraps, which could cause a spike in their numbers.  And if you have had shoulder surgery, you should tell your massage therapist, who can cater his or her treatment or possibly add in a heat pack.”  And if good spas ask these kinds of questions, if you are noticing that no one at the reception asks you any question of this kind or hands you a questionnaire to be filled, you hence have entered a sloppy spa.  In this case, as a client, it is suggested that you turn around and leave the premises – or stay at your own peril.

In an article in Massage & Bodywork, and American bi-monthly magazine for therapists and interested clients shares the following general considerations that need to be take into account by the spa staff, “If the client is taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication that distorts his or her perception of hot, cold, pain or pressure, postpone the treatment.  For the same reason, clients under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not receive a treatment.  Offering wine, champagne or other alcoholic drinks as part of the spa package endangers the client and may affect the legal liability of the clinic or spa.  An up-to-date medical dictionary, drug reference and pathology reference books should be readily available to research unfamiliar conditions and medications.  If there is any doubt about the suitability of a given treatment for a client, suggest a different treatment or postpone the treatment until you obtain a doctor’s release.”

Ensure that your health history intake form asks questions about allergies to herbs, essential oils, iodine (present in seaweed), or other ingredients.  Heat increases the irritation potential of any products applied to the body, so clients are at greater risk for developing skin irritation during treatments like hot sheet wraps, hot stone massage, or hydrotherapy tub immersion… If a product or its ingredients can penetrate the skin and enter circulation, it must be used with more caution.”

Hannelore Leavy, executive director of The International Medical Spa Association suggests that the client follows a common sense rule of thumb, “Anytime you feel your questions are not being answered correctly, freely and completely, walk.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some of the Realities of Entering the Bodywork Profession

In the following, we will have an experienced free-lance bodyworker/massage therapist and massage teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area in the US share his views on entering the profession as a bodyworker or massage therapist.  Although market conditions and outer circumstances in India differ greatly from the conditions Art Riggs encountered and observes others encountering in California, the gist of what he has to say is of universal value, as it gives ample food for thought to anyone who is in the process of considering a career in this particular field.

What do you really want by becoming a massage therapist?  Employment?  Income? Security?  All of these may be a necessity.  But even when the necessities are met they will not guard you against burning yourself out in a routine job, with little chance of advancement.  Therefore, it could be that you want these only as a stepping-stone, in order to plant your feet firmly in the field, with the added vision of your own practice, or a full career that keeps growing and allows you to grow with it.  Which is where you want to be and what you want to do when you start to study to become a bodyworker, or massage therapist.  You need a vision.  And you need to have a plan, in order to put it into action.

To quote from Art’s presentation, “The choice of word ‘profession’ instead of ‘business’ is intentional. For some, the realities of providing income to live require initial focus on ‘business’ aspects and postponing the lofty aspirations of a ‘profession’….  [Therefore] many new therapists begin their practice by working in a spa, chiropractor’s office, or similar setting.  This is an excellent way to gain the experience of working on many different people to hone the skills you learned in school.  There are no worries about establishing an office, recruiting clients, and paying for the initial expenses of beginning a business.  Spas provide a relatively consistent income… There is also the advantage of the camaraderie of working with a group of like-minded friends…”

Yes, so far so good.  Although the situation is not quite the same in India, it is still similar.  For example, mostly as a spa therapist you do not receive a percentage of what the client pays as you do in the west.  Instead you have a guaranteed salary.  But the biggest danger remains the same, and that is: burnout.  Especially if you work in a busy spa, you will probably not be able to work there for more than five years because you will be requested to work on too many bodies in quick succession, without the necessary break time in between.  There will not be enough periods of relaxation and recuperation.  In order to make a satisfactory living you may need to overwork.  If you overwork, chances are that you will injure yourself and become disenchanted as you struggle to survive.  In the end you will not be able to continue because, for example, you have ‘fried your wrists and the finger joints’.

But burnout is not the only danger that Art Riggs points out, as “One other concern about working for someone else is that it can be very limiting in chances to express your individuality.  In a spa or chiropractor’s office, the clientele for the most part dictate what type of massage you give.  When you have your own private practice, this relationship is reversed.  Your personal style and expertise will quickly bring you the clients you want to work with in the manner you choose.  Obviously as much as I recommend working in a spa… to initially expand your massage skills, I have strong opinions about the advantages of working for yourself, in the long run.  These feelings come from the elation I see in massage therapists who make the transition to working in their own practice…”  Elation makes the difference between the drudgery of a ‘business’ and the joy of exercising a real ‘profession’.

One thing is for sure, no matter if you want to eventually have your own practice, or rise in the hierarchy of a bigger organization, you do need to have a perspective and you do need to have the skills required in order to achieve your aims.  If you opt for the lowest level of training in massage, one that just suffices to get you your first job here in India where standards are still appallingly low – you will not go very far, and you will not prosper. 

If you really want to enter the bodywork profession you will need a good basic training… and then more additional training periods as you go along, gradually becoming more experienced, with a full bag of skills.  

After all, it is your skills and experience that make you stand out, make you special and make people come to you instead of going to someone else.  It may be impressive to look at what was bought for the crores of Rupees spent on the interiors of a spa.  Eventually, they do not bring one more client.  It is good, unique and authentic treatments that do.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I wanted to look up some entry about ’massage’ in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE, but instead of an entry on ‘massage’ I found at its place a reference to look the matter up under ‘bodywork’.  My kind of book”, I thought, “at least they understand that ‘massage’ simply doesn’t cover it all, definitely not the therapeutic fine points.  So, I looked and I read – and I feel that it would be a good thing to share the abstract with our readers as a further pointer in the direction that the AITHEIN ACADAMY is headed in its pursuit of excellence in bodywork.

There are numerous types of beneficial bodywork you choose from, including various massage techniques, chiropractic spinal adjustment and manipulation, Rolfing, reflexology and many more.  Fortunately, all of these techniques can work so it is really a matter of personal preference…”

Both of us (Michael Murray N.D. & Joseph Pizzorno N.D, the authors of the ENCYCLOPEDIA) are fortunate to have experienced a broad range of bodywork, from Rolfing and deep-tissue treatments to more gentle techniques such as Trager, Feldenkrais and Cranio Sacral therapy.  Our experience has led us to the conclusion that the therapist is more critical to the outcome than the technique.  The technique is only a tool; the result is largely dependent on the person using the tool….” In other words: the training, level of maturity and personal integrity as well as experience of the practitioner or therapist, is more important for the therapeutic effect than what kind of therapy he or she does.

Our own personal beliefs are that techniques that teach body awareness and address underlying structural problems are most effective. We have divided these techniques into two major classifications: deep tissue work and light touch therapies…”

“[Different forms of] deep tissue work… are probably the most powerful bodywork techniques that create change in body posture and energy levels quickly.  Unlike [simple] massage and spinal adjustments deep tissue treatments are focused not on the muscles and spine, but rather on the elastic sheathing network that helps support the body, keeping bones, muscles and organs in place.  This network is known as the fascia.  According to deep tissue practitioners, the fascia can be damaged by physical injury, emotional trauma, and bad postural habits.  The result is that the body is thrown out of alignment… Deep tissue treatments attempt to bring the body back into balance to restore efficiency of movement and increase mobility, by stretching and lengthening the fascia to its natural form and pliability.”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bodywork Can Be Good Medicine – An Interview with Dr. Shikha Aggarwal of Healthy Healing Medical Center, Goa

ABA-BLOG: I’ve never before heard of a doctor publicly recommending bodywork quite as enthusiastically.  Why you? What do you see is the benefit?

DR. SHIKHA: If they were to look at bodywork as a kind of free flowing and intuitive physiotherapy that can balance both body and mind, many doctors would recommend it to their clients.  But then, they would need to know something about it – or be acquainted with a quality therapist.  As a matter of fact, in western countries doctors frequently recommend bodywork.  Like yoga or other forms of exercising, bodywork is an integral part of many detoxification and rejuvenation protocols, which is the kind of medicine that I myself mostly practice.  As to the benefits, there are both physical and psychological aspects.  Overall, bodywork refreshes the body and the senses, thereby refreshing the mind.  Of course, the benefits can also be quite specific, depending on the individual case, and ranging from healing sports injuries to help people overcome chronic low-level depression or lack of vitality.  You should know how well bodywork, can actually assist in dealing with medical problems as your boss and director of training programs at Aithein, in the past had quite a successful cooperation going with an orthopedic surgeon, in Pune.  She mentioned it in a previous post.

ABA-BLOG: That is true, but in your case, you were both physician and bodyworker rolled in one, at some point, I believe.  That is one step further beyond cooperating with a physician.  It is said that you have experimented with practicing bodywork yourself.  Is it true?

DR. SHIKHA: Well, I was actually more than experimenting, with it.  I treated people regularly and sometimes even daily with it for about two years.

ABA-BLOG: Was that before, or after you became a doctor?

DR. SHIKHA: After.

ABA-BLOG: As a doctor, did you not consider yourself much too superior to do manual labor, in the form of hands-on treatments?

DR. SHIKHA: I must admit, thoughts and self-criticism of this kind occasionally came up, yes: the status issues.  They are deeply rooted and part of our culture – but in truth only silly, non-issues really.  Come to think of it, it is at the root not very Indian to devalue physical forms of treatment, as the vaidyas of old looked favorably upon therapeutic massages and exercise regimens. These were and still are an integral part of our authentic form of Indian medicine.  May be in this respect, in our habitual denigrating the body and despising working with our hands, we think and act more like the Victorian English, rather than Indian.  The English have left such hang-ups behind, long ago.  People from other European countries even more so.  A good German friend of mine, a naturopathic physician herself who frequently works with MDs, recently opened her own practice in Berlin and teaches and practices naturopathy, and therapeutic massage as well.  She’s successful.  People seek her out.  The MDs who send her clients cherish her expertise.  So, come to think of it, why should I be down on myself for having been a massage therapist or bodyworker as a sideline venture, besides being a doctor?  It makes no sense.  The bodywork episode actually made me a better doctor.

ABA-BLOG: How so?

DR. SHIKHA: Body psychology.

ABA-BLOG: How do you mean?

DR. SHIKHA: In order to do bodywork properly, you have to be aware of the client’s body.  You have to listen to and observe its subtle messages of how it may want to be touched, to be treated.  Otherwise your treatments will remain mechanical and effective only in the most superficial sense.  Likewise, when a client now sits before me in my consultation room, his body gives a lot of unspoken messages, which may or may not become part of the diagnosis.  But apart from the question of diagnosis, these messages tell me how I need to address a client in order to reach him, or how the American text books on doctor/client interaction call it, “Activate the patient.”  How do I start and maintain a meaningful dialogue, a real exchange?  In my medical college days, I had never even heard of ‘doctor/client interaction’, or the communication skills that a doctor needs to have.  However, doing bodywork for two full years, while also practicing medicine, definitely gave me an excellent education in the field, one that I am thankful for even now.  My patients say that I have the ability to reach them.  They can hear me.  Well, they can hear me because to a certain degree I am able to ‘hear’ and ‘read’ them.  All other medically relevant ramifications aside, this makes for much more pleasant doctor/patient relations.  I wrote a post about this whole subject in my own blog, If you care to learn more, look it up:

ABA-BLOG: How did you get into bodywork?  This is not the most natural thing to end up with, for an MBBS graduate?  Did your family not want you to get a post-graduate degree?  I mean, follow the usual career path?

DR. SHIKHA: Initially that was also my own plan.  Then, in the course of a longer-term internship, I started to become disenchanted with the allopathic approach.  I started to see the shortcomings necessarily involved in a form of medicine that only works at suppressing symptoms and is hardly ever interested in going to the root of the problem.  At that time, I even contemplated studying Ayurveda, but during further research found the quality of the college level Ayurvedic training deplorably low, much lower than in medical college.  At that point I received an offer to work as a doctor in an ozone clinic in Bangalore, which interested me.  This led to attending a 300-hour residential course in bodywork and further to accepting a position as a medical advisor for a day-spa, in Goa.  I guess, I was in an exploring mode and trusted that everything would eventually work out perfect, which it did; because only one year later I was able to open Healthy Healing Medical Center.

ABA-BLOG: What happened to your career as a bodyworker?  Are you still active?

DR. SHIKHA: No, there is not enough time left for it.  Besides, I never really wanted to be a bodyworker.  I had always wanted to be a doctor who also understands that aspect of the body – from hands-on experience rather than only from a textbook.

ABA-BLOG: Do your patients get good bodywork?

DR. SHIKHA: If they want it and ask for it, yes.  And to some I recommend it specifically.  Last season, I also offered three detox packages, all of which included up to five bodywork sessions.  Some people really liked these programs.

ABA-BLOG: You have someone working for you then?

DR. SHIKHA: They do not work for me but with me.  They are free lancers, very well trained with years of practical experience and a good college education in their background.  For the level of massages that I want to see delivered I need mature and well-established therapists.  According to my experience, I would have to agree with Dr. Michael Murray who in his best-selling ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE wrote, “That the therapist is more critical to the outcome than the technique.  The technique is only the tool; the result is largely dependent on the person using the tool.”  If the therapist is himself a deeply balanced person, not holding back, not uptight – then bodywork can indeed be good medicine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marilyn Ferguson on: Changing & Healing Your Life through Bodywork

Grappling with the task of explaining the healing as well as mind- and potentially life-changing effects of bodywork, we today share a few words on the subject, written by Marilyn Ferguson.  Marilyn was best known for her bestselling book The Aquarian Conspiracy.  However, her impact on the intellectual life of the last quarter of the 1900s was far greater and far- reaching through her position as publisher and editor of the Brain/Mind Bulletin (1973 to 1996), a newsletter that at its peak had over 10,000 subscribers worldwide.  

Here, she comes right to the point by speaking about the transformative power of good bodywork.  According to her, bodywork in all its different eastern or western approaches can offer ways through which “We can intervene in our bodymind loop so that we can take steps toward self-responsibility in the pursuit of our own health and wellbeing.” 

From this point of view, quality bodywork opens the doors to greater independence and self-reliance.  It starts out by easing surface pain and relaxing surface tension and then more deeply buried pain and constriction.  In the end it empowers.  It has a totally positive outlook - in the short term and in the long term.  Bodywork is optimistic.

“Wellbeing cannot be infused intravenously or ladled out by prescription.  Western medicine is beginning to recognize that health and disease don’t just happen to us.  They are part of the matrix: the bodymind.  They are active processes issuing from inner harmony or disharmony, profoundly affected by our states of consciousness, our ability or inability to flow with experience.  They reflect psychological and somatic harmony.”

“…All illness, whether cancer or schizophrenia or a common cold, originates in the bodymind… The old saying, ‘Name your poison’, applies to semantics and symbols of disease.  If we feel ‘picked on’, or someone gives us a ‘pain in the neck’, we may make our metaphors literal – with acne or neck spasms.  People have long spoken of a ‘broken heart’ as the result of a disappointing relationship; now medical research shows a connection between loneliness and heart disease.  So the ‘broken heart’ may become coronary disease; ambivalence a splitting headache; and the rigid personality, arthritis.”

“Over the years our bodies become walking autobiographies that tell friends and strangers alike of the major and minor stresses in our lives.  For instance, distortions of function that occur after an injury – like a limited range of motion in a hurt arm – become a permanent part of our body pattern.  Our musculature also reflects old anxieties.  Poses of timidity, depression, bravado, or stoicism adopted early in life are locked into our bodies as patterns in our sensory-motor system.

“In the vicious cycle of bodymind pathology, our body’s tight patterns contribute to our locked-in mental processes.  We cannot separate mental from physical, fact from fantasy, past from present.  Just as the body feels the mind’s grief, so the mind is constricted by the body’s stubborn memory of what the mind used to feel.”

“One essential way in which this cycles can be interrupted is through bodywork – therapies that deeply (and often painfully) massage, manipulate, loosen or otherwise change the body’s neuromuscular system and its orientation to gravity, its symmetry.  Bodywork alters the flow of energy through the body, freeing it of its old ‘ideas’ or patterns, increasing its range of movement.  Changing the body in this way can affect the entire bodymind loop.”