You maintain your car, scooter, or motorcycle by turning it in for servicing, on a regular basis. You make sure that your house or your apartment is in good repair and looks neat and clean. You keep up your own appearance in terms of the way you dress and, if you are woman, wear make-up. In short, you try your best to give a good impression, presenting an ego-image of success. But what about your own body, your own mind, your inner life, what do you do for them? In other words, what care are you taking regarding the aspects of your own life that are not in plain sight and, and being somewhat irrelevant for your outer ego-image, not always obvious to others, especially when you are in the business of working with others? What kind of care are you taking for yourself when you are a physical therapist performing x-amount of massages per day and week? The question is, what are you doing for yourself, bodyworker – beyond earning a fee or making a regular salary?
These are important issues. The way you respond to them and finally deal with them will determine your long-term success as a therapist, as giving the wrong answers infers that sooner or later you will be unable to fulfill the demands your profession makes on you, specifically on your body. If you do not take care of yourself properly two things will happen: First, you will be less effective in your work. Your massages will not be as good and as pleasant for the client as they will be, if you do the right thing. Second, you will injure yourself. And in some cases the damage that you cause to yourself, will be permanent.
Naturally here, in this post, we cannot answer these questions in all their ramifications in one big sweep, as there are to many facets, too many factors involved. But we can at least make a start. For example, we can talk about the physical aspects of self-care. There are three aspects to good self-care, connected to the treatment itself, which are going to be in our spotlight – as they should be in yours:
- Before the treatment starts
- During the treatment
- After the treatment, by appropriate resting periods & correct scheduling
About self-care through exercise and by keeping your energy up, we will write another time.
In a way, these considerations regarding point 1-3 are self-evident for anyone who thinks logically. They are simply this – before you start a treatment, make sure:
- That your nails are clipped short so that they cannot be seen when the hands are held with the palm toward your face
- That you have taken off all jewelry from the hand and wrist, like rings or bracelets, as their presence will inevitably distract you and the client, or might even cause minor injuries, like scratches
- That you have washed your hands with a disinfectant soap
- That your hands are warm and dry
- That you energize and relax your hands and allow your wrists to become more flexible for a few moments, before you meet the client (there are several exercises for this) and proceed with the treatment
During the treatment, there are, again, several points that you absolutely would want to observe, for the sake of your own health, as well as for the sake of the client’s comfort; these two aspects, if not one and the same are at least closely interconnected, even if they don’t appear to be – your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your client. You may actually have been falsely taught that you need to look out for and serve the client first, sometimes disregarding your own body. But how could this work? It cannot. The treatment first moves your body and you move your body with it; then it extends outward to and touches the client. So, if any flaw, mistake, stress of even injury occurs at your end, it will inevitably occur for the client, although in a different manner. To prevent this from happening you would want to:
- Maintain proper posture throughout the treatment. Martial arts stances are very effective when giving massage (see post:
'T’ai Chi Movements as a Useful Tool for Bodywork', May 28, 2011). They help take the strain off your back, as you move from your body’s center of gravity and use the strength of your legs, instead of muscle power from the shoulders and arms. You simply have more leverage (which is why massage should be taught together with a practical introduction to the basic Tai Chi movements and breathing).
- Adjust to the correct height depending on how tall or small you are. Should the table be set too high or low, such will cause poor body mechanics and put undue stress on you.
- As much as you can, minimize the strain on fingers (especially thumbs) and wrists. Whenever possible use your elbow instead.
- Give yourself a break whenever possible even in the course of a treatment. For example, you may sit on a chair or stool while treating the head, the hands and the feet. A hydraulic massage table is best for this, as you can move it up and down without a fuss. Your body will thank you for these measures. They minimize the strain and help preserve the energy that you may need for the next client, or for the next day.
- In the course of a treatment use stressful and less stressful techniques intermittently.
After the massage is before the massage, because if you are a professional, inevitably there will be another session coming up soon. So, what do you need to do after you have just completed working on the body of a client?
- Immediately after the treatment, your hands may feel hot and full of energy. In order to neutralize this let cold water run over your hands after you washed them. Then dry them well and keep them warm.
- You also need to have a break. Give yourself 15-20 minutes before you go and see the next client. Depending on your inclination you may want to socialize for a while and talk to someone. Or if you are the more introspective type you may prefer to stay by yourself; rest to regain the strength that you have just lost. In the first case, make sure that in the last five minutes before you meet your next client, you again consciously relax the entire body, especially the hands and wrists.
- After you have served three clients in a row, with short breaks in between, you definitely would want to take a 30- to 60-minute for a more complete recharge of your batteries. The appointments should be scheduled accordingly.
Of course, there is much more to the issue of the bodyworker’s self-care. We will explore them later. But it was important to address the obvious aspects first.