Dedicated to Pam Thayer
by Jill Kristin Berkana 12-18-22
Massage Therapy in the United States, is in a state of accelerated change, conflict and chaos. Up until 2008 I had been living in a vacuum having a very definitive idea of what massage therapy was, and assumed everyone, for the most part, was approaching it the same way I was taught to, and had been. In the last few years, I’ve been blessed to share with high level massage therapy professionals from all over the United States and beyond… and I would like to share the information I have assimilated, along with my unique historical perspective, and my opinion.
Where I am coming from: I went to Massage Therapy School at the “Harvard of Massage Schools” the Boulder School of Massage Therapy in 1990. I studied there for 2 years. While I was there, I was taught a great deal of science, ethics, bodywork, theory and holistic principles. The school had an emphasis on holism, and taught us that what we were thinking or feeling as we touched our clients would impact the quality of our touch, and what our clients would feel. For example, if I was thinking of the meatloaf I was going to make for dinner during my session, the client would feel I was not present. If I was thinking that my client had cellulite, the client would pick up on my judgmental energy. If I was thinking my client was attractive and I wanted to date him, my client may have a feeling of being violated or aroused. Made sense to me so I became vigilant over my thoughts when I worked, and did my best to stay present.
I had some instructors who were wild dreamers. I had instructors who had trained with the source of traditional modalities. I was taught ancient ideas and concepts that had no scientific evidence, but had been practiced and been helping people deal with the many different types of pain in life for over 5000 years. I learned a bit about Ayurveda, Shiatsu, quite a bit about Neuromuscular Therapy, MyoFascial Release, Swedish, and Integrative Massage Therapy. We learned about Rolfing, Structural Integration, Trager, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Bindesewebsmassage, etc. We learned about transference, counter-transference, projection, and coping. We learned communication skills, body centered therapy, and talked about sexuality. We learned about the human potential movement and our lineage to that group of visionaries. We learned about human disease, how to run our business, how to communicate, and how to move our bodies when we worked. We learned about honor and we learned that since we wanted to touch people for a living, we had to be extremely careful with our boundaries and our own emotional/mental/physical health.
I had instructors who trained me to “ground” myself so I would not pick up my clients energy. I had instructors who told us not to massage pregnant mothers in the first trimester of their pregnancy. I had instructors teach me that massage released toxins and the drinking water after the massage would help flush those toxins out of the body. I had an instructor teach me that sound carries energy and events leave energetic residue that can be diffused by sound. The same therapist used to “sing” the spine, whereas she would make the sounds she could hear in her head when she touched the spine in order to diffuse and open up the energy in that area and create change.
Many of my fellow students were choosing to specialize in energy work. That work was so intense it spooked the hell out of me, so I focused on the body. It was not ALL mystical and magical, there was a ton of college level science too and I carved my path. I was fortunate to train with people I would not hesitate to call Masters. School was exciting, challenging and fun and I bought it all, as did the other 300 or so international graduates per year coming out of that system for 30 years. Naropa University was right down the street teaching Transpersonal Psychology, so we all had access to mental/emotional processing. We were all processing our baggage all the time, and using new and alternative methods to achieve a greater sense of holistic health and wellness.
During this time, my mom owned a new age book store in Boulder Colorado. Her store was an iconic new age hub of information where people could find books on anything and everything from Aliens to Astrology to Crop Circles. There was always a psychic of some kind sitting in the corner ready to tell you the mysteries of yourself. Boulder was extra special in these days. Not unusual to go to a hear a trance channeler speak, and follow that up with a community hot tub experience to watch the aliens land behind the mountains on a first date. It was an era, and I was young and quite gullible. I WANTED and NEEDED there to be magic in the universe because life had been pretty tough. I was not in this desire alone. Many need life to have something MORE…to give us hope. We craved ceremony and community ritual. We craved spirituality and answers to the deep mysteries of life, and we found them. It was an era… and times change.
Flash forward into reality: My dad is a physician. He triggered my desire to help others and to explore the human body. I LOVE science. My DAD helped me latch onto that which is real and can be proven. I went into massage practice and the years went by. I ended up doing an enormous amount of massage therapy and my client’s needs and pain dictated that I became a deep bodyworker. In 1995 I was in a car accident and found that the work I needed to receive was of a core or deeper nature and I sought out therapists who had the ability to touch and manipulate the holding in my deeper core tissues. This continued to develop my propensity toward core tissue manipulation as a therapist.
I have gone on to massage all types of people for 25 years. I have not just touched their body, I have touched their lives. I have listened to them. I have been compassionate. I have seen clients through the death of their grandparents, the birth of their babies, graduate school, their divorce, their second marriage, the birth of their first grandchild and breast cancer. I have been a massage therapist, a loving, compassionate, listening, caring, person who supports my client’s journey into a greater awareness of their relationship to their body and lives by providing touch, unconditional listening and care. I have supported them in finding relief from pain, by helping them discover what conditions are in effect that are leading to musculoskeletal dysfunction = pain, and helped them find ways to change behaviors that are putting those conditions into effect. For whatever reason, the manipulation of their muscular system using my approach provided relief and restoration for them. I have had a deeply rich therapeutic practice, and the work I have done with my clients has taught me 10,000% more than I learned at massage therapy school.
I have grown into a passionate massage therapy educator. Beyond the education I always provided for my clients, I have been training Massage Therapists for 10 years now. Massage Therapy is evolving so fast I’m trying to keep up for the benefit of my students. If I don’t keep up with the evolution and progression of massage therapy I am doing a disservice to my students and I should leave my career. I have tried to stay on top of things, and through the technology of the internet, I’ve been able to communicate with Massage Therapy professionals and experts across the globe. It’s been a real blessing. In the midst of running my school, I’m doing my best to pay close attention to the movement in the profession, and found myself exposed to some interesting dynamics in the U.S Massage Therapy Scene. Here is what I believe I have witnessed.
My impression is also that they want Massage therapy to be a globally defined, standardized and consistent as a health care profession.
This is an extreme group, and they are making people aware of things that must change. Unfortunately, in the process, they are wanting to eradicate anything and everything that is not scientifically proven. This threatens a great percentage of the massage therapists who are practicing ethically and effectively today. I would love to see the science group build a remedial education bridge to ethical massage therapists who are making a positive impact on their client’s lives without trying to eliminate them completely. I believe that some of the massage therapists making false claims are doing so not because they are bad therapists, but because that is how they were taught. These people deserve patience and re-education.
When myths are debunked, and new evidence becomes available the masses of massage therapists in the US need to be reached and educated. I would like to think our leadership organizations would be able to pull that off. Schools need to be absolutely clear to teach the Ethics of False Claims, the importance of staying up to date, and Ethical Codes need to include some language stressing the importance of this. I hope the science group will realize that you can’t dig a big hole and throw everyone in it that is not 100% with them. As far as I’m concerned this is an Ethics, Scope and Boundary Issue. Some people need to be brought up to speed. Many others are doing incredible work right now that is not all based in evidence, but does not promote false claims.
Regardless of what I think or how I am categorizing the groups I have encountered to try to make sense of it all, and regardless of how you feel about my opinionated opinion, one thing stands absolutely clear. If you are a massage therapist or bodyworker who is making false claims, YOU are the problem, and you will be the catalyst of a great transition that passionate stakeholders will continue to demand, that Massage Therapy in the United States is a respected health care profession that everyone has access to. Why would any of us who really care about people and know the benefits of massage therapy dare to stand in the way of that?
I know that as an educator, I am rapidly revamping my program to align with this new culture so that my students will be ready to serve at a level that I never have before.
If you are operating from an agenda to heal your clients with your magical special powers it is time that you do a personal and professional inventory, redo your literature, your website, even your business name and start to be vigilant over the claims you are making, and the words coming out of your mouth that can do incredible harm to your clients and to the profession of Massage Therapy. Time to get with the program, or get out.
The intention of this article is to help massage therapists understand Mindfulness, and to encourage the cultivation of Mindfulness in order to improve their relationships to themselves, their clients, and subsequently enjoy more success in their massage therapy practice.
I recently shared “(more than) 100 Reasons to Ditch your Massage Therapist” and many massage therapists responded that I was implying that to be a successful massage therapist you must be as close to flawless in the delivery of the work as possible. That is EXACTLY what I was suggesting. The response to the article dictated the impulse for this one. Mindfulness and presence during your massage will naturally eliminate the lion’s share of the complaints on that list. Practicing proper hygiene will take care of the rest.
When introducing and discussing Mindfulness, we have to turn to the nature of the brain. This organ is essentially running your life, and many don’t realize that if you try, you can have limited control over the behavior of the mind, and by doing this improve every aspect of your life.
To gain the most from this article, I feel it is important that you understand my background. I am not a psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, or even a counselor. I have no university education in anything psychology based. I have been a practicing massage therapist for 23 years. I am the Founder and Director of the Berkana Institute of Massage Therapy, and curriculum designer. I also mentor a few hundred bodyworkers.
I have been deliberately paying attention to, and trying to change the nature of my own mind since I was 16 years old. I have dabbled in many different types of meditation sporadically, and with varying discipline and results. I’m not an expert on the deeply complex potentialities in the realm of mind-body medicine, mindfulness and meditation. At this point, 30+ years into my curiosity, I am positive I have very little control over my mind. I believe this is normal, and that all of us are at least a little bit crazy due to the unbridled nature of the brain at this stage in our evolution and how chemically unstable we are. I believe I have had very brief encounters with total Mindfulness or “empty mind”.
I have explored many different types of meditation including the 10 day/100 hours of sitting meditation Vipasanna Retreat. The only experiences in my life which topped that would be falling in love with my husband and having a baby. I also describe that retreat as Meditation Prison because it was extremely challenging, and forced me to stretch far beyond my limited beliefs and explore my perception of reality. I highly recommend it!
Another non-meditative experience that puts me in a position to have some deeper knowledge of my brain is the fact that I have been living with a traumatic brain injury since 1995. This experience has profoundly enriched my life and my understanding of the nature of my own mind, and my work as a massage therapist, entrepreneur and educator.
I now teach a form of deep tissue massage called Mindful Expressionism to my advanced students which is simply the cultivation of mindfulness, the use of fluid body mechanics, and fearless creative self-expression to produce the exquisite execution of whatever type of bodywork will best serve the client, from moment to moment, from the lightest to the deepest work.
The students and I observe the nature of the mind a lot through a meditation practice so we can understand that the chaos is there, and we work specifically with examining conditioned and limiting thought patterns that are holding us back from meeting our potential. We do exercises to try to break those patterns that are not serving our personal or professional goals. We do this by watching our mind, and exploring beyond our comfort zone in order to challenge the limited and conditioned beliefs we have about ourselves, the value of our work, and our technique. We examine how limited beliefs determine where growth stops for us as human beings, who happen to be Massage Therapists.
Meditation is, on a fundamental level, complete focus in the moment known as NOW, on any specific thing that holds your attention in the ever-moving NOW. I’ve been unintentionally meditating since I was 4 years old when I was placed on a piano bench to learn how to play classical music. If you believe you have never meditated before, I am here to challenge that belief and inform you that you have been dabbling in meditation for your entire life. When you played music, decorated a cookie, or built with logos’. With intentional redundancy, Meditation is, on a fundamental level, complete focus in the moment known as NOW on any specific thing that holds your attention in the ever-moving NOW. If my definition is spot-on, then it is my opinion that every massage can be a meditation for the therapist. Mindfulness is the result of successful meditation.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Any of these definitions work…pick the one you like best!
I learned at Vipassa from Mr. S. N. Goenka that “the mind is like a herd of wild elephants”. I have also heard the nature of the mind described as “monkey mind” which a monk attributed to the mind being like a bunch of monkeys screeching and throwing poop at you. When you start to watch the nature of your mind, you will see that both of these analogies are frequently true. I have taught my students that if the mind was a super computer, it’s been downloading every moment of every day of your life since you were born for good and for bad. We download great knowledge, Information, and memories as well as “viruses” which plague the functionality of our lives, and effect our relationships to ourselves and our perception of the world outside of us. When I say “virus”, what I am alluding to is negative and limiting beliefs about oneself and the world around them.
We have negative beliefs in our mind which have an adverse impact on our quality of life, much like our musculoskeletal system has holding patterns in soft tissue, which result in holistic (mental-physical-emotional) pain and dysfunction. It is also clear, that if one is not practicing mindfulness, unconscious ways of thinking lead to unconscious ways of behaving which can have a negative impact on the way we are responding to life.
What does ANY of this have to do with Massage Therapy and your success? It’s rather simple. If you are giving a massage and thinking about the ingredients for the meatloaf you are going to make tonight, or how your boyfriend and you are not getting along, you will make mistakes. I don’t know why this is so, but your client CAN feel when you are not present. I know this because I have been that client more times than I want to count. I’m sure there are some research scientists who can help us out with some evidence to back this up.
WHY DO WE CHECK OUT?
Why are we not truly present?
How can we cultivate Mindfulness and presence to improve the quality of our lives?
There is an incredible amount of information available on the internet regarding meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness. Try some!
A HEALTHY BRAIN LEADS TO A HAPPY LIFE!
Mindful thinking is but one way to improve your relationship to life through the brain.
Everything listed below (and more) will determine the healthy functioning of your brain, which will determine how you respond to life.
MINDFULNESS AND YOUR MASSAGE THERAPY PRACTICE
How will the cultivation of mindfulness improve your massage therapy practice?
When you “show up” to do the work of massage therapy from a clear and present perspective, you can easily build strong rapport and tune into what the client wants, and regularly adjust your work to professionally meet the client’s needs from moment to moment.
In the end, being present/mindful, and coming from a clear and healthy mental and emotional place can enhance and improve the quality of the work you are doing exponentially, resulting in happy clients who are loyal and return to you time and time again.
What could be better than that?