Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Listening

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
Rachel Naomi Remen

I was talking to a friend the other night, a fellow LMT, about what makes a good massage. Massage styles vary from therapist to therapist and there are many different modalities to experience on a bodywork table. And while some people might joke that like pizza and sex, there is no such thing as a bad massage, I would argue that viewpoint. Despite the fact that I am a touch junkie and that I find touch therapies to be the most effective way of treating the patterns of dis-ease that manifest in my body, I am pretty discerning when it comes to massage.

So what makes a massage a "great" massage? Body work is a blend of science and art. Understanding anatomy and physiology, knowing the intimacies of the muscular system, being well versed in treatment techniques are examples of the science of the work. In New York state, the 1,000 hours of schooling that is required provides sound training in the science of massage. The art of bodywork is what the therapist brings of herself to the work and springs out of being present and listening.

In massage school we began our hands on class by learning a basic routine that addressed all the muscle groups. It was a massage that I received many times from many different students. One of the benefits to going to massage school is that for a stretch of time you receive a daily massage. As brand new therapists it was a wonderful to have a routine to hang onto because it helped us learn a variety of strokes, work on our pacing and flow and increased our confidence. Our one size fits all massage was pleasant to receive and I still use elements of it in my own practice, but it makes for a predictable massage, very relaxing and pleasant, but not a massage to write home about.

The difference between a good massage and a great one, I think, is the ability of the therapist to listen and respond to both what the client asks for and what she learns as she works. It comes down to listening. The greatest gift that I can give as a body worker is to listen. After all, the body is wise. There is much to listen to. If I listen to the tissues, the bones, the fascia, the movement, the breath and the energy, if I put my full attention into the place where my hands meet my client's body and listen, a dialogue ensues. I learn how to coax the tissues into softening. I learn the pathways that allow for greater ease of movement. The body tells me what to do.

The body "talks to the hand."

Bodywork is about being fully present, listening, connecting, and allowing the work to arise from a place of meeting. This is where the power to heal comes from- the gift of listening.

Wishing you balance,


Friday, December 11, 2009

Counting Hugs

As I quoted in my last post, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth," says Virginia Satir, family therapist. In response to that quote, one of my college students joked, "If Virginia Satir is correct, then I am going to die."

The quote prompted me to count hugs for a week. Here is the raw data-

Saturday- 13 hugs
Sunday- 4 hugs
Monday- 6 hugs
Tuesday- 10 hugs
Wednesday- 6 hugs
Thursday- 1 hug
Friday- 1 hug

41 hugs in a week! It isn't the 84 needed for growth, but I am doing better than survival! And it was fun to pay attention and really appreciate the hugs I got/gave this week.

Here was what I learned from this experience-

1. There is a inverse relationship between the age of the students I work with and the number of hugs I get.

2. To get hugs from my son, I had to pay him. ("Here is how it works. You get 50 cents per hug. You have to mean it. Limit of two per day.") He only did it one day, however.

3. Thinking of hugs as a daily vitamin made me a lot more excited about each hug I got. I felt like they were little gifts of health. I tend to hang back and wait for the other person to initiate a hug, but this week I found myself inviting more hugs than usual.

4. For adults, hugs seem to be delegated to special occasions when you haven't seen someone in a while or for romantic relationships. So, there were days that went by for me that were relatively hug-free. If I had tried to hug the people at work, or the people who were waiting in line at the post office or at the grocery store instead of just saying hello and smiling, it would have been awkward for all involved. Hugs offer comfort and warmth and that isn't something that we often share with strangers or even with people with whom we have a professional relationship and see everyday.

5. Kids have it right. They are uninhibited about showing the joy they feel when they see someone that they like.

We adults, I think, are too grown up for our own health.

Have you hugged someone today?

Wishing you balance,


Friday, December 4, 2009

Free Hugs

I hugged this guy. Well maybe not this guy, but it was a guy with a sign just like his. And a woman too. I hugged her. I was walking down the sidewalk in Times Square and when I saw the free hugs signs I excitedly ran and gave them both enthusiastic hugs. It was a great moment!

Here is a link to the FREE HUGS campaign site. Visit the site. Watch the video. It is good fun.

"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth," says Virginia Satir, family therapist. I don't know where she gets those numbers, but it is certainly something to think about.

I teach an improvisational dance class at a university. The dance form, contact improvisation, explores contact and support between dancers. It leads to interesting lifts and tumbling about, falling to the floor and rolling over one another. Our language is touch. In the beginning of the semester, dancing together in this way can feel a bit awkward as we are unaccustomed to such close interaction with people that we are just getting to know. Touch is delegated most often, in our culture, to sexual relationships and to mothering. Because touch can be so loaded, once our children get older, we often stop touching them. Despite the fact that children love to hug, people who work with them are often told to touch them only on their shoulder or arm. Because we are fearful of touch being misunderstood, we err on the side of caution. But studies have shown again and again that human beings need touch. Babies who are not touched, for instance, do not thrive.

My students soon get over their initial awkwardness and by the end of the course are able to crawl all over each other with the playfulness of young children. One thing, to this end, that I repeat each semester is a hug day. On that particular day we receive more than the four survival hugs, the eight maintenance hugs or even the twelve growth hugs. We probably get close to hundred hugs in a less than an hour's time, depending on the size of the class. The hugs start out tentatively, like in the video, and by the end of the class we are running and jumping joyfully into each other's arms, spinning one another around. Everyone leaves class with big smiles on their faces. The dancing changes quickly after the hug class. The students become much more comfortable supporting one another, lifting each other up, piling up on top of one another without feeling awkward, sexual or worrying that the touch will be misunderstood. Our class becomes a community, the participants feel safe and open to interact in a way that is unusual for our culture. Unusual maybe, but so very healthy.

Touch is necessary for our health.

And that is a great reason to get a massage. And you should totally do that. But you can't get a massage every day! But you can get a hug. And here is the good news...


And today, I got 4 hugs. Which is...


I am going to start keeping track of my hugs daily. I will report back.

Wishing you balance,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Place of Peace

I just got back from a great trip to New York City to visit family for the Thanksgiving Holiday. What can be better than seeing your family and seeing them happy and healthy? It hasn't been a given lately, my father recovering from quadruple bypass surgery, but this visit was so joyful. My sister just moved to the city and my parents are nearby so I shared my time between the two. My sister's apartment, in typical New York City fashion, is small. The house where my parents are staying was the house of my grandparents and thus is fairly bare, since my parents have a home filled with their life possessions one thousand miles away.

So, although the digs were far from acetic, I wasn't surrounded by piles of stuff either. To be fair, other people's stuff doesn't have the same meaning to me as my own stuff, which demands action- piles of paper work to be done, piles of clothing to be laundered, even piles of books to be read. Other people's piles are much less visible to me. But still, there were fewer of them on my trip. The streets, of course, were busy with stuff- people everywhere, piles of produce, merchandise, cars and trucks, no inch of real estate going unused. But inside, there was just plain less stuff.

When I returned from my trip and walked in the door I felt assaulted by stuff. It didn't help that I entered through my kitchen and the garbage smelled and the first thing I saw was the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink. I am a piler by nature- organization is difficult for me. Plus, I have the tendency to procrastinate and I don't like sending things to the landfill so I tend to hold onto stuff. My son is no different, so between us, we struggle to keep things tidy. Right now, for instance, I have a bunch of new paintings that are waiting to be hung, a happy acquisition, but I haven't gotten around to following through with placing them on the wall. So instead of enjoying their beauty, I am reminded of the work I need to do when I look at them.

I know I have already written a post about the stuff we bring into our lives. Stuff is an issue for me. And it is one I am addressing, albiet slowly. Piles are getting weeded. Trips to the thrift store to donate are being made. Things are being given away, tossed, shredded, etc...but it is slow going and the stuff keeps coming in. There is one room, however, that doesn't have any piles. In fact it has nothing that it doesn't need. One room that is peaceful and lovely.

My massage room.

I love my massage room. It is cozy and magical with its little twinkling lights and branches that are decorated with paper cranes. Sometimes I go in there just to sit or meditate or I push the table aside and lie down on my mat and close my eyes and breathe. Heater on and candles lit, the scent of the essential oil in the diffuser and the beautiful music all feel like a cocoon, embracing me.

It is easy to feel peaceful in such a room. Is it possible to extend that feeling to the rest of my surroundings? This is what I am working toward! Always working towards balance- it seems a constant process! And always...

Wishing you balance,