What is a trip to Bali without an elephant ride? Well, this wasn’t the usual elephant ride! As I climbed up a platform to the seat on Shuli's back, a bar came across me like on a roller coaster to hang on to. As I got settled in, I took my shoes off and tied them up around the bar. I placed my feet on her back. As she started to walk towards the woods filled with palm trees and huge ferns of all sorts, I proceeded to stroke Shuli with my feet and used my toes to rub gently across her back, from her neck to her sides where I could reach while still being attached to the seat!
As I moved my feet in different ways, I massaged her elephant-style. This is actually a form of Thai massage which is used with the feet and toes. It is a wonderful modality where the therapist uses the legs, feet and toes to stretch parts of the body to relieve muscular pain. Well, Shuli started flapping her ears fiercely back and forth. When I asked my guide, Madey, what that meant, he replied, “she is VERY, VERY Happy!” Her back started rippling like small bubbling water currents, and her tufts of coarse hair stood on end…Just like we do when we get goose bumps! It was quite exciting. I felt very bonded with her.
Madey has been guiding and taking care of Shuli for 12 years. All the 30 elephants come from Sumatra and are smaller than the elephants from India and West Africa. Nevertheless, Shuli seemed pretty big to me! But sweet! After my half-hour ride, we returned to a pool where she cooled off, and I was able to feed her. She ate many handfuls of bamboo. I wonder where my next animal massage experience will be? Humans are not the only species that benefit from massage therapy. Horses get regular massages, as do dogs, cats, and even snakes, but I won’t go there! What experiences have you had massaging animals? And what behaviors did you notice? I hope to get to Borneo one day to maybe massage an orangutan!
What does world travel have to do with massage? For me, everything! As a hard working massage therapist, I have found that many massage therapists do not get massages. They emphasize the importance to their clients the improved benefits they will receive by getting frequent massages, yet they don’t get massages themselves. They work so hard until they injure their bodies from either repetitive motion or injuries made by using the wrong postures. And many have to stop working all together.
Massage therapy techniques are taught basically the same way in the U.S., but when you travel abroad you realize that massage, like language and culture, comes in many variations. When I travelled to Costa Rica, for example, most therapists offered the lymphatic drainage approach which is done with a very light, relaxing, touch. On the other hand, twice in China, I experienced very brisk, deep tissue movements in which I felt my back was being ripped off. They specialize in deep acupressure.
When I travel, I make it a point to seek massage swaps. The agreeing therapist is so eager to experience what I have to offer. This has influenced the many different strokes and techniques I use. I also learned the terms used in other languages that have helped me communicate better with my clients. In French-speaking countries and islands in the Caribbean, I was able to ask for certain positions or actions the therapist needed to do. Wherever I travel, I try to make it a point to have frequent massages and offer my skills and talents to the working therapist, who usually works very long hours, and doesn’t get the opportunity to have such a luxury. It has been so rewarding to experience the exchange of therapists working in the healing arts.
On the other hand, open-mindedness is not guaranteed. When I traveled in Bali earlier this year, I offered to give someone a massage, and about eight massage therapists lined up against the wall intently watching me give foot reflexology, which is done totally differently in Bali. Then when I proceeded to use Orth-Bionomy techniques, the puzzled looks appeared on their faces, and as I ended my treatment using Reiki and chakra balancing, they seemed dumbfounded, and they all proceeded to leave! The therapist who was supposed to work on me declined. I felt very disappointed, and accepted a very mediocre massage from someone else! My experiences of sharing techniques from the West with other parts of the world has enriched my life. It has brought communication and understanding at such an intimate level! Getting massages on a regular basis has kept me healthier and able to sustain my body in such a demanding physical profession. So I encourage all you therapists out there….Don’t hesitate to offer swaps! It’s a win-win situation, and you actually might learn something. Any thoughts?
Ama Lia, an intuitive healer, recently invited me to attend a retreat for healers in Bali. I had always wanted to visit this exotic, remote island in south-central Indonesia and was curious about Bali massage work. So last month I took off for the South Pacific to learn how the Balinese do it. Here's the first of three posts on my adventures.
Entering the open room, I was invited to sit on a low stool and place my feet in a tank filled with one-inch fish, which promptly started nibbling away at the skin, removing bacteria, dirt, and loose skin. Once the fish were full, my therapist removed my feet from the tank and proceeded to clean them with oils, then placed them in a wooden bucket filled with lemon, fresh tumeric, lemon grass, a huge assortment of tropical flowers and essential oils, and other organic substances. Then she gave each foot a vigorous scrub! Next, she soothed my feet in hot oil.
I was then escorted into a heavenly massage room; the table was draped just with a sheet. I was given a rolled-packaged panty to put on. I disrobed and got on the table. The open room was so serene, facing a mangrove with the sounds of trickling water, singing birds and croaking geckos. Ahhhhh, so relaxing! Then the Balinese massage began! The therapist started stretching and pressing at pressure points on the feet with force. “OUCH! Please do it lighter!” I requested, but I don't think my therapist understood. Then she grabbed my calves and progressed up the legs, squeezing and pressing hard on all the tired muscles! “Hey, go easy!” I've heard of compression, but this was too much!
Once my body was squeezed, pressed and stretched, the massage continued with application of hot oils that smelled like jasmine, or coconut oil, all very pleasant. Then my therapist administered long strokes to the total leg, up to the buttocks, then to my back. The pressure was almost irritating! Then I was asked to flip over! I felt like a fish! Oil was placed inside my belly button, and the therapist's hands swirled around my belly, making me feel like a baby! Then her hands worked their way up around the chest area, but avoided the breasts. Then the feet, legs and arms and hands got the treatment, while the face and head were saved for last! My therapist gripped my hair in her hands and gently tugged; it felt like the hairs were being pulled from my head!
I spent 18 days discovering such techniques, and had my therapists demo how they used their hands to do some of their movements. My conclusion: I can see the benefits of Balinese massage, but only if it’s done gently! One can use strong compression without leaving bruises! Most of the therapists had received only a month's training – not what I'd call therapeutic! But, it was worthwhile learning some of their techniques, and meeting so many nice, caring therapists! I'm looking forward to incorporating some of these approaches into my other healing modalities. But I'm not yet ready to give you the fishy feet treatment!
I got my start in massage when I was 17. On tour in Tennessee with my high school orchestra (I play trumpet), I was called into action one day after a rehearsal. Our conductor was in agony, stooped over and stricken with severe neck pain. I blurted out, with the confidence of an adolescent: “I can take care of you! "
I began working on his neck and back. Though I had never been trained, somehow I just knew what to do. After 15 minutes, I asked him how he felt. “I don’t believe it,” he responded, “all my pain is gone.” And he was no longer stooped over.
It was that day I became aware I possessed this strange and unusual intuition. There was no other explanation. Somehow, I had a knack for connecting with other people's pain. I continued giving massages to anyone in need, free, of course. I read books on the subject, and as I began traveling around the world, I would seek out healers from other lands, always looking to learn new techniques by offering “massage swaps.”
Then things got spooky. One day I saw a psychic who told me I had “healing abilities” and should learn how to develop them more. How did he know that? Was my intuition visible? Apparently so, as I was to discover a few years later, on a trip to Cuba. One night there, I joined in on a “spiritists” ritual – a kind of circle dance in which a large group of men and women danced around our smaller group in the center of the circle. Then, in middle of their dance, they stopped abruptly, pointed at me and started murmuring among themselves. I was scared. A guide explained what they were saying: ”She is a natural healer.”
They took me out of the circle and performed a “purifying ceremony” on me, brushing a bouquet of mint leaves and other herbs over me while reciting a healing blessing. I felt honored, validated, to be recognized as a “natural healer.” I now was certain that massage work was for me. Upon my return to the U.S., I enrolled in a massage school, aiming to get the best holistic training available. My hands were already experienced and sensitized to touch; I just needed to learn how to apply them to specific health issues.
Years of study and many hundreds of patients later, massage work remains my passion. I get the most gratifying feeling in the world when I am able to transfer my positive energy to a suffering patient and lift away the negative energy blocking their healing. I love helping others relieve their pain and teaching them how to improve their health.
My knack for healing still startles my clients at times, but I have learned to take it in stride. While I am doing foot reflexology, for example, a client will ask in amazement, “how did you know I hurt there?” I'll reply, “I don’t know, I just sense it”…and continue working until the pain is gone. Or, when working on a client with severe neck pain I'll find my hands going directly to the area that is blocking movement, and the client will say in awe, “I can’t believe you know exactly where my problem is…how do you know that? Again, I'll reply, “I don’t know, I just have this feeling.” Today, this sensory ability or feeling is known by the term, “intuitive healing.” But whatever it is and however you explain it, I consider it, above all, a wonderful gift. And I am so grateful I can share it.
It can be pretty awkward for me to go to a party when I don’t know anyone. It’s even worse when, face to face with an unknown guest, I’m asked, inevitably, ”So, what do you do?”
I gather my courage and reply, enthusiastically, ”I’m a massage therapist.”
“OH WOW, ” says the stranger, who then quickly goes silent, as her discomfort and awkwardness begin to show. ”You are a masseuse?”
“No there is a difference," I explain. "We don’t use the term masseuse anymore, because it implies sex."
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
”Have you ever received a professional massage?” I ask
Instantly, the answer is “No.” So I try to explain how wonderful it feels and the benefits that massage help improve one’s health and healing. Then I receive further inquiry.
“Do guys come on to you?”
I’m always amazed by the misconceptions about massage therapy, a practice that has been around since the beginning of mankind. Touching and caring for another’s well being is what it means to be human.
So, before the person walks away from me I add….”In my 14 years of service, I once had a client who was a dentist. While I was working on his sore back muscles, I felt a hand going up my leg!”
“Oh my God….What did you do?”
“Well, I calmly said to him, ‘excuse me, but I am the only one licensed here to use my hands!’ and he immediately stopped.”
As she becomes more engaged in our conversation, she asked,”How do you know if you can trust the person?”
“When I first interview someone on the phone and ask specific questions, I get an intuitive sense, but I ask further to find out what they’re looking for. When one asks me if I do full body massage, I proceed to ask them to explain what they mean by ‘full body massage’. Then it comes out how they have tightness or muscle problems in their scrotum….bla bla bla.! I then explain I work on the body but not the genitalia, and if they have a problem they should seek a doctor. Then I calmly hang up!”
“One guy called me and asked if I wore just a bra and panties. I responded, asking if he would expect his doctor to wear just these things? Then I would get an apology. Before I would hang up, I would continue explaining that this care is professional and doesn’t deal with sex or any outward stimulating apparel. Then I added, “If that’s what you are looking for, call Madame Fou Fou!”
She laughed…then I continued. “Another guy came over for a treatment and I handed him the medical intake form to fill out. He took it from my hands, looked at it, and said blatantly ‘I’m not filling this out’.”
I confronted him and asked, ”were you expecting to get sex?
He replied,” yes.”
“Well, that’s not part of this professional medical service.”
So, he hurriedly whispered his apologies and, embarrassed, left shutting the door behind him.
Being a massage therapist is challenging when these kinds of expectations are thrown at me. My main intent is extending complete concern and care for the other’s health and well being without being perceived as a sex object. One needs to be educated and informed about what this intimate treatment is.
“So, are people naked?” my new friend asks.
“They can be. They are on a very comfortable covered table, and they can disrobe privately. They lie between the covers or sheets and are totally covered. I position the sheet to uncover the area I am working on. No other body parts are exposed. The client is treated with utmost respect. When the person turns over on their stomach to reach the head rest, I hold up the entire sheet or cover high over my head with my arms extended so the person can turn over freely without getting tangled up from the sheet.”
“Gee, It never looks like that in the movies!”
“That’s for sure!” The media has given a false impression of what massage therapy is all about, and it’s a real shame. So many people stay away from it thinking it’s kinky…and people are losing out of an opportunity to heal themselves, of being free of pain and stress because of this misconception.”
“Well, it sounds like you know how to handle some tough, scary moments. I would like to come and see you, do you have a card?”
“Sure do!” I hand her my business card. “It was a pleasure meeting you and hope to see you again.”
As I walk over to the punch bowl, I am approached by another stranger: “So, what do you do?”
Check back often to learn about the newest trends in massage therapy. I'm happy to share my ideas and approaches, based on more than 30 years of experience.