massage therapist

Practice What You Preach: An Open Letter to Health Workers Everywhere

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Yesterday during a massage my client mentioned she had attended a healthcare conference and she was surprised by how many nurses and doctors in attendance were out of shape. This reminded me of the plethora of massage therapists who are in the same boat, many of whom don’t even get massage regularly (or ever, in some cases). This really got me thinking about the disconnect between those offering healthcare and how we encourage our clients/patients to be. This is definitely not meant to shame anyone, but to me it really begs the question of why we do what we do.

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I’ve mentioned on this blog that one of the major things that kick-started me into being healthy was going to school for massage. I was suddenly surrounded by personal trainers, nutritionists and physical therapists and began absorbing a ton of information on health and wellness. I also fell in love with the art and science of massage and realized that if I was going to really be successful as a massage therapist I needed to be in good physical shape to avoid injuring myself and shortening my career. Learning proper body mechanics and strengthening my core and upper body, along with adding flexibility to my lower body was imperative if I wanted to work through several hours of deep tissue work without compromising my own health. The #1 thing I learned in school is I have to check in with myself, physically and psychologically, FIRST before I put my hands on another body. Self-care, self-care, self-care.

Yet, somehow, we get out of school and it seems that many of us throw that idea away. It’s easier to be consumed by being too busy to exercise, and being too broke to afford massage. It’s easier and cheaper to grab fast food on the way to the office than to bring a healthy lunch or even stop by the salad bar at Whole Foods. The most self-care we do is shaking out our hands between clients and maybe rubbing a little Biofreeze or arnica on our shoulders. All of our attentions is focused outwards, to our clients/patients, our families, our friends.

And this is where I can finally see a glimpse of what’s going on. Most of us in healthcare are caregivers. We were born with that need to take care of others, often ignoring our own needs. We’re willing to martyr ourselves for the benefit of others. That may seem admirable, but at the end of the day I believe this attitude is back-firing. We’re constantly saying to our clients, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Logically, it’s obvious this doesn’t work. If we really want to help others we have to get a little selfish and we have to start taking our own advice.

They tell you if a plane loses air pressure and the oxygen masks fall put YOUR mask on first BEFORE helping others. They tell you this simply because if you don’t put your mask on first you might pass out due to lack of oxygen before you even get a chance to help your neighbor. It’s common sense. Folks in healthcare, listen up, PUT YOUR MASKS ON FIRST! It’s not news that, especially in the US, we have major issues with illness directly related to poor diets and lack of basic exercise. I’m not saying you need to become a raw foodist, a bodybuilder, and pamper yourself constantly, but it’s time to start making time for your own health. If not, newsflash, your patients won’t listen to you. Actions speak louder than words, right? So if you tell your patients to get healthy, and then you step out back for a cigarette and a coke they will not take you seriously.

If we are in the healthcare profession it is our duty to demonstrate good health. Period. I’m not saying we have to be perfect 100% of the time; we’re still human, right? But we are the army fighting for health and wellness so if our army can’t take care of itself we can’t win a single battle, let alone a war. If you’re working one-on-one with clients or patients who are coming to you for help with their health you are literally the first line of defense. Help yourself so you can really help them.

I beg you to readjust your thinking. You’re probably extremely busy, but if you can carve out even 30 minutes a day for exercise you will have more energy and most likely a more positive outlook (thank you endorphins) so you will feel better and be better for your patients/clients. If you eat better you’ll have more energy and a stronger immune system so you will feel better and be better for your patients/clients. If you get regular massage or chiropractic or acupuncture you will feel better and be better for your patients/clientsIs this making sense yet?

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As for the money excuse, this is usually another mode of thinking that needs to be adjusted. As a massage therapist, I get massage regularly because it keeps my body fluid and keeps me from getting injured when I work with my clients. It also helps me connect with other therapists and often introduces me to other modalities. If I can barter I do, because it’s nice to feel things are reciprocal. But, if I can’t barter I happily pay for it because I firmly believe massage is worth the price we charge for it. I rationalize the cost by pretending I did one less massage that week. So basically, it’s a barter in my mind. I gave one massage to a client and I get one massage in return. Done. I mean seriously, how do you expect anyone to pay for a massage from you if you don’t feel you can pay for a massage yourself? Now ideally, healthcare professionals would have a large barter pool with each other so we can take care of each other and I do think long-term there needs to be major healthcare reforms in this country to make care more universally affordable, but that’s a post for another day.

To sum up, remember, you are a role model. When you took your position in healthcare you made a vow to do your best to help make people healthier and you can’t do that unless you are healthy. Start small, start today, if you have to start again tomorrow. You are worth it. Practice what you preach so our society as a whole can get healthy!