All in all, my massage career was not only financially rewarding but emotionally satisfying as well, knowing that I was helping people overcome their stresses in life and helping them live a healthier life with less pain. It all started with rubbing my grandfather’s feet as a kid. Who knew that I was developing my sense of touch for the relief of stress when competing with my brothers to see who could get my grandfather to fall asleep the fastest by rubbing his feet? I had no idea that in those early days, I would take that knowledge and turn it into a worthwhile career. And yet as satisfying as it was, it was much more taxing on my body than I had anticipated. But becoming a massage therapist wasn’t as easy as just going to school to learn a few strokes.
It first took learning Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, and Pathology, then learning various techniques and putting them to practice. The whole process was a bit daunting at first, because at the time, I really didn’t have any knowledge of muscles, bones, ligaments, or tendons much less about the many systems in our bodies, like the cardio vascular system, respiratory system or the endocrine system. The book studying alone took a lot of time, because there was a lot to memorize. I honestly didn’t know that there was going to be that much book learning. But much like Frederick Douglass in Learning to Read and Write, where he said “When I was sent on errands, I always took my book with me, and by doing one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson in,” I carried my book with me much everywhere I went so that if I had just a few extra minutes, I could study. Despite all the memorization, the main part to massage therapy was learning the actual soft tissue manipulation techniques and putting them to good use. The most common type of massage that is practiced in the United States is called Swedish massage. The origin of Swedish massage was developed by Per Henrik Ling (1776-1889), who was a Swedish physiologist, when he developed what he called “medical gymnastics”, which later became what we call Swedish massage today. The parts to Swedish massage are effleurage, kneading, friction, stretching and tapotement.
In class, we first learned these techniques from our books one part at a time, and one section of the body at a time. We then spent time practicing what we had learned on our fellow students. I won’t lie; it was really nice getting 4 massages a week, even though at the beginning of school, we were still learning proper technique and some other students simply did not know what they were doing. But, there were many times I had fallen asleep during the practical part of class as we each practiced our approach to the various parts of massage. As the weeks and months went by, the learning curve became easier and easier to overcome as everyone became more familiar with all the information in the book and improved their technique from the many hours of practice daily in class. Not only were we practicing the proper movements in massage, but also appropriate positioning of a client to maintain modesty. Yes, because of the very nature of massage, and because the client is usually naked and vulnerable, part of the learning process was how to flip a client carefully, without exposing them to the entire room, especially since we were in a large room with all of our fellow students. This part was probably the trickiest, considering that a sheet can easily shift as a person is moving and flipping over underneath it and just isn’t as simple as it may seem.
Many times, the sheet would get hung up on a body part that ultimately would display someone’s nether regions to the rest of the free world that might be within eyesight. But with practice, it became easier and perhaps like second nature. Perhaps one of the most surprising things about my experience in learning how to become a Massage Therapist was how sore my whole body would be after a week in class. Even though I was pretty fit at the time, and worked out regularly, massage therapy proved to work my muscles in ways that I hadn’t done so before. Not only did my hands hurt, which was expected with all the repetitive motion, but my neck and back as well for the very same reason. By the time I had finished with my internship at the school, I felt like I had been beaten up by tropical storm. However, taking the Texas State Boards for my license was probably the most stressful and taxing event of the entire process in becoming a Massage Therapist.
Even though I was very confident in my knowledge for the multiple-choice exam, the one thing that most people had failed in the past was the video portion of the test, to demonstrate proper draping of a client. Thankfully, I didn’t have to flip my client on the table, and the possibility of flashing the camera was lessoned. In the end, it was a shame that I eventually had to stop working as a Massage Therapist because of an injury in my hands. Carpal tunnel isn’t just a syndrome that affects people who type regularly; it can affect anyone that overuses their wrists or hands. It caused such debilitating pain for me, which made me change a fulfilling career that I took considerable care to learn as much as I could to make me as strong of a Massage Therapist as I could manage.