Massage therapist burnout is a real concern, and can occur from overwork, poor body mechanics or the stress of running a practice.
According to Ayurveda, the ancient science of life and health from India, we each have a unique body-mind nature.
Depending on our specific, inherited nature, some foods nourish us, while others create digestive and other problems; and an individualized fitness regimen will keep us healthy.
This individual regimen brings us from imbalance—signs of massage therapist burnout include repetitive stress injuries, low energy, aches and pains—to our best weight, energy, strength, immune strength, personal power, passion and balanced moods.
Ayurvedic approaches to restore balance include diet, lifestyle, herbs and massage.
But the specific treatments utilized for each approach depend on an individual’s constitution, or nature. What works for one person may not work for another person.
To be fit, we need to know our nature, our tendencies and our optimum regimen.
Then, with full awareness, we need to find what works for us. It may not be what we think—and it may be quite different from what works for your best friend.
In Ayurveda, when we look at health issues, we look first at the individual’s body-mind type.
According to Ayurveda, our constitution explains how we look and how we tend to react emotionally, what our interests are, and even our health tendencies and risk factors for diseases.
Ayurveda describes our nature as the interplay of three main psychophysiological processes, called doshas.
Our nature is a combination of all three doshas, often with one or two doshas having more influence.
If you know which body-mind type—vata, pitta or kapha—you are, you can create a diet and fitness regimen that will restore your original vitality and nature.
Our nature, or body-mind type, is not just one dosha, but a combination of all three, and is inherited from our parents and grandparents.
Vata is the process that moves everything in the body, so the nervous system is predominantly vata. Those whose nature is primarily vata are always moving.
They use up a lot of energy and tend to be lean muscled. They may be very tall or very short, are usually creative, quick to start and stop projects, make friends quickly and may be talkative.
Vatas are good artists and musicians, and creative “idea” people. They are impulsive and may prefer irregular eating and sleeping times. They are high-spirited.
When stressed, vatas tend to experience anxiety, dread, fear and panic. When out of balance, they may have a hard time sleeping and may be prone to arthritis, pain, dry skin or hair, asthma and accidents.
Pitta is the process that creates heat and energy in the body, predominantly in the small intestines and liver/gallbladder.
A person with a more pitta nature may have a higher body temperature than normal, may have reddish skin or hair and moles or freckles, and hair that is turning gray early, or balding.
Pittas have strong willpower and an analytical mind. They may feel they are always right—and often are. They are good entrepreneurs and have strong passions. They try to avoid confrontation, yet they are passionate.
When stressed, pittas tend to experience anger, rage, sadness, irritability, grief, blame and shame. When out of balance, they may have addictive tendencies, problems with their heart, liver or gallbladder, or cancer.
Pitta people usually have a strong digestive fire and can eat a lot while maintaining their weight.
Kapha is the process that cools and supports the body and stores energy in fat, muscles, lymph and liquids.
The genitourinary system is kapha; so is the stomach, cerebrospinal fluids, joint lubrication—all the liquids in the body. Kapha maintains the body’s integrity (immune response).
Primarily kapha people are strong, sturdy and well-muscled. They are squarely built, and slower to act and decide—yet will carry out a project to completion.
They keep friends (and enemies) forever, and can be counted on to finish what they start (although they may be slow to start). Kapha people are the ballast to the ship; they stick with their job, mate and project. They are compassionate and emotionally stable.
When stressed, kaphas tend to experience feeling stuck, depressed or sluggish. When out of balance, they may become overweight, have excess growths, such as cysts or tumors, or develop diabetes.
Three people went to the gym. The vata started running for an hour, even though his knees hurt. The pitta was determined to push to a new personal record and was soon drowning in sweat.
The kapha decided to go to the juice bar and have some food before getting started—if she got started at all.
Here’s how to prevent tendencies to become out of balance, depending on each of the doshas.
Vata, in general, needs to slow down, and eat and sleep according to a regular schedule. Regular times for meals and sleep help bring up the digestive fire that can be weak in vata.
Foods: Vatas should eat soupier, cooked foods and less raw, dry, yeasted foods. Vatas tend to be cold, so ginger, oils in the diet and hot, cooked foods are best.
Fitness: More awareness of the body’s limitations will improve results. Running and aerobics are hard on the joints, a weak area in vatas; so is performing deep-tissue massage.
Vatas should go into the discomfort zone but not into the pain zone, and avoid pushing the body too far. In a workout, vatas should focus on more cycles and fewer reps.
Instead of running, vatas may try swimming, yoga, tai chi or aerobics, fast walking and work up a sweat. Heat is good for vatas, so they should use the steam room and hot tub. (The sauna may be too drying.)
Pittas, in general, need to avoid getting too hot for too long, as they may be prone to inflammation and high blood pressure. They should stay out of the noon sun, and instead go on full-moon walks.
Foods: Pittas should avoid red meat and hot, spicy, fried and sour foods. They should consume more cooling foods, such as carbohydrates, milk and vegetables.
Fitness: Pittas should never work out or perform intense massages when they are hungry. Hunger brings up heat and adrenaline in the body, and so does exercise.
Yoga, walking and swimming are pittas’ best exercises. They should avoid getting too hot and should drink enough water when thirsty.
In a workout, pittas should focus on a moderate number of cycles and repetitions, note if the body is overheating and take a brief break until the body cools down. Pittas have a strong will, so they must be careful to not massage so hard they injure themselves.
Kapha, in general, hates to exercise. They’d rather watch TV or sit in a cafe. And yet, they are the body-mind nature that needs exercise the most.
Foods: Kaphas should avoid cold, heavy, sweet foods (such as ice cream, tofu and baked potatoes with butter).
Kaphas have slow metabolisms, so they need to eat hotter, spicy, easy-to-digest foods. They should eat every five to six hours. (If a person is hungry more often than this, he may not be kapha.)
Fitness: Running is less harmful to kaphas, as their joints are well-muscled and supported. Fast walking, aerobic yoga and getting the heartbeat sped up are good for kaphas.
Swimming calms the mind, which can be a source of kapha’s overweight. In a workout, kaphas should focus on more repetitions and fewer cycles. Kapha needs to push a little bit—so exertion while giving a massage works well for them.
Avoid Massage Therapist Burnout
Pittas are most prone to burnout. They tend to overwork; they can be workaholics, have strong willpower and may go beyond their body’s limits.
When all of the body’s stimulating hormones (adrenaline, thyroid hormone, corticosteroids, neurotransmitters) are used up, the body is exhausted and needs a nonstimulating environment, as well as nourishing, easy-to-digest food in order to restore itself.
If a person continues to push herself, even the immune system gets exhausted. It can feel like being covered by a wet blanket she can’t push away.
To recover from burnout, the person should first identify the route she took to get burned out. She can’t continue doing what she is doing, or she’ll get the same result.
She should slow down, take a vacation, go camping or visit relatives. She must change her diet to eat simple, soupy, easy-to-digest foods, and stay away from stimulating foods, such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol, spicy, fried and salty foods.
She also must exercise, even if she doesn’t feel like it.
Anyone of any dosha who feels burned out should also do self-massage with Ayurvedic oil, followed by a warm bath or shower. The heat helps drive the oil deeper into the body to nourish it.
Ayurvedic massage removes toxins and restores energy and vitality. One of the most powerful treatments in Ayurveda is called pancha karma, and includes daily warm, herbal oil massage to remove toxins.
Other pitta and vata balancing tricks include:
- Drink hot water and eat soupy foods to ease tension in digestion and reduce stress.
- Make sure elimination is proper. For constipation, take triphala (an Ayurvedic herbal remedy that is good for all three doshas).
- Turmeric tea and turmeric milk are good for inflammation if the person feels a burning sensation.
- Manjistha is a good lymph cleanser.
- Shatavari is cooling if the person feels irritated a lot.
- Ashwagandha is strengthening and warming if the person has insomnia and feels chilly and anxious. (To use herbs properly, see an Ayurvedic practitioner.)
Prevent Repetitive Stress
Vata and pitta are both prone to repetitive stress disorder. When a person is not aware of her physical body and movements, she may repeat movements excessively so that the muscles and tendons can’t recover from overuse.
The first step, when there is a pain anywhere in the body, is to identify it—where it is, when it arises, when it is not there and what is being done when it arises.
The second step is for the person to have someone observe movement while the person is doing a massage, and to provide feedback on what the person is doing.
The third step is to not do that repetitive move.
Massage therapists often get into habits of using their bodies (especially arms, elbows, hands and shoulders) in repetitive ways. We think we can only get the results we want by doing these movements.
For example, a therapist might think, “I have to use my fingers to go in deeply, and now they are hurting.”
Clearly, the massage therapist can’t do a good job if she is in pain. So she should see if she can get the same good result by doing different moves, or varying use of her body.
Sometimes she may have to learn another style of massage that uses her body in a different way.
Massage therapists with a vata nature are more prone to pain because their joints are not deeply seated and their nerves are closer to the surface.
Self-massage of the painful area with ashwagandha-bala oil or sesame oil reduces pain and inflammation, especially when followed by heat (a heat pack, hot towel, heating pad, hot bath or shower).
With the demands faced by today’s massage therapist, it is essential to keep one’s personal health in the forefront. This allows you to best assist clients while living your best life as well.
Utilizing the ancient practices of Ayurveda, along with the numerous Ayurvedia products on the market today, is a sure way to effect peace in your own body, maintain balance, and extend your massage therapy career.
About the Author
Cynthia Copple is a teacher of Ayurvedic massage and has been an Ayurvedic practitioner for more than 35 years. She is director of Lotus Holistic Health Institute and President of Lotus Herbs.