My focus on self-care has been an ongoing evolution throughout the course of my massage therapy career. I am constantly seeking ways to make work easier for myself by focusing on using good body mechanics, implementing basic self care techniques, and setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Prior to becoming a full-time educator and author, I worked as a massage therapist in high-volume medical offices and quick-paced spa environments while maintaining my own massage therapy practice.
The more I learned about effective body mechanics and preventive measures, the better I felt at the end of the day. I could see many highly skilled practitioners leaving the massage profession as they blew their thumbs, injured their wrists or hurt their backs. I am grateful for the ever-evolving focus on self care and good body mechanics in many of the core curriculum and advanced classes for massage therapists.
What I’ve noticed is that the massage therapists who practice good self-care throughout the course of their careers are much less likely to feel depleted at the end of a session, the end of a day, or the end of their careers.
By staying physically fit and emotionally healthy, utilizing good body mechanics, and practicing self-care techniques on a consistent basis, massage therapists can enjoy a long and successful career and serve as good role models for those in the community who have yet to embrace their own formula for self-care and well being.
Here, I share my personal journey through the self-care techniques of mindfulness, meditation, stretching and breathing, with the hope that this will inspire other massage therapists to put self-care front and center in their lives.
Mindfulness came into my life as a focus when I began studying the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, scholar and author. The primary focus of his teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment and through this focus we can help develop inner peace and worldwide peace.
His writings on mindfulness and his devotion to working for world peace have influenced me and encouraged me to become a more mindful person focused on present-time awareness.
The attention to mindfulness in regard to a person’s overall health has been steadily increasing in the medical community.
I am happy to see how helpful practicing mindfulness has been to me throughout my career as a massage therapist and massage therapy educator. The practice of mindfulness has helped me be more focused in every moment and has led me to a deep sense of inner peace and calm.
I feel that I am better able to be more empathetic and understanding in relationships with my clients and students as a result of studying mindfulness-based techniques and incorporating them into my personal and professional life.
What I’ve noticed the most about practicing mindfulness is that it helps me to live life more fully in the present moment and be more actively conscious of the world around me. Practicing mindfulness has enhanced my sensitivity in the present moment while reducing the effects of unnecessary worry that occurs when I take myself out of present-time awareness.
To quote the yoga master, Swami Satchidananda, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” Mindfulness can give you tools to learn to surf amid the inevitable waves that come with life incarnate in human form.
Meditation has been my saving grace. It has afforded me the opportunity to focus inward, deeply rejuvenate, gain valuable insights, heighten my well-being, and expand the depth with which I can connect inwardly and with those around me.
I initially came to meditation through music. I had a friend in college who was a musician, and he invited me to go with him when he performed for a meditation group near my home. The group focused on the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a prominent spiritual teacher from India, as well as teachings from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, the Native American traditions, Hinduism, and many other religions.
I immediately felt drawn to the sweet energy of this group and began participating in meditative activities, which included studying and paying homage these religions. We would light a candle for each of the world’s religions and read scripture from the respective holy books.
I loved studying and honoring scriptures from many religious and spiritual traditions around the world as much as I loved the dance, the breathing practices, the retreats, the focus on sound, the sense of community, and the heart of the meditations. It was a calming and restorative focus for me during a time when I had just graduated from college and was trying to find my way in the world.
In a more traditional academic setting, I gained another very powerful experience that deepened my connection with the meditative path when I studied transpersonal counseling at John F. Kennedy University in California in the mid-80s. Several of the courses I took propelled me into a deeper study of meditation and the positive effect of meditation on the body, mind and spirit.
As my life has progressed, and the meditation groups ceased to be as active as they had been in previous decades, I utilized more adaptive options for myself.
While meditation can often be a solitary practice, it is always a pleasure to connect and reconnect with kindred spirits on the spiritual path who are interested in meditation, contemplation, and taking time out of their busy schedules to rest and reflect and find that indwelling place of peace. The synergist energy that is created when people meditate or pray together can be quite profound and transforming.
While I know that meditation is not for everyone, it has been a valuable calming and centering tool for me. I respect and appreciate whatever vehicle people may use to bring themselves to a point of stillness in their lives so they can restore themselves to balance and peace.
Being a meditator has helped me tremendously as a massage therapist and as a massage educator. Incorporating meditation techniques into my personal and professional life has brought about a sense of peace and tranquility where there used to be chaos and unrest. It helps me to perpetuate a calm atmosphere when assessing a new client who has a serious health issue and I feel more relaxed preparing to teach a complex subject to a large group of students.
Meditation is a wonderful form of self-care. When thinking of my clients, students and colleagues during a meditative session, I always envision them in a serene environment surrounded by a loving energy.
Mediation not only helps us set our hearts at ease, but concurrently raises the consciousness of humanity. As Hazrat Inayat Khan said, “Peace comes when self is in harmony with the rhythm of the heart.”
Stretching and Breathing
My first experience with formal stretching and breathing exercises began in 1979, when I joined a lovely meditation group in south Austin, Texas, and started practicing yoga with my friend Riki Dunn at the YWCA. This experience helped me learn about the importance of stretching and breathing exercises as I became aware of the effects of proper breathing and regular stretching to help alleviate stress, physical discomfort, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Throughout the years since then, I’ve incorporated different programs of breathing and stretching into my life.
Now, one of my favorite activities during the week is going to Hatha yoga on Sunday afternoons at the Hills Fitness Center with a fabulous instructor, Manu Verma. I always feel deeply transformed by the experience of practicing yoga with him. His classes take me on a journey of breath, movement, sound and meditation.
Restorative yoga is another form of stretching and breathing that I find deeply relaxing and centering. It is the centering of your breath and body—aligning the physical and mental by practicing stillness or gentle movement for extended periods of time. I usually do this once a month during the new moon, although I know I could benefit from doing it more often.
My personal experience with stretching, breathing and self-care has proven to be very beneficial to me personally and professionally. It has increased my empathy for those who are suffering and it has given me strength and more appropriate tools to help people through traumatic situations and physical discomfort.
As for myself, a focus on self care has given me a firm foundation from which to live in a balanced and sensible way while taking time to have fun, be open to love, and enjoy life to its fullest.
Back to Center
I am grateful for the reminders I have in place for drawing myself back to my center. The reminders signal me to nurture myself while nurturing others and to set and maintain healthy boundaries.
I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t have some tools in my tool belt for returning to a peaceful center through good self-care techniques. It took a conscious effort to set up my life in a way that I could work in a health care environment without completely depleting myself.
As author and coach Rebecca Gordon said, “Each positive thought, every vibrant attitude, all purposeful activities water the seeds for success along your path. Pay attention to these and feed them appropriately. Then maintain their beautiful growth through conscious self-care.”
About the Author
Ariana Vincent L.M.T., M.T.I. N.C.T.M.B, CEO of the Ariana Institute, is a Board Certified Massage Therapist and NCBTMB Certified Continuing Education Provider who offers a variety of educational opportunities nationwide. She was honored with the 2015 AFMTE CE Provider of the Year Award and the 2013 World Massage Festival Hall of Fame Award.