I am often asked by young massage therapists, “How have you remained in the profession for 46 years and continue to help clients?” My answer is always the same: “I am still curious, and I developed habits to take care of myself.”
I am 71 years young and still put in a full day of clients, five days a week. I can do this because providing massage therapy gives me life. I embrace the philosophy that massage therapy is a service for the good of all.
In my first year of my massage therapy career, I worked at an executive health club in Gainesville, Florida. I worked three days a week and on average, I performed 14 to 16, 30-minute massages each day, one after another, nonstop.
I learned how to eat and chew while changing the massage room for the next client and to remain on time, every time. Inside this environment, it became abundantly clear to me that to maintain this pace for the duration of a professional massage therapy, I best learn how to incorporate habits of self-care—and fast.
Massage therapy is an athletic event and massage therapists are athletes. For this reason, your self-care should follow the same protocols that athletes utilize successfully. Performing your best massage therapy requires mental and physical preparation.
One advantage I have is I was a scholarship athlete while in college at the University of Florida, running track. Thus, I knew and had experienced the importance of strength, conditioning and flexibility and the role each had in supporting my athletic performances.
Thus, I would prepare myself to perform massage in the same fashion as I prepared myself to run an 800-meter race. It was that knowledge and background that caused me, once I got into massage, to shift to viewing massage therapy as an athletic event and massage therapists as athletes.
Mindset & Physical Training
My longevity in the massage therapy profession is directly linked to my athletic mindset and my physical training, which includes, to this day, three days a week of strength training and three days a week of conditioning training, including walking and riding a stationary bike or a rowing machine.
I have a strength coach, and I still perform barbell squats and dead lifts among other lifts and machines. I have used the Arnold Tobin Thenar Gloves for years to strengthen my hands. In my massage therapy career, I have incorporated Tai chi, Pilates and Gyrotonic movement training, I stretch each day of the week, often utilizing a slant board to stand on and a flex cushion to optimize my floor stretching.
I stay hydrated with water throughout the day, I have a Stealth Water system installed in my office to regulate the PH of the water I drink throughout the day.
Lastly, I make it a habit to spend 20 minutes a day simply sitting outside in the sun. From home, before my massage therapy day begins, I sit in my backyard barefoot, touching the ground while getting the early morning sunlight vision stimulation.
Self-care for the massage therapist must also include using an adjustable-height table or an electric adjustable height table. I purchased my first electric table in 1976. It was apparent to me at the very beginning of my career that having a massage table I could easily and quickly adjust the height of, to balance the size of the client with the massage techniques I chose to administer, was necessary for my self-care.
Today’s marketplace has a wide range of electric height adjusting tables. I have used the Oakworks brand for over 35 years.
Support Your Feet
Self-care for the massage therapist must include attention to footwear and floor surfaces. I do not work barefoot on floors, carpet or concrete. I choose shoes that allow for a stable platform for my foot and ankle articulation as I use my body mechanics to facilitate best pressure and glide control of my hands while applying massage techniques.
My shoe of choice for decades to wear while doing massage are Doc Martens. This is a shoe that was developed in England for use by civil servants, such as police officers walking beats on the street, postal carriers walking and delivering mail and factory workers standing for hours on brick and concrete surfaces.
I have provided massage therapy services to USA athletes for five Summer Olympic Games. My experience working at Olympic Games is shoes designed for running do not work well supporting foot and ankles when standing for hours providing massage therapy to athletes. There is a reason they are called running shoes. Massage therapists, take care of your feet.
My food consumption may be the biggest factor that has contributed to my massage career longevity. A few of my personal habits include avoiding, whenever able, seed oils and high fructose corn syrup additives. I also, when able, consume only grass-fed protein and drink only grass-fed cow’s milk. I prefer only wild-caught fish.
Benny’s Top-10 Tips
I exercise daily to maintain balance in my metabolic physiology. Find what gives you the best energy version of yourself and adopt this as your normal food consumption habits
Here are my top 10 self-care recommendations for massage therapists:
1. Yoga Toes and Yamuna Foot Savers for foot care.
2. Stable supportive shoes designed for long hours of standing (Doc Martens).
3. Arnold Tobin, Thenar Gloves for hand and wrist strengthening.
4. Adjustable slant Board for stretching Achilles, hamstrings, etc.
5. Flex Cushion for floor stretching techniques. Stretch daily.
6. Dumbbells or other resistance tools for strength training.
7. Refillable water bottle always accessible during your massage workday.
8. Easy snacks that provide protein and fats during the workday.
9. Take energy breaks by getting outside in fresh air and sunlight for 10 minutes several times a day. Put it in your appointment book to remind yourself Put yourself on your calendar for self-care.
10. Create a warm-down recovery routine for end-of-day work No athlete finishes an event or a training session without including a warm-down and recovery phase. Create a post-massage workday routine.
In closing, consider your massage therapy like an athletic event—because it is. Do what the athletes do for self-care and preparation for an event. Before you begin your massage therapy day, you should warm up, stretch, pre-hydrate with water, consume food for energy, listen to your favorite music to elevate your energy (even dance), read for 10 minutes your favorite inspirational book—feed your mindset with energy that inspires you.
Now, go out and perform your best!
Editor’s note: MASSAGE Magazine does not normally promote products by name in unpaid content, but to provide the full scope of Benny Vaughn’s self-care routine, we left them in this article.
About the Author
Benny Vaughn, LMT, BCTMB, ATC, has been a working massage therapist for 46 years. He created a highly successful massage therapy business. Benny lives in Fort Worth, Texas. At age 70 he has transformed into life coaching services for massage therapists. Visit his website, bennyvaughnlifecoach.com, to learn more about his solutions related to learning, leading, motivating and inspiring others, finding emotional peace, and to schedule a free consultation.