Would you be willing to experience your massage practice in ways that benefit you as much as your clients?
Most therapists we know have had the experience where they have felt better after giving a massage than before they started. So, we started to wonder, how could we reliably feel better and better after every session?
And, is it possible to practice our healing art in ways where we actually feel more energized and positive throughout our career?
Several years ago, we decided we want to feel just as good giving to our clients, as our clients feel receiving from us. As a result, we now regularly make choices that have allowed us to grow nervous systems that can sustain larger amounts of positive energy for longer periods of time.
We are happy to share one of the most refreshing and energizing practices the exponentiates our goals: The Loop of Attention. This practice has the potential and power to dramatically change how you feel before, during and after every session.
But, before we get into the how to, let’s explore some common obstacles that can limit the amount of benefits massage therapists receive while providing massage.
Reversing Burnout is Ethical
Combined studies show that the average lifespan for massage therapists currently is between three to five years, and the most common reason therapists leave the field is because they get injured or feel burnt out (ABMP webinar by Brian Halterman: Self-Care with Kundalini Yoga and Meditation).
These facts alone seem to contradict one of the well-established ethical codes asserted by our industry:
Section VII. of the NCBTMB Code of Ethics advises therapists to:
“Conduct their business and professional activities with honesty and integrity, and respect the inherent worth of all persons.”
When we are being honest and integral, we authentically match our inner experience with our outward expression. In other words, we experience the full spectrum of our feelings, thoughts, and emerging impulses, and then accurately communicate these through our words, actions, and relationships.
It is out of integrity, for instance, to say yes (such as agreeing to a last-minute appointment) when you really want to say no. Or, continuing to practice a technique that is either uncomfortable or painful just because you know it feels good.
Giving until it hurts is an integrity leak. And yet, many therapists continue to give until it hurts.
Most therapists we know are outwardly focused on others, oftentimes to the exclusion of their own well being. Client-centered approaches are often misconstrued to place the client at the center of the therapeutic relationship, while placing the therapist’s well being, healing potentials, and opportunities for growth and learning at the periphery of the session.
We notice many therapists have difficulty creating balance between giving and receiving support; there’s a temptation in the service industry to inadvertently value others’ needs and wants more than our own.
To “respect the inherent worth of all persons”, it is incumbent that we find ways to include and extend the same respect and worth to ourselves as we share with all our clients.
We advocate including yourself, as much as your client, in all your therapeutic sessions. Respecting and valuing your wellbeing, as much as your clients’ wellbeing, are integrity moves.
Integrity may be defined as “a complete wholeness with nothing lacking” (Operational Integrity: The Gateway to Workplace Harmony and Velocity. By Kathlyn T. Hendricks, Ph.D. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D.)
If you’re beginning to feel in a state of lack (dissatisfied, tired, bored, etc.) while providing bodywork, you may need an integrity booster shot.
A powerful first step to experiencing your wholeness is to notice: “where is my attention?” Learn what entertains you the most. Is it: the past, what you have to do or buy, where you need to go, what you should have done or said, a repeating song, a worry or doubt, asking yourself, others, or the universe why, criticizing or judging what’s happening?
Where do you choose to invest your attention? What are your attention preferences? And, where do you go when you are not focusing on purpose?
“Giving and receiving attention deepens our connection to one another, to ourselves, and equally enhances the quality of our lives”. (Ted Talk: How the power of attention changes everything- Jeff Klein).
The word therapy is derived from the Latin word therapae, meaning to “attend”. Giving attention is therapeutic. Not only that, but attention is an essential nutrient for our wellbeing.
Indeed, children who are deprived of the essential nutrient of attention and particularly touch from their parents or caretakers will experience abnormal physical and/or psychological development. (David Linden -The Science of Touching and Feeling).
Likewise, adults who don’t have a well-established support system of friends or family to give them attention are shown to be at greater risk for physical and psychological challenges as they age. (Operational Integrity: The Gateway to Workplace Harmony and Velocity By Kathlyn T. Hendricks, Ph.D. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D).
When we develop a healthy balance of giving and receiving attention, we are “respecting the inherent worth of all individuals.” Giving and receiving attention not only inoculates us from feeling unwell and disconnected from others.
Practicing integrity skills that utilize your attention will help you magnify the healing potential of your presence.
You Can Heal with Your Presence
Have you ever experienced the healing presence of another person? Perhaps, you remember a time when you weren’t feeling the greatest or maybe you were going through a healing crisis. And then someone you care about enters your space.
Suddenly, and sometimes without even sharing a word, the experience of their presence immediately facilitates better feeling in you. Their presence creates a new possibility and an opening into healing.
The power of your presence can have immediate and lasting impact. The following practice called “Loop of Attention” is one of our favorite moves that fortifies our integrity skills and allows our practice to flourish with resilience, positivity and mutual well being.
Practicing the Loop of Attention
Several years ago, we were introduced to the practice of “looping our attention” by some of our favorite teachers Gay and Katie Hendricks (co-authors of the seminal book Conscious Loving, Conscious Living).
If you have been in a class with us lately you may have heard us talk about “looping” and how to practice it. The loop of attention generates more energy and flow to any moment and in any relationship.
Looping helps expand our awareness and exponentiate your healing resources. Looping can be done with the space around you, with another person, or even within yourself.
Whenever we consciously loop with our clients, family, friends, and even with the space around us, we experience smooth shifts into expansion, alignment, as well as a more reliable degree of trust in our intuition.
Looping Your Attention with Space
To practice “looping” with the space around you, begin by directing your attention to yourself for a few moments. Notice one thing about you, such as how you are breathing, or a body sensation or feeling, or how you’re holding your posture etc.
Now direct your attention to the space around you for another few moments. Notice one thing about the room, such as the color of the walls, or the air temperature or the way the light enters the room, etc.
Continue to direct your focus back to yourself to attend to something new or different, and then go outside yourself to focus on another new detail in the space around you. Oscillate your attention back and forth, in and out as often as you like.
You could even shift your attention at the rhythm of your breath: inhaling as you notice something within you, and exhaling as you notice something outside you.
Leave judgment behind you and simply notice as you loop your attention. Notice your feelings and become sensitively aware of signals from your body intelligence that arise from gently shifting your attention out and in.
We notice most massage therapists we encounter are very proficient at looping out. That is, many of our colleagues reference themselves by how other people are feeling, thinking, or acting, rather than inwardly attending to what signals are emerging from within their own body intelligence.
We also notice that most people feel drained when they focus exclusively in one direction or on one task over and over; like looping outward to the exclusion of giving ourselves the attention that our body and nervous system so dearly crave.
Looping Your Attention with People
You can also experiment looping with another person just as easily. First, notice something about yourself. Become aware of your breath, how you’re standing, or how you’re holding your head. Then loop your attention out, and notice the other person’s posture, breath, where they are moving or where they my be immobile or guarding, etc.
Pivot your attention from yourself to someone else. Continue shifting your awareness back and forth, each time allowing your attention to gently float to another new sensation, noticing or awareness. Your attention goes inside, and your attention moves outside.
Consciously shift back and forth to free yourself of judgement and criticisms and favor the powerful, resourceful, and creative space generated by the Loop of Attention.
“It’s amazing how much how little can do” said Hugh Milne, founder of Visionary Craniosacral Therapy
The Attention Game: Looping with Your Body Intelligence
If you notice you’re feel tired, cranky or low energy, there’s a good chance you are looped out and may need to receive some extra TLC.
Another way to balance giving with receiving is to direct more of your sensitive awareness towards yourself, rather than outside yourself.
Imagine this metaphor of giving to yourself: Imagine you’re a little kid with a bag of M&Ms. Each M&M is the attention you are going to share.
You may begin by giving one M&M to your friend, but then give yourself two M&Ms. And then you share another M&M to another friend and you share two more M&Ms with yourself!. In this attention game, you practice giving attention to others but mostly giving attention to you.
When you generously give yourself the healing gift of your own attention, the liberating and refreshing nourishment of your presence infuses you.
Next time you are feeling tired, out of sorts or bored, notice if you’ve been focusing outside more than inside or vice versa. The practice of consciously moving your attention can minimize feelings associated with burnout, while favoring feelings that arise from generating more possibilities.
Looping inside also grows our body intelligence, catalyzes presence and generates positivity. If you’re running on empty and beginning to feel burned out, play the Loop of Attention game.
We consider it a vital integrity move to establish a balance between giving and receiving attention. The integrity move of looping also reinforces the ethical standard that emphasizes giving the same value, respect and worth to yourself as you do to others.
Giving attention to yourself expands your capacity to share the incredible and infinite resources of your awareness, and also models giving exquisite care to yourself while giving exquisite care to others.
The revolutionary act of consciously looping your attention will shift your practice, deepen your connection to yourself and others, and can provide a key nutrient to feeling better at the end of every session!
About The Author
Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body wisdom. Nicole and Heath lead workshops and retreats throughout the country and overseas, like in Thailand and Mexico, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 16 years. In addition to live trainings, Heath and Nicole offer Massage Therapy and Self-Care videos, DVDs and online resources.
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