Trust Your Gut and Check Your Tires

Bodies are not cars, massage therapists are not mechanics, but today I’m going to tell you a little story about my car. Stick with it, there’s a point.

I bought my car brand new. I am the only owner and with a few exceptions, the only driver. It’s an older car but a couple of years ago it only had about 84,000 miles, much less than other cars its age. While it’s a cheaper car, with its own quirks, I haven’t really had problems until about two years ago.

Green Road Sign - Follow Your InstinctsIt started to feel funny to me. It struggled a bit when I was driving and then it started shaking just ever so slightly here and there. It also started to sound to me like it was louder, or maybe I had turned the radio down to see if I could hear something different, but this shaking. I knew it wasn’t good.

I finally decided to take it to a mechanic that a friend recommended, and he did some repairs to help the engine shake. I was relieved until I drove it.

It felt like he found the raging lion and caged it but now the car really shook. He didn’t know what else to do.

My friend at the time started calling it the happy car because it vibrated so much and we laughed, but I wasn’t really laughing so much. I was secretly really scared that something was majorly wrong, and it was either going to be really expensive or require a new car, which I wasn’t prepared for although I did start looking.

I took the car to someone else who really did nothing but didn’t charge me anything either. It still shook.

I took it back when a second issue occurred that wasn’t related, and I reminded them of the shaking. They didn’t fix either issue, but it didn’t cost me much.

I took it somewhere else where they redid the first thing that was done, fixed the second issue, and tried a couple of other things. The nice man at the counter spent a lot of time telling me what good shape my car was in and how rare it was to have a car that age that had so low miles. I should be happy. That’s great because getting a new one wasn’t really in the cards.

It still shook.

I took to inviting random people to sit in my car to see if they had advice for what I could do. I got some new ways to describe what might be going on. It still shook, sometimes more than others. I was starting to feel like it was all in my head.

Most people just told me it was age. That became a pretty common comment.

Others recommended I buy used cars, but usually the ones they recommended had more miles than mine. It didn’t make sense to me that mine would be such a bad car that I needed to get rid of it and get something else with more miles.

I started googling to see if I could tell the professionals what it needed. I was able to do that with a different car before. I discovered that it might be part of a known issue that no one knows how to really fix. Turns out that might describe the loud engine, but not the shaking.

Sometimes it seemed to not shake as much. I kind of got used to it until it would seem to get worse and I would get worried. People started joking about the problem that only I knew about.

I resolved to use it until whatever problem the shaking was a symptom of showed up as a real identifiable syndrome, or at least it got worse.

It did, on a rainy night on a hill in another town, my back end slid a bit. I thought maybe I needed new tires, so I looked, and the front ones looked kind of worn to me, maybe the back ones too. Heck, I don’t know if I even know what tires should look like, so I decided to have the tires checked and maybe the brakes too. I was just really at a loss and I needed help.

I took it to a place that sells tires that also has done some of my oil changes and had seen the car earlier. The guy at the front told me he checked my tires personally because he didn’t trust the other people working there to do it. I felt so taken care of and secure.

I saw the tires were off and then back on again. He was so nice as he explained that my tires looked worn on the front and fine on the back, but it was all okay and I had time to replace them. There was no need to do it right then. I could wait. It was good.

I felt great. I had the expert give his opinion and I followed his advice. My car still shook but it was only old and okay. It must just be in my head, everyone is right. It’s me. I’ll just do what they say.

Then I had another scary incident where my car had trouble getting traction on a steep hill. It shook more, that shake that was so familiar by now but getting worse.

I needed to do something, so I resolved to try one more place. I held on the wheel with both hands because was this where the shaking was all along? Is it spreading? Is it getting worse? I can’t even remember because there’s just always been this shake now.

I prayed I’d make it and I did. Thank goodness, I finally did.

What I discovered was my front tires were separated. The left one fully and the right one almost fully. I got new tires. I drove it home. My car no longer shakes, it no longer vibrates, like it has for two years.

It’s still old. It’s still kind of loud, it has a bit of a rough idle that no one could fix either. It has character, but it doesn’t shake, and it doesn’t worry me like it did. I feel like my concerns were finally laid to rest. I know what was wrong. That ‘something is wrong’ feeling is gone when I drive it. Someone else drove it today and couldn’t believe the difference.

This time I got my car to someone who knew what was wrong the minute he turned my car on.

I knew my car. I knew something was wrong and the experts all kept telling me it was old. I got the same story over and over until I found someone with experience with the issue I had.

I can’t help but think how much this story is like the health care system when your body starts aching, hurting, or not functioning properly.

You know it isn’t right, so you take it to your primary care physician thinking there will be answers and what you often get is a lot of trial and error. A lot of experimenting and testing. Or maybe you take it to other people who know different parts, which might have been recommended by your Dr. or friends. Or maybe you go out on your own self-directed journey of alternative practitioners.

Everyone looks at it from the lens they know. They evaluate, not on a grand catalog of knowledge, but on what they know and what their unique experience and education is. They might try something and when it doesn’t work, like the first guy who had my car, tell you they don’t know or it’s out of their field of knowledge.

They might not really listen to you like the second place I took my car to. The place that didn’t really do anything.

You might start researching and reaching out to others who have similar experiences with varying degrees of luck. Google MD, anyone?

You might find someone else, who really listens, who really tries. A person that lets you know it should be all okay even if what they do doesn’t solve everything, or even anything. It may just help you to feel better, even temporary.

It’s so often the case when you hurt, or your body doesn’t work the way you know it should, that you don’t find help until you find the person who has been through what you are experiencing or has the right set of tools for the issue that you have. They are like the guy who got in my car and really knew what it was.

It was the tires all along.

But here is the deal, the important part of this story is that I knew something wasn’t right. I was the one who kept on the journey to find the person I needed even though I was frustrated and wanted to give up. The important part was my knowing, even though I didn’t have a clue as to what it was, I was the one who knew it wasn’t right.

Now, I would love to send everyone I knew to the guy who knew what the problem is but he isn’t going to solve everyone’s issues. Just ones within his realm of knowing, his realm of expertise. People with issues like mine.

When we go to Drs and alternative health providers, so often we think they can do and know everything. We do it with all things related to health and self-care because we have such a strong desire for there to be one answer.

We have so many options because one answer doesn’t fit everyone in every situation.

Keep looking for the option that works for you. Don’t give up.

Don’t let the process get you to doubt yourself. You have the capacity to know what is best for you. If there is any confusion, it’s because you have been taught to doubt yourself, not because you don’t know.

How Often Should I Receive Massage?

This is a bigger topic than you may realize.

My life changed when I asked this question to a practitioner who responded, “I believe you know your body best.” He was both right and wrong.

I am a practitioner who works with wellness. That means that I work with people who use massage on a regular basis to improve their quality of life. It means that I see massage as being most effective as a support to your overall health and wellness in preventing injury and living a full life and this for me is the sweet spot of where I work.

What does that mean in relation to how often you should come for massage?

It means that you should include massage as a regular part of your health care.

In my thirteen years of practice I have witnessed the shift of massage to focus more and more on pain and pain management. It’s a great place to start and pain is often an initiating factor in people seeking bodywork. However, pain is not the only reason to get massage and I think that is getting lost.

Massage has the capacity to offer many benefits besides pain relief and alleviation of physical tension. It helps to temporarily lower blood pressure, it increases relaxation, can help you sleep better, it can help you function better doing the things you need and love to do, and my favorite, it can help you to become more aware and ideally accepting of your body.

One of the things that I think is really important to consider when deciding how often to receive massage is how much variety in movement do you experience in your day to day life? If you sit at a computer all day and walk on a treadmill for exercise, you likely do not experience a great deal of variety in your movement and your positioning. You need massage.

If you are active in an activity that does the same postures or movements over and over again; think driving, golfing, archery, crafting, sewing, holding a child on the same hip, you could benefit from massage to balance out the effects of the activity you do on your body.

If you have areas of your body that are in distress, as in you are experiencing pain and/or tension, there is a good rule of thumb to come more regularly. Typically you want to come in before you hurt again. By returning before pain returns or gets as bad as it was, you start to break the cycle of pain. For some that might mean twice a week, or once a week. As you improve, you can start to increase the distance between sessions. This will likely require movement, stretching and/or self-treatment to do between sessions.

You might also consider how often you receive touch. We live in a world that is becoming less and less touch friendly and touch is very important. Studies are showing that people who are touch deprived tend to be less happy, more prone to depression and stress, and in general can have greater health issues.

On average, my clients discover that regular massage anywhere from weekly to every six weeks helps them to counteract the effects of their lifestyle, helps them to reorient to their body, increases their overall sense of well-being, improves relaxation, and gives them the support they need to engage in the activities they enjoy while remaining relatively pain and tension free. The typical average is between three and four weeks.

If you only get massage a few times a year, that’s great, but it could be better. A few times a year, is more like getting a treat and less about wellness and prevention.

So, ultimately, my approach is a more collaborative one where I hold the space that ultimately you have the capacity to know your body best and your body knows how much massage can aid in your ongoing wellness.

One approach that I would encourage would be to go direct and ask your body.

  • Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, close your eyes, settle within.
  • First, say hello to your body. Thank it for supporting you in your life’s journey.
  • Ask; what do you need to feel supported? Would you like massage?

It might take awhile, and it might be hard to detect at first, but your body will let you know. It might be a knowing, you might hear it, maybe you will see yourself being massaged. The parts of your body that need attention might just ache more, or feel tight. That is your body speaking to you. Listen and follow through. It can be that simple.

Body Talk

I hold a monthly group meditation. At the beginning of each meditation, I ask the group to go within or to turn their attention to the inside and check in with their body. We might spend some time scanning or noticing different parts and how they interact with the environment. For example, I might say, “Notice the pressure of your feet on the floor.”

Always, I say, “Now say hello to your body and see if you get a response back.” Yoga

In general, we spend a lot of time in our minds, meaning we think a lot. When you check in with your body, you start to notice different, sometimes new things. Even though I have spent a lot of time, doing different techniques, to be more present with my body. I fall into this trap too.

For over a year I have had difficulty with a shoulder, which means it hurts sometimes and along with that hurt, it doesn’t move quite the way it needs to. This limitation has led to other things in my body bothering me. Now, I’m trained in injury treatment, so my mind got busy.

I did self-treatment with a ball and S-hook. I heated and iced it.  I did exploratory movement. I stretched it as much as I could. To my surprise, I started noticing how naturally I was adapting daily activities to compensate. I found myself in a frustrating wave of improvement and detriment. Overall though, it was showing some improvement in a way that was encouraging, so I kept at it.

I realized, though that I needed help. I went to other practitioners. I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong and with varying levels of success, I did get help. Things got even better but I was still frustrated because I couldn’t find someone who was able to effectively do what I knew I needed and meet the frequency that I knew I needed.

During a monthly massage with an amazing, nurturing, and skilled practitioner she asked if I wanted some work to my shoulder and I confessed that I knew I needed it, but I really came to her because her work reminded me of why I wanted to be a massage therapist. My heart was yearning for nurturing touch that spoke to my soul and told me I was okay; bum shoulder and all. But yes, please, stick your fingers in my armpit. As she did, I told her what I thought I needed and what I had done and what wasn’t working. There were tears in my eyes.

She suggested trying out a lot of different therapists to see what each would do, how they would approach the situation and as an added benefit it would give me a great referral base for clients if I needed to refer out. It’s actually a great idea for a therapist to do and it’s one I may do soon, but not while my shoulder hurts.

As I let the suggestion roll through my mind, my body started to speak. I asked it what was up, and I felt fear. I felt vulnerable.  I realized that my body didn’t want to endure a lot of different touch that it was uncertain about. It didn’t want me to gamble on this. My body needed more than anything to feel safe and nurtured. My nervous system needed support and it needed it something other than direct, ‘feel good pain’ to be whole again.

I reached out to a friend and got a referral to someone who did work like that. Someone who probably wasn’t going to stick her fingers in my armpit no matter how much I begged and wanted but someone who would hold the gentle and slow space to allow my nervous system to let go of the fear and the guarding. I made an appointment and my shoulder started to improve before I saw her as other parts of my body began to respond and thaw with some gentle, curious, exploratory movement I began to allow instead of demand. My body was starting to trust me more.

I saw this new person for the first time today and she held me softly and gently, but securely, while she moved my arm and did other things. She invited me to notice my body both with her touch and verbally. My body trusts me a bit more because I finally listened. My shoulder feels more a part of me. The whole side of my body feels integrated, elongated, and expanded.

Tonight, I was able to reach behind my back and take my bra off with both arms for the first time in months. It’s not fixed, it’s not perfect, it is so much better. I feel throughout my body some new sense of hope and connection, it’s like rebuilding a bridge between parts of myself. Another practitioner once told me that I needed to welcome back in wounded parts of myself and this was a version of that. I was supported in that welcoming, in becoming whole. I share that story a lot with my clients in hope that it will spark something in them to be kinder, more gentle, and welcoming to the disparaged parts of themselves.

My mind was wrong about what I needed. I had been turning in for so long to what my mind thought that it drowned out the sound of my body and what it truly needed.

I believe that is true for a lot of my clients as well. We live in a world that likes to solve problems and when our bodies offer up pain and dysfunction, it’s a problem, so we look for a fix, something that makes sense, something our mind says sounds logical, or right. But the truth is that can bypass the wisdom of our body and result in maintaining disconnection. It’s like putting all the blame on a child that is getting in trouble and not addressing the family dynamic that feeds into it.

Years ago, a practitioner changed my life when he said, “I think you know your body best.”

It’s taken all those years, a lot of work on my part, and some great patience and grace from a few others, for me to realize our minds don’t know, our bodies do, and most of us are listening to our minds and we must learn to attend to our bodies in a new way so that we can hear them again.