Being Mindful

Taking care of your emotional and mental health is as important as caring for your physical health.

By Mary Beth Braun, November 16, 2010

Close up of knee and hand and thumb making circle

Perhaps, in the beginning of your massage career, it is less obviousthat caring for your mind and spirit are equally important to your overall well-being. The longer you practice, the more you know that it is essential, if not critical, to take care of your mind and spirit in addition to your body.

In fact, working one on one with people, day after day, week after week, year after year requires caring for all three areas—body, mind and spirit.

Many activities can help you take care of your emotional and mental well-being. Following are a few way to keep your emotional and mental health at the top of your priority list.

Keep Your Brain Active

You may think you’re finished learning once you receive your massage certificate, obtain your massage license and begin practicing. The truth is, you’ve only just begun.

Working with your clients will almost certainly present you with situations that don’t fit into the assessment and treatment tools you’ve learned in school. According to Christopher Sovereign, owner of Albuquerque and Santa Fe Medical Massage and Sovereign Seminars, the first solution is to master the information you already have. “For example, you most likely learned anatomy and physiology in school,” he says. “However, continually studying it over and over using different resources will help you master it.”

Equally important to working on mastering a topic or technique is making a commitment to being a lifelong learner. A lifelong learner reads, takes continuing education classes to learn new things, and practices techniques over and over to improve themselves, their massage techniques and sessions.

Keeping your brain active also requires you to be interested in the world around you and feeding your mind just like you feed your body nourishing food and drink. The question you need to ask yourself is simple: what are you feeding your mind? Are you reading good books, watching massage DVDs, having great conversations with other massage therapists about client issues and challenges, as well as learning about massage research? The more good stuff you feed your mind, the better. That’s not to say there’s no place for mindless activity, such as catching up on your favorite reality TV show after a hard day. The key is to tip the scales in favor of the good “mind food.”

Reduce the Clutter

Decluttering your life will go a long way to ease your mind. Clutter creates a certain amount of chaos in your life, not to mention mental stress. Simply put, a cluttered life and physical space equals a cluttered mind. Think about how you feel when you walk into your office space and there is a stack of papers, a basket of laundry to fold, or whatever it is that creates a sense of visual overstimulation. The solution in the most elemental sense is to think simplicity.

Begin by doing a major decluttering of your office, massage room, personal living space and car. You may initially feel overwhelmed, but the key is to just start. Set a timer and work for 15 minutes. Then gradually increase this time to an hour or more if you can. Focus your attention on getting rid of things that you don’t need or absolutely love in your space.

Once you’ve done your major clean, make a habit of revisiting this activity every three to six months.

Be Prepared

In the seeming unending urgency that permeates modern life, being prepared might be the pivotal element in your plan. The key is to launch and land your day with extra time and planning. Launching your day means to plan time to ease—not rush—into your day. You should always leave enough time to eat a good breakfast, plan your day and settle in once you get to work.

It’s equally important to end your day by slowly transitioning from work to home, or wherever you might be heading. For example, you might want to:

  • Take 20 minutes to wrap up your day at work—change sheets, restock room, fill out bank deposits, return e-mails and phone calls
  • Once home, eat a nourishing dinner and do whatever it is that helps you wind down
  • Develop a bedtime ritual that helps you shut off your mind, like reading, listening to soft music, having a white noise machine in the background, or taking a hot bath or shower

The idea of not rushing from one activity to the next might seem foreign to you at first. However, you’ll enhance the care of your mind and spirit, not to mention decrease the likelihood of overstimulating your nervous system, when you give yourself enough time to properly start and end your day.

Have a Plan

As a massage therapist, you need to be able to recognize burnout—and when you might be experiencing symptoms of this condition. In a word, burnout is depletion. More formally, it’s a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion due to extreme, prolonged stress.

When you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of your life, you lose interest and motivation. Further, you decrease energy and often feel spent. Burnout often comes on gradually with extended periods of stress and overload in your schedule and life.

Be Authentic

“The most important part of caring for your mind and spirit is to be authentic to who you are,” says Barb Frye, author of Body Mechanics for the Manual Therapist. Essentially, if you disconnect from yourself and your belief systems, you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice.

Being true to who you are comes out in your massage sessions. If you are a yogi, bring the essence of those traditions into your massage practice. If prayer is your thing, make time for daily prayer, whether after work or before each massage session. Whatever it is, make the practice a part of your spiritual routine.

This is not to suggest that you attempt to persuade your client to take part in your belief systems. It’s all about allowing yourself to be richly nourished in order for authenticity to come out in your massage sessions.

Be Mindful

“The next big movement will be all about mindfulness,” believes Eric Stephenson, massage therapist and owner of iMassage. In fact, some universities and medical clinics are incorporating some form of this idea into their patient programming.

Mindfulness is waking up and being fully alive and present in each moment of our lives. More deeply, this practice involves being openhearted and living moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “its only requirement is that you be motivated to realize who you actually are and to live your life as if it actually mattered."

Practicing mindfulness can allow you to discover your deepest inner resources in order to better handle daily stressors, and connect more fully with yourself, your friends, family and colleagues. While there are volumes of books and information on mindfulness, the easiest way to begin is to focus on your breath. Sit, lie down, or take a walk and focus on your inhale and exhale. Take a few minutes each day to calm your body and mind. Then, expand your practice in whatever way feels comfortable for you and your life.

The Sound of Silence

Spending time in silence each day nourishes your mind and spirit. Too much noise and sound not only requires energy but, over time, may cause the senses to shut down. Taking at least 10 minutes to be silent each day increases clarity, calmness and creativity for not only your life, but also for your massage practice.

One form of directed silence you might try is Transcendental Meditation (TM). TM is a meditation practice done twice a day for 20 minutes while sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. This practice allows your mind to settle into a state of restful alertness where you discover a silent and peaceful awareness of your inner self. In this state, your mind becomes more focused, and you’ll eventually find a deep state of rest.

While TM is taught formally, you may begin meditating by settling into a comfortable seated position, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing for 20 minutes. If 20 minutes seems impossible, start with three minutes or whatever feels comfortable to you.

Additionally, or in place of meditation, you may incorporate other rituals in your time of silence, such as prayer, lighting a candle, focusing on your own personal mantra or whatever works for you in accordance with your own belief system. The point of silence is to stop doing and just be for a few minutes each day. The goal is to quiet your mind and spirit and attain a deeper state of relaxation and clarity in your thinking.

Ultimately, taking care of your mental and emotional health can help you feel more fully alive, while diminishing the chance of burnout and increasing your career longevity. Who knows, you may even be enlightened!

Or at least, enlightened to what you need to nourish your mind and body.


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