Step Three: Lighting the Track with Others
I remember when I was finishing up school, I was doing a show at Steep Theatre, and one of my castmates who was super into martial arts said, “Wow, it seems like this is a major lifestyle makeover for you.” It was. But I’d soon learn that the sweetest reward of this journey was less about me and more about how I related to others—specifically with all the amazing clients I have treated along the way.
Even without all the extremely personal discoveries I had made along the way, I still would have been an effective therapist and would have built up a roster of people to work on. It isn’t rocket science or some lightning bolt from the sky miracle; new therapists do it all the time. But, having all of those experiences affixed in my memory and freshly tattooed on my heart, gave me the ability to stop seeing people through the distant lens of a textbook; it enabled me to put myself in their shoes—to relate to them directly, and meet them where they are.
It will come as no surprise that a majority of my clients experience occupationally-related pain syndromes. Some of them sit at a desk and stare at a computer all day. They are: the graphic designers, students, CPAs, administrative assistants, and project managers of the world, plus, the Uber drivers, support technicians, and sales/merchandising supervisors, who are sitting in a car instead of behind a desk. Their backs throb, their necks hurt, and their fingers and brains sometimes go numb. Sometimes they are stuck in jobs that they hate, wish they had more time with their families, and often don’t know what to do when too many projects are due at the same time. Priorities seem to be relentlessly attacking them from every possible angle.
Others aren’t sitting, but instead are on their feet all day, working with their arms and hands for a living. They have just as much pain as the desk and car warriors do, though it manifests a little differently. Photographers are lugging around their gear (often hanging from the neck), repetitively clicking buttons with their fingers—both while they shoot and in the editing process afterwards. Nurses bend over to lift patients, render treatments, and document notes in patient charts. They are standing for countless and sometimes thankless hours waiting for the next emergency to start1. Chefs, stylists, bartenders, and my fellow bodyworkers are also suffering from overuse injuries from their occupations. They work in different industries and yet all have very few breaks, don’t have time to eat or drink water, and sometimes are not dealing with people who are their “best selves” because they are in pain, stressed out, hungry, intoxicated, or crunched for time. These lovely service providers are trying to keep up with public demands as kindly and efficiently as possible. They also wish they had more time outside of work to enjoy the people, places, and things they love.
Actors and performing artists are often very in tune with their bodies and inner emotional lives. They place a high value on the practice of self-care. After all, they are their own “instrument.” They may not be on the front lines of battle or surgically repairing gunshot wounds in the ER, but their occupation is still very emotionally and physically demanding. Some performers are punching in to work at a day job by 8am and performing or rehearsing all the way until midnight (after which many stay up to the wee hours of the morning recording voice-over auditions.) They are trying to keep their agents happy by showing up to any auditions they get called in for, while also trying not to get fired for “disappearing” from their jobs for a few hours in the afternoon. Others have made the leap to performing full-time, they no longer have to supplement their income with an unrelated job, but they constantly have to set boundaries, keep up with an insane and constantly-changing schedule, and learn to say “no” when they continue to get overbooked. These long hours take a toll on personal relationships, and often performers find themselves eating fast food, wherever they happen to be, sometimes miles from home, and at odd hours. Additionally, they sometimes have trouble letting go of the emotional work they built during their performance and start experiencing sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.
Athletes, like actors, are also very in tune with their bodies and keep self-care as a priority, but their challenges and struggles are often very different. Many of them have great coaches who guide them through rigorous training programs that seem impossible to people outside their sport. They learned something long ago that the rest of us could aspire to: when we focus on functional strength goals, aesthetic rewards (like “cut” shoulders and “tight” abs) just come along as an added bonus. They have stress: competition, long grueling hours of training, how to get by socially when many of them are on very prescriptive diets. While they experience the same strains on personal relationships that the rest of us suffer through, they have something that many of us do not: rock-solid community and support. They are surrounded by a team that feels like family, who are all working towards a common goal. Whether it is being with their tribe or simply all the endorphins they pump out, many athletes just seem happier than the average Joe. They are amazing role models when it comes to goal-setting, and the discipline it takes to follow through. They are also more prone to injury, because they test the limits of what they can do with their bodies every day, and they have an intimate knowledge of soreness.
New moms I have saved for last because they have elements of pain from almost every group I’ve mentioned above, and because ironically, they put themselves last: after baby, work, family, and ever-elusive sleep.
Pregnancy changes the body dramatically. And while OBGYNs are great about educating women on breastfeeding, sleep schedules, and hygiene following delivery, very few of them seem to mention how to rehabilitate the core or just how long it will take—especially following a C-section. This becomes really frustrating when women decide they want to “get their body back after baby.” The body they are in often feels strange, things that used to be easy are not, and things that shouldn’t hurt—like laughing, coughing, sneezing, and standing up—now do. And when we talk about conflicting priorities and multi-tasking, new moms should be our go-to experts. They will literally run down the street pushing the stroller, answering messages on a smart phone, to run an errand (in-between feedings), while dreaming about when (or if) date nights will resume.
I learn so much from my clients.
I am inspired by their goals, the challenges they over come, and the grace and humor that they share. I get to see up close, no matter their differences, just how much people have in common. They come from all walks of life, in different industries, all approaching different milestones. But they all have goals, challenges, and all deserve some relief. Some may root for the Bears, others for the Steelers, but they all have the same annoying knot in the top of the shoulder where it meets the neck…and about fifteen errands to run on the way home.
Getting to celebrate the successes on people’s journeys and offering a little comfort during the shitty patches is maybe the most meaningful part of my work for me—a far cry from where I started in 2007.
Part of my job is to create a space to look for the soreness, pain, and postural muscles that need to be addressed in bodywork, but the second part is to create an experience where people can be in touch with their true inner selves for a while. It’s good for the soul and the nervous system. This would not have been as clear to me if I had simply focused on the technicalities of massage training, without steeping myself in mindfulness, kindness, and gentleness—and making it part of my practice.
Transform Your Life…In as Many Steps as it Takes
By now you may see that transforming your life is far from ridiculously easy. For me it ranged anywhere from uncomfortable to utterly mind-boggling. The idea that there are only three steps to a transformation is also laughable. I mean, I guess if I had to break down my journey into three steps, they would be overly-ambiguous and trite:
- I let my life get so difficult and uncomfortable that I had no choice but to identify the problems
- I set (really, really) specific goals to solve those problems
- I surrounded myself with coaches, mentors, and a like-minded community to help me achieve those super-specific goals.
And this is where the final industry myth gets dispelled: true transformation is never complete. Wellness isn’t a final destination, it is an ever-unfolding journey that has to be re-examined and course corrected from time to time, especially after periods where I feel like all of my practices and routines have utterly fallen apart.
What I have discovered is that the best way to do this is not to beat myself up about it. I am not perfect, and I never will be (no matter what my inner-critic-and-part-time-drill-sergeant-voice may be saying.) For me, coming at these practices with a sense of humor, playful curiosity, and gentleness is the best recipe for success.
My biggest hope in life is to help others not make as many mistakes as I did, and so before I close out this post, I’d like to share the three main ingredients (Wellness Waffles, anyone?) of that recipe with you:
- Apply mindfulness and awareness to your habits—even when uncomfortable.
- Drink your water; nourish your body to be strong, your mind to be flexible, and your heart to be as open as possible—even when you don’t have time.
- Remember to hold your head up, breathe, and move—even while distracted.
What are some of your best practices?
Comment Below, I’d love to hear from you!