Friday, March 13, 2015



Last night I watched a CNN special report about bees.  I have always had a soft spot for bees—all kinds. I especially like bumble bees. I sat on a bumble bee nest once while gardening and only got stung a couple of times.  I would have been more upset if someone sat on my home.  When I finally stood up and the bumble bees exited, I had to chuckle because they didn’t chase me away -just wanted me to move.  I have a lot of respect for bees. My little yard around my little house is devoted to pollinators.  I have eliminated all grass and front, side and back yard are all planted with a variety of perennial flowers intermingled with annuals and veggies.  As spring creeps forward here in Michigan I am excitedly waiting to dig in the dirt.

The CNN report about bees presenting information about a variety of concerns related to a decline in bees. One especially caught my attention. Monoculture of huge corporate farms.  The bees need variety to obtain the nutrition they need and when used as pollinators on these vast fields of the same plant or tree, the bees become malnourished.  Monarch butterflies are declining as well because the milkweed found about the edges of small fields of the family run farms have been removed as the land use becomes more focused on monoculture. 

Michigan is a huge agricultural state. Each year there are fewer small family farms and more land being use by the huge agricultural corporations.  The organic farm or sustainable farming is growing in Michigan and this helps the bees.  I buy eggs, vegetables and honey from a small organic farm not far from my home.  I am really fortunate.  The farmers markets are really making a comeback as well.  I love going to the farm and getting my eggs.  It is organized chaos.  There is definitely a plan, but variety can appear messy.  There is a huge patch of milkweed as I drive in. The peacocks perch on the pickup truck. The bee hives are under the fruit trees.  The money is collected in a good faith box. There are flowers of all types mixed in the garden rows.   I hope you can get the feeling of this place.  The owners work the farm while at the same time holding down other jobs to make ends meet-real world.  I pay more for my eggs but I also have met the hens.

I have been a massage therapist for decades and have seen monoculture approaches to soft tissue methods come and go over the years.  I follow Facebook because it gives me a large view of what is going on in massage.  To me, a massage practice is like an organic farm.  Lots of variety and a practice build with different kinds of clients with a strong loyalty to service and sustained retention of clients. A client base like this is actually quite small. For years I have seen 15-25 clients a week but have a client base of about 30 people.  I have a specialty of sorts.  For years I have worked with professional athletes. Lots of NFL football players.  The make-up of American football teams included many different types of athletes: throwers, catchers, runners, wrestlers, etc. Lots of ages as well -rookies barely in their twenties, veterans pushing 40 years old.  And let’s not forget their families and pets. Lots of variety even for a specialty. I have worked with three generations of football players and basketball players and continue to work with those who are retired. 

Every once and a while an old perennial plant, such as rhubarb, need to be dug up, divided and transplanted. I am in that phase of my career right now.  Anyone who has grown rhubarb knows it is one tough plant and continues to produce for a long time. However, there comes a time when new shoots need to be nurtured and come into their maturity.  I am watching this occur in massage education and fertilizing a few emerging leaders in the massage community.

I am also an educator and a massage therapy education is best delivered like a small organic farm as well.  It disturbs me that massage education and practice has aspects of a monoculture.  It is much easier to teach a massage routine and follow a static set of rules than it is to teach massage therapy foundations, outcomes and critical thinking skills to create variety in a massage.  First, you cannot effectively provide an environment for critical thinking based learning in very large classes.  This is why a well-run small school or massage program with a committed and connected educational staff will be a better educational environment for massage students. Community colleges often have small programs. Certainly independent small schools have the potential to provide an excellent education.  

 In gardening there is this theory about companion planting.  Different plants growing in the same area benefit each other.   Sometimes different plants can compete for the same nutrients in the soil and end up scraggly.  I have observed some pretty scraggly education. 

Facebook has been interesting lately. My goodness, the massage misinformation abounds.  I have also been involved in multiple situations where one teacher says one thing and another something else with a confused student in the middle.  There are situations where a teacher will say “This is the book I have to teach from but the information is wrong.” And then proceed to teach and perpetuate myths.  Massage adapted for pregnancy. My goodness the stuff I have read and heard lately.  For example: Massage increased the immune function which then can attack the fetus, never massage in the first trimester, never massage the abdomen, never massage the spleen meridian and the points around the ankles. ALL FALSE!  Come on—all you have to do is a PubMed search base on these terms to find out how silly this is.

Massage is actually a lot like gardening. There are a few necessary elements. Soil –not just dirt.  The right amount of sun and water depending on the individual needs of the plant.  Room to grow surrounded by companions that help each other.  Pollinators such as bees.

 No-monoculture. I really get my fascia in a twist when anyone says that this is the only method you need.  It is all about the fascia. It is all about the nervous system. It is all about the energy. It is all about the therapeutic relationship.------- Monoculture massage usually involves a GURU. Sometimes the individual actually presents themselves as the one with the answer.  Well let’s get real----there is no one answer and I recommend you avoid any teacher who act like they do.  There is no brand new thing. We may learn more about something but IT IS NOT BRAND NEW.   There is no tool or apparatus that can cure anything.  Avoid gimmicks.

There are really good teachers or therapist that become teachers. Seek out really good teachers but DO NOT MAKE THEM INTO GURU’s.  This is really common. The students become followers—really dangerous. A really good teacher give you the tools to become really good at what you do.  We all out grow our teachers if we learn to become our own teacher. Good teachers will stay current and when information becomes outdated will stop teaching it.  Those of us committed to writing really good, peer reviewed, and ongoing revised textbooks, published by academic publishers have up to date information regularly. Content should valid as of the date of publication. Yes, between revision cycles information can change so all of us need to pay attention to current research in peer reviewed journals.  Revision cycles are every 4-5 years and this is when all the information is fact checked, outdated information removed and current information provided.  We authors are not perfect nor do we always agree especially if content is based on opinion. Yes we have opinions and those opinions bias the content but that is what peer review is supposed to catch and then we change it. Teachers and students should question information in textbooks using critical thinking and current information, but to totally disregard content because you do it different is not ethical. 

Probably the biggest issue in textbooks based on opinion is body mechanics.  WE NEED A  REAL ERGONOMICS AND BIO MECHANICS ANALYSIS OF MASSAGE PRACTICE.  IT IS A HUGE PROBLEM FOR CAREER LONGEVITY.  THE LEADERSHIP GROUP FOR MASSAGE AND ALL THE ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD BE ASHAMED THAT THIS AREA HAS NOT BEEN ADDRESSED.   I have made sure that the content presented in the textbooks I write is more than my opinion by using experts to analysis and review the content.  If a valid independent analysis finds areas in the content in the textbooks that needs to be change than great and it will be updated.

Then there is the ongoing and perpetuated confusion about massage income.  The last AMTA industry report did it again. The fee charged for a massage is not net income.  With more and more employment opportunity available for massage therapist WHEN is this miss information going to stop.  There also persists miss information about what makes an a massage therapist an independent contractor.  An independent contractor is a self-employed massage therapist.  MOST INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS WORKING IN MASSAGE SHOULD BE EMPLOYEES.  If you are a real independent contractor, you cannot be told what to do, what to wear, what to call yourself, what time you have work, what you will charge and you will provide massage in multiple venues without limitation. You will provide all your supplies, make all your own policies, collect all your own money and the percentage YOU PAY the location is for room rent and possible services such as receptionist.

If the conditions a massage therapist has do not meet ALL of the above criteria, then you are an employee not an independent contractor.  Those who contract with massage therapist often want to avoid having employees because of the expense to the employer. Every $1.00 an employer pays an employee cost the employer about $1.35 or more if there are some benefits such as paid vacation or help paying health care.  The employer must also be responsible for many safety and labor laws and regulations.

Continuing to perpetuate the myth that massage therapy employees are second class massage therapists and real massage therapists have their own business and make more money is becoming like neurotoxin based pesticides. Yes there are areas where employers need to respond and they will because pressures will make them BUT there are many more areas where massage therapists and those that teach them need to get REAL and up-to-date.  We also need, as a profession, to get REAL about income potential for massage therapists based on the current educational model. 

I am just fine with vocational level education and I think it best serves the client base and massage profession as a whole.  I am just fine with a full time entry level income of $ 25,000 (tipping environment) 30,000 (non-tipping environment) I am just fine with full time 40 ish. hours a week meaning providing 25-30 hours of actual massage during that time.  If someone works less hours then they will make less money.  There are avenues for advancement now available for those who want specialization, academic degrees and so forth and then if an individual obtains these credentials they should make more money. In my opinion those that are saying you can make six figures doing massage are not telling the whole story.  With experience, a loyal clientele and increasing skill I know a massage therapist can make $50,000 net a year (still nave to pay income taxes) but you have to work more than 40 hours and you better be flexible.   

In my opinion the most valuable path of service for massage, that will have the potential to touch the most people, is the vocationally trained massage therapist who has learned how to provide an excellent, general, nonspecific massage with lots of adaptive variations using the basic fundamentals, can meet 4 main outcome goals-wellness/relaxation, stress management, pain management and functional mobility and knows how to function in a variety of practice settings from the spa to the fitness center to the hospital and everything else in between .

This type of practice involves a variety of adaptations of the fundamentals compassion and service—not monoculture modalities.  Yes I know that appreciating a single bloom is occasionally satisfying but a bouquet picked just for me by my Granddaughter is special.