By Nora Brunner
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2010.
Advertisers and investment professionals are telling me the secret to improving my life is to give up my gourmet coffee. One pitch says if I sacrifice a daily $2.50 latte, I will have a king’s ransom in a year’s time. With so many people suggesting this approach for reallocating dollars, I’m starting to feel a little sorry for the coffee people. Still, the budget gurus have a point: We sometimes fritter away time and money because we aren’t making conscious choices. Here are examples of how some people have made massage a conscious choice in their lives, forsaking the latte, if necessary.
For some people, massage and bodywork are a critical part of their health and wellness strategy—an idea medical professionals are increasingly embracing. In a recent online survey, massage devotees talked about their commitment to regular massage therapy. These folks find a way to afford it, regardless of other demands on their resources.
“Getting massage has been part of my life since I was in my 20s—I’m now in my 50s,” says Los Angeles chef Gisele Perez. Once a modern dancer and now proprietor of a boutique catering company, she considers massage necessary to the career she loves. She finds massage helps resolve problems she’s grappling with and that solutions arise spontaneously in her thoughts while she’s on the table. “I think it maintains my emotional balance,” she says. Many massage clients report cathartic experiences when they finally allow themselves to fully relax. With so much of our lives devoted to what one spiritual guru calls “efforting,” it’s nice to know that letting go of it all can be just as productive, perhaps even more so.
Author Tricia Greaves of Los Angeles set a goal to have weekly massage and has followed through with it for four years. “I don’t spend a lot of money on myself in general, but massage is vital to my emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being,” she says. “When I’m through with a massage, I feel like everything is fine, everything will work out, and the spinning world does not rest on my shoulders.”
Some have come to massage because of injuries and found unexpected blessings in their situations. While many first-time massage clients have become acquainted with massage because of referrals from health professionals, there’s no need to wait for an injury to prompt you into forming the massage habit.
“I consider professional massage therapy an essential part of my best-life design,” says author and psychologist Mollie Marti, who suffered a whiplash injury several years ago in a car accident. “It’s been worth every penny,” she says of the work that has improved her range of motion and relieved muscle soreness, as well as offered deep relaxation, greater alertness and clarity, and a heightened sense of well-being. “I feel better and am happier and more at peace.”
Professional athletes also use massage strategically before events to help them achieve their best. Research also shows muscles recover more quickly after a workout. For weekend warriors, a massage can help recovery, or also serve as a reward for sticking with an exercise program. That’s doubling the return on your investment.
Research shows the cost of a massage has remained fairly steady in recent years, even as other popular pastimes have become more expensive. “Affording it” is a matter of priorities, or at least that’s the way 22-year-old Elizabeth Sosa Bailey sees it. She calls her modest Houston public radio station salary “practically a sneeze,” yet she manages to get a monthly massage. “My first massage was only 30 minutes, but I fell in love,” she says. “It’s worth it because it makes me happy.”
Being happy is only part of it, since studies show an ever-increasing number of health benefits massage affords (see “Massage for a Healthier You,” page 9). This is an instance where the pillars of intelligently managing your health—prevention and early intervention—come into focus.
If only math instructor Michelle Wehrwein of Frisco, Texas, had done things in reverse order. She reports that a pain in the upper part of her left buttock became so unmanageable she could not sleep or work. After an odyssey through 10 doctors, acupuncture, MRIs, pain pills, physical therapy, and surgery, a friend suggested she try massage. “It was honestly an act of God,” she says. “When I left the session, I had no pain at all.” Her massage therapist and new doctor finally concluded she had fibers under the skin’s surface that were tightening around a muscle, restricting her blood flow. Massage eased the condition. Despite the impact of her medical treatments on her finances, she is committed to the pain relief afforded by massage.
Attorney J. Kim Wright of Taos, New Mexico, stressed out over the constant demands on her time after founding a law practice 15 years ago. Those pressures, combined with having a large family at home, soon led to margaritas at a local watering hole with her staff every Friday after work. When coworkers started discussing an additional drinking night on Wednesdays, she got worried about the path she was on. A colleague recommended massage. She scheduled weekly massage appointments, a resource that also helped her cope with a divorce when her life changed direction. The sessions stretched her budget, but became her lifeline, she reports, adding that she often broke into tears the minute she walked through the door for her massage session. “It was the outlet I needed,” Wright says.
And whose careers and lives aren’t stressful these days? Even when we are doing jobs we love, there’s a stress factor in being challenged. It’s positive stress, but it sets off the chemicals in our bodies that help us function at our best. If we’re not happy in our work, it’s so much the worse on our health and well-being.\
Christine Stump used to work as a full-time paramedic and continues in a part-time capacity after adding yoga teacher to her career. Massage is how she maintains her emotional balance and avoids injuries that have disabled her coworkers in the “adrenaline-soaked world of emergency services,” she says. “I process my experiences with greater ease,” Stump says. “My monthly massage is a tremendous reset button.”
A Self-Care Experience
Author and teacher Charlie Adler of Washington, D.C., has been getting regular massage for 10 years, admitting that perhaps he enjoys his job a little too much. Adler is a full-time instructor in wine and cooking and can’t help but enjoy the fruits of his—and his students’—labor. Committed to holistic medicine, he says: “Massage is disease prevention for me. It seems wrong to me to wait until you get sick to go to a doctor.” The 47-year-old reports he often falls asleep in the middle of his session.
“As a ranked expenditure, massage is up very high,” he says. “It has a higher importance than going out to eat and cable TV … I rank massage equivalent with faith or religion, or maybe as one component of my belief system. I have missed massage for as long as three weeks just once in 10 years,” he says.
Former ballet dancer Luis Perez of Miami, Florida, has been getting massage twice that long. With 20 years of twice-weekly massage, he works in health and fitness, putting his money where his mouth is. “I have given myself permission to make myself a priority,” Perez says. “Sometimes I use the time to think and reflect and other times I simply ‘check out’ and allow my battery to recharge. I believe strongly that massage is an integral part of who I am and where I am today.”
Frankie Picasso first found massage after a motorcycle accident, spending five and a half months in the hospital because of broken bones. Now a writer toiling away at a keyboard, as well as working as a pain coach, she was also in the middle of a divorce and other life issues when the accident happened. A nurse ordered thrice-weekly massage and it reduced her need for prescription drugs by half. “I think everyone can benefit from massage,” she says.
Many people make massage a priority, and you may well be one of them. Know that you have chosen something with real value that benefits your health—both in body and mind.