Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mindfulness in the Therapy Room

This Blog is excerpt from a Massage Continuing Education Online Course I have Written called Mindfulness & Loving Kindness in the Therapy Room.  If you would like to purchase the full 6CE Hour Course to complete online you may do so here:

The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness in one's day-to-day life maintaining a calm awareness of one's body, movements, functions, sensations, feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and consciousness itself. In modern psychology Mindfulness has been expanded upon, and is described as a state of active, open attention on the present moment. “When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judgment. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” -Psychology today

Have you ever been driving along in your car with your radio blaring, half focused on the road, and day dreaming?  You begin to think about what you have to do at work tomorrow, what you ate for dinner last night, and you suddenly remember that your husband’s birthday is coming up next month, and you’d like to plan something nice.  When all of a sudden you arrive at your destination.  You have absolutely no idea how you’ve gotten there.  You were somewhere else for the entire commute, and you missed it.   Unfortunately this is very common. It is also very dangerous, yet this is how many of us go through life.

When it comes to our profession as massage therapists Mindfulness is the basis, the core of our ethics.  Without mindfulness, therapeutic massage is impossible.  If a massage therapist is lost in thought, “driving along” mindlessly over the client’s body, without awareness of what is happening for the client, it ceases to be a therapeutic or beneficial experience at all.  

Please ask yourself a few hard questions about your mindfulness in your practice:Lets  stop there and reflect.  Think about how this applies to you in your massage practice.  Without judgment please honestly answer the following questions:
  • Am I preoccupied while I work?
  • Are my clients my primary focus during their session?
  • Has my mind wondered off during their treatment?
  • Am I aware of what I am feeling (Physically & Emotionally) during their session?
  • Am I focused on my movements?
  • Am I focused on my body mechanics?
  • Am I in tune with my clients comfort level?
  • Am I focused on my intent?
Mindfulness is paying, precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it begins and ends.  Pay attention to your depth of pressure, the texture of the skin, facia, muscle fibers in every area worked.  Actively looking for and feeling for trigger points and energetic inconsistencies, Instead of focusing only on the minute hand of the clock in front of you. 

Imagine your client has been coming to see you weekly for months.  In her first few appointments you really were focused on the muscular issues that were associated with her chronic low back pain.  You spent each hour session focused on the specific muscles associated with her pain, and you had a genuine desire to make her feel better. Week after week you have gotten to know the client better through conversation.  Over time you find yourself looking forward to the client’s appointment because the two of you have so much to talk about.  7 weeks go by and the client’s treatment continues.  You realize that all this time has gone by and the clients not making progress.  Her injury persists. You suddenly become aware that while technically you had been massaging her for an hour a week for the past 5 weeks you were not focused and unfortunately ineffective. Chances are she notices as well.

In order to hone your mindfulness, try adding a daily Mindfulness Meditation to your routine before work. A step by step guide to how to do this is as follows:

Step 1: Setting the Environment

Just like with massage, there are certain conditions that are helpful for the practice of mindfulness. When we create the right environment it’s easier to practice.  It is good if the place where you meditate, even if it’s only a small space in your home or office, has a feeling of spirituality and sacredness. Choosing somewhere quiet, where you would not be disturbed is ideal, as any disruption will affect your practice.  If you are allowed, use your massage room for this. It is an ideal place.  We strive for the same qualities when creating our massage environment.  You can bring a cushion or Zafu to ease your comfort. 

Step 2: Beginning the Meditation
When you first begin to implement this practice, it is recommended to meditate frequently but for short periods of time—ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. For massage therapists, I recommend meditation ten minutes in the morning or before you begin your day and ten minutes in the evening after you have finished all of your sessions for the day.  Allow yourself to sit comfortably.  Quiet the mind (freeing it of all the monkey chatter) Take a few deep breaths and say to yourself “ I am here in this present moment”.  The goal of this meditation is to practice discipline and focus.  This initial statement serves as inspiration for that purpose.

Step 3: Posture
The Buddhist approach to meditation posture is that the mind and body are connected. It is believed that energy flows better when the spine is erect. In this position the energetic flow is modified and this change directly affects your thought process, by opening the mind. The most common meditation position is seated on a meditation cushion such as a zafu in a comfortable position with legs crossed and hands resting palm-down on your thighs or for more advance meditation practitioners use a mudra (hand position) of your choice. If you prefer you can use a chair for meditation, however you must sit upright and your feet must touch the ground uncrossed.

After being seated comfortably, our first goal is to get a sense of our own body.  Focus on feeling each of your individual parts.  Starting with your toes and moving towards your head.  Make sure your shoulders are level, your hips are level, your spine is lined up. We use this posture in order to remain relaxed yet awake.

Step 4: Setting Your Gaze
For strict mindfulness practice, the gaze should be downward focusing a couple of inches in front of your nose. The eyes are open but not staring; your gaze is soft. We are trying to reduce sensory input as much as we can.

Step 5:  Focus on your Breath
As you start the practice, you have established a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you draw your attention to your breathing. This is one of the most important factors.  The breath should not be forced, and you should be breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you more become relaxed.

Step 6:  Controlling your Thoughts
Especially for beginners, thoughts during meditation are inevitable.  No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should acknowledge it, recognize it was there, then send it away returning your focus to the present moment.  Its easy for us all to get lost in thought sometimes. Don’t judge yourself for this. Acknowledge that it happened, then refocus and continue your meditation focusing on your breath. The mind can be a wild thing sometimes and we have to recognize that as we learn to control it. This meditation practice is actually not about letting go of all thought.  Its about setting your focus on one specific thought or feeling.  In this instance you are asking yourself to focus on your breath.   

Step 7:  Returning to Daily Life   Whenever you feel ready, slowly begin to move your body (starting with your fingers and toes), change your gaze to look around the room and acknowledge your surroundings.  Slowly whenever you are comfortable and ready stand up and continue on with your day.  With each meditation try and take a little bit from it and bring it into your daily activities. 

Serenity Now Massage Therapy is designated as an Approved Provider of Continuing Education by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Provider ID 451758-11. All courses offered through Serenity Now Massage Therapy meet requirements for recertification, license renewal in North Carolina, and membership renewal for AMTA and ABMP. Be sure to check the exact requirements for your particular renewal situation.


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