This is my very first blog post. After racking my brain, and feeling a lot of pressure about it, I decided that my blog posts may include sciencey stuff, but that I’d prefer that it was more personalized. Hopefully it reaches the hearts, in addition to the minds of therapists in my beloved profession. I hope you find my writing unpretentious, raw, and relatable.
That being said, I can’t think of a better place to start than from the very beginning.
Semi-regularly, a patient of will ask me why I became a massage therapist. I wish I had a story that began with something like “well…it all started from an early age…” or “I broke my femur, and the only one that could help me manage the pain was my amazing massage therapist”. These are common stories, and they are remarkable tales that lift the heart and stimulate the imagination. My story isn’t so inspiring.
It was 2003ish, and I was dispirited from missing an opportunity to perform rock and roll covers in a hotel in Japan for $400 USD/night. My agent at the time strongly encouraged me to try again soon because the client thought I was great, but someone just got there before me. I was bartending at the time, and after 9 years in the service industry, I had a hard time picturing myself being happy as a 40-year old bartender. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great career, it’s a ton of fun, and you can make a mint if you keep your nose clean. I just didn’t think it was the right fit for me.
My best friend at the time and roommate was dating a woman who practised massage part-time. When I found out how much money she could make in such a limited amount of time, and that she could make her own schedule, I was hooked. I thought, wow! What a great way to make money working part time so I can focus on what’s really important to me, my music! I called WCCMT in New West and asked about the program. The receptionist asked me what program I was interested in, the spa program or the RMT program, to which I responded by asking…”Uuuh, I don’t know, which one is better?” The receptionist laughed a bit, and said that “the RMT program is a lot longer” (at that time 29.5 months, and 3000 hours, plus a biology upgrade). I said, sure! Sign me up for the longer one. I mean, in for a dime, in for a dollar, right?
6 months later I was drowning in neuroanatomy.
I almost failed the peripheral nervous system class. I received a grade of 70%. There was a 70% passing grade, and if you got 70% on the nose, it pretty much means that the teacher cut you a break. I was woefully underprepared for what I was getting myself into. My teachers were amazing though, and many of them don’t know that I still draw inspiration from them today. They had grit, they had the knowledge, and most importantly they had wisdom.
Something unexpected happened in the 3rd semester. I was inspired by the gents teaching the General Orthopedics class. It hit me all at once! Suddenly, I realized what all the hoop jumping was for, and that all the anatomy and physiology I was learning was serving a greater purpose. I could really help people with this information!
The transformation was quick and dramatic. I realized that if my patients only understood, and had all the right information to make the right decisions, they would do so, right? Right? Wrong. It took me an additional couple of years of practice to understand that people who have all the “right” information don’t usually suddenly decide to make the “right” decisions. Essentially, that part is about my ever continuing journey to try and come across as less of a jackass. More on this later.
Before I knew it, my guitars were collecting dust, and though I never expected it, I fell in love with something else. Manual therapy was so fascinating! Every day, I was taking part in what could only described as a semi predictable natural phenomena. Basically, I was a body magician. I was a healer! I was deeply in love with the orthopedic model, and committed to knowing everything about it. It was seductive, and full of promises. The ortho model did however, eventually let me down, but more on that later. I grew a small library, and vowed to study every single day. First, I read, and re-read all the main textbooks from my education at WCCMT. Then, I bought more, and more, and read them all cover to cover. I used to download course outlines from UBC, and see what their Kins and PTs were reading, so I could get some higher quality reference texts. I would buy textbooks on manual therapy, exercise physiology, biomechanics, and strength and conditioning. I carried these books with me everywhere so I could read any chance I got. I read on the bus, on a break at work, and so many hours at home. I wasn’t worried about knowing everything now, but I was studying for the practitioner I wanted to be in ten years.
I started teaching in January 2009 and was honoured to be asked to be the “Subject Matter Expert” for the most prestigious massage therapy college in the country. It was a really special time for me. The incredible team I was honoured to be a part of was dedicated to making things better. Wow! We did some great work transforming the culture, and the program at the college. My heart is full of fond memories, and I am enormously proud of the work I got to be a part of.
A secret that you probably don’t know about me is that I might have the worst case of imposter syndrome. I always thought I was kind of a block head. I mean, I know I’m intelligent, and I definitely have street smarts, but I never ever considered myself what people might call “book smart”. I still don’t. I’m moderately dyslexic, and reading has always been a challenge for me. It takes me longer to read than most people. I’m still insecure about it. Reading aloud still makes me nervous. Any one of my ex-students can testify that spelling is a second language to me. I always struggled in school, and I didn’t even finish high-school until I was 23. The catalyst for that decision to finish high-school was starting the RMT program.
The lessons I learned through that journey were:
Don’t hitch your wagon to one horse. It’s okay that my greatest passion in life was music, and now my guitars are collecting dust. If I had been stubbornly adhered to my desire to be a musician over all else, I wouldn’t have gotten to be a part of this community of imaginative, compassionate, artistic, empathetic, and wonderful people. If I took that trip to Japan, maybe I wouldn’t have become a teacher, and wouldn’t have this amazing career. So far, teaching was hands down the most exciting, and rewarding part of my career. I am endlessly passionate about it, and my heart is so full because of the colleagues, and students I had the honour and pleasure of working with.
Smart is work. Plain and simple. Study every day, even if it’s just a little. Study for the practitioner you want to be in ten years. If you take small steps every day, they add up. I promise. Personally, I needed to upgrade my understanding of clinical research methods before I could better understand the research I wanted to read. I just googled what books they used at UBC for their MPT program, and used those. After that, it’s just practice, practice, practice. I also found that social media can be helpful for finding quality information. Social media has allowed me to be in the company of, and have access to people that are way smarter than me. That’s been really helpful. If you find someone who is doing work that inspires you, find out what they’re reading.
That’s how it all started.
In closing, my story is not about why I became a massage therapist. It’s about why I stayed a massage therapist. I still believe in the magic, the power of intent, touch, and have a much deeper appreciation for the therapeutic value of listening.
I plan to post article reviews, personal opinion, and professional posts. If you have any ideas for important issues you would like to see discussed, please email those ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of you that know me know that I love hip-hop culture. “Hip” is a state of mind, to be up to date, and relevant. “Hop” is a movement. So, Hiphop is knowledge n motion – KRS1
I’ll close with this quote that I adapted for our profession. It speaks to the deep sense of responsibility that I feel for the profession.
We gon’ get it together right? I believe that.
Listen…people be askin me all the time,
“Yo T, what’s gettin ready to happen with Massage Therapy?”
(Where do you think Massage Therapy is goin?)
I tell em, “You know what’s gonna happen with Massage Therapy?
Whatever’s happening with us”
If we smoked out, Massage Therapy is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Massage Therapy is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Massage Therapy like it’s some giant livin in the hillside comin down to visit the townspeople
Me, you, everybody, We are Massage Therapy
So Massage Therapy is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Massage Therapy is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?
Til you get a clear idea
(Adapted from Yasin Bey’s Fear not man”)