Making Massage Fat Freindly

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I am blessed with all kinds of body sizes and shapes visiting Catalyst Massage.  Every day, we have the opportunity to treat pain relief, help people relax and feel good in their own skin.  I love the diversity of working on different body types–it keeps our practice strong and real, varied and interesting.

Many times I get asked what kind of body types I prefer to work with. I get asked if there are any body types that I am offended by or would rather avoid. I can genuinely say that I (nor any of the therapists who work with me) feel that any body type is offensive. A body to most massage therapists is a puzzle to unlock–we are concerned not with the outward appearance, but with the challenge that each body presents to us. How can we be most effective at relieving pain? What techniques are best used to address client’s complaints, and how can I make this client feel their best when they leave? The element of judgement simply does not come into play with a skilled and professional therapist. It is not within our scope or thoughts when treating our clients, and it should not enter into any part of our therapeutic relationships. When you are on our table, you are beautiful and perfect.

Fat Body Type and Acceptance
I do notice that there is a wide range of body acceptance among my clients (mostly women) who are what our society might term “fat”, and what the medical community would term “obese”.  I have had 300 lb clients who love the body they are in and it shines on them in confidence and joy. I have also had 120 lb clients who are physically perfect and look like models, but complain and apologise for their “imperfections” and feel ugly.  The term “obese” is a medical term. According to the CDC, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat. It is important to remember that although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat.

The term “fat” has been used previously in mainstream culture in a derogatory manner, usually associating the word with laziness and lack of self control. However,  “fat” as a descriptor is being reclaimed and revised in recent years by the very group it was aimed at, and is now increasingly being used as term to self identify the Fat Community without attaching stigma to the word.

Formerly, fashion and fitness were areas that the Fat community were shut out of and marginalized. But in recent years, trendy and cutting edge retail clothing stores that celebrate and specialize in fun fashion for the “fat” set, and Yoga Studios that cater specifically for health and fitness minded larger framed folks are starting to emerge.

Body Acceptance in the Massage Community
The majority of massage and body work practitioners have always promoted body acceptance and health at any size, but the massage industry in general has not done a great job of passing this message along to this audience. I have heard horror stories from some of my larger clients about rude treatment from Spa employees, inadequate equipment and supplies such as a lack of linens and robes that fit them (with no apology). At worst, therapists who try to lecture their fat clients about diet and exercise, and at best inexperienced therapists delivering work that was sub par for this group of people.

Dale Favier, an Oregon massage therapist that specializes in home massage, has this to say, about what your massage therapist should be thinking about the fat community:

“I understand that many people – erroneously, I believe, but that’s a different subject – think that obesity is a self-inflicted condition. But so what? We’re surrounded by injuries and conditions that are more or less self-inflicted. I see lots of people who have run on concrete until their knees or ankles are a mess. I see long-time smokers who have an eerie, system-wide dessication of tissue. I see desk workers who have so abused their neck muscles, by staring motionless at a screen for twenty hours a day, that they can no longer turn their heads. Do I suddenly get on my moral high horse and refuse to treat them? Turn them away in disgust? I do not.”

The massage therapy community needs to do a better job of reaching out to the Fat Community with the message that there is no judgement. Massage is health maintenance that everyone can benefit from, and I have read various message boards in the Fat Community that repeat the same insecurities and fears about therapists and Spas reacting badly to their size, creating anxiety and preventing this community from getting the work they need.

As a matter of fact, personally I prefer to work on people who are on the fat side, versus the skinny side. While I do not have any judgement on body types of any shape, I find that working on people with more fat requires less guess work on my part of how muscle/fat/bone ratio exists, and I can feel free to go deep or light where I need to during the session.

How to choose the Massage Therapist or Spa that you can feel good about
The Fat Girls Guide to Spa Services features an article on how to choose the right facility for you (ask the person on the phone about their experience with larger clients and about any special equipment and supplies they have), alleviate anxiety about your first visit by knowing what to expect (positioning, undressing and draping), and how to be extra comfy on the table during your massage.

Visit a Spa or Massage Studio and take advantage of any introductory special prices so that you can try out a few different ones until you find the one that fits you best. Call the facility and ask them about their experience with larger clients. Do they have larger tables and table size extenders for your comfort? Do they carry linens and robes that can accommodate your size? Are they familiar with bolstering and positioning for your comfort and to reach all areas of your body?

Do a little homework first, find a great massage practitioner, and start feeling great in the skin that you are in!

 

Living our lives (and thriving!) with menopause (naturally)

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Ah menopause! That harbinger of middle age for women, sometimes coming in like a lion and sometimes coming in like a lamb, but never the less proceeding in its inevitable march forward, whether we are ready for it or not.

I debated whether to title this entry “Living with…” rather than “Beating menopause…”, and in the end, I think it really IS about living with menopause rather than feeling like we are “beating” it. After all, you cannot “beat” menopause, but as a woman, you DO have to live with it.

The menopausal experience lasts an average of 3 years during the pre-menopause or “perimenopause” stage which occurs before menopause onset, an average of 5 years during menopause itself, and another 2 years post menopause. That’s 8 years of extreme hormonal fluctuation and physical changes based on estrogen and progesterone decline, resulting in a laundry list of over 42 symptoms. These symptoms  generally include: Insomnia, anxiety, muscle and joint pain, erratic or heavy periods, irritability, brain fog, depression, night sweats, headache and fatigue.

If you are in the age range of 37 to 53, checked off a few of these symptoms, and they seem chronic or follow a pattern, you may be experiencing menopause.

The image of a miserable older woman is one that comes up most often when we think of this stage of a womans life. Menopause is the “change” that we so often associate with older women who frantically rip off their clothing when a “hot flash” hits, or grumpy women snapping the heads off of thier husbands or children at the least provocation.

The prevailing belief in relief from many of these symptoms had been until recently, based on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women and doctors in the know  quickly abandoned pharmaceutical HRT when studies began showing that the health risks of HRT were proving to be more dangerous than the cure.

With the risks and dangers of HRT out in the open, women are now left to find healthier, less risky and more natural ways of living with their sometimes difficult menopausal symptoms. And although the symptoms of menopause can be extreme at times, there are a myriad of natural, gentle and healthy ways to live with menopause and not just “get through it”, but thrive.

Bodywork SolutionsA Massage Today article on menopause refers to the book Your Menopause, Your Menotype, and quotes naturopaths Angela and Mark Stengler “Remember, major hormonal and metabolic shifts occur during menopause. Your body needs adequate rest. The more you can relax, the easier the transition will be for you. Your stress glands (adrenals) need to be working optimally to make up for the shutting down of your ovaries.”

Many symptoms of menopause include insomnia, muscle and joint pain, depression and anxiety. Massage provides a proven buffer against all of these symptoms, with the added benefit of the release of seratonin dopamine, (the feel-good chemicals in our brains), and the reduction of cortisol (the fight or flight chemicals that amp up our anxiety).

Hydrotherapy and spa treatments such as pedicures and facials also help to promote a feeling of well being and outer beauty–something some menopausal women say is lacking for them during this time.

Diet and Exercise
You are having one of your “anxious” days, you didnt sleep well the night before, your calendar is overbooked with family and job obligations, you havent had time to clean the house, get the groceries, feed the pets, or pay the bills, much less time to spend cooking a healthy meal or going to the gym or your yoga class. Fitting in a good diet and exercise routine can feel overwhelming for the average menopausal woman.

And yet, fitting them in are crucial to living with and thriving during menopause, so what strategies are out there to help? According to experts at Holistic-online.com, “without doubt, exercise is the most important alternative therapy available to the menopausal woman.” They go on to say that exercise helps a woman control her body and emotions by using her internal resources: “Each time you exercise, your adrenal glands are stimulated to convert the male hormone adrostenedione into estrogen. A minimum of four, 30-minute exercise sessions a week will be enough to keep you ‘topped off’ with estrogen.” This, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of severe hot flashes. Exercise also helps tame stress and anxiety.

The things we eat can also help tame menopausal symptoms. Most particularly, there are many foods rich with natural plant estrogens, including apples, barley, carrots, cucumbers, flaxseed, licorice, olive oil, papaya, peas, potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes, and yams.  Excess sugar, caffeine, and processed foods such as fast food, and “junk” food make menopausal symptoms much worse, especially muscle pain and fatigue.

Aromatherapy
When getting your massage, ask your therapist about adding some Aromatherapy to your session. Some examples of aromatherapy plant essential oils that can be used in your treatment and inhaled for symptom reduction include: Basil which alleviates fatigue, lavender which works against insomnia, jasmine which fights depression, and sage which balances and eases tensions.

Other Herbal Options
Women have also found relief in herbal remedies such as Dong quai and Ginseng  for calming hot flashes, Black Cohosh and Rosehip Seed oil for allieving period fluctuations and cramping, and some tout the benefit of Wild Yam root to help ease tension and insomnia.

Vitamin supplements like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, flaxseed and Omega 3 oils help mood swings and keep your immune system healthy.

Live and thrive through menopause
Menopause doesnt have to be a scary and stressful 8 years of our lives as we mature. It does take some investment in ourselves, in loving and honoring our bodies where they are. Supporting ourselves by getting bodywork, eating right, investigating natural remedies and exercising on a consistent basis can help us  not only get through menopause successfully, but thrive during our peak years.