Of course, my first recommendation is to really consider your reason for starting school; massage therapy is such a personal and strongly interpersonal journey that it is not something one should venture upon lightly. Investigate the programs available to you in your area, as well as wherever you may be willing to travel for your education. And even if you’ve put as much thought and introspection into it as possible, there will be surprises along the way.
Be prepared to work, and work hard. Regardless of the strength of your program, you will need to invest a great deal of your personal time in this venture. I hadn’t been a full-time student in almost two decades when I began my study, and it was easy to forget how much of an investment being a full-time student is. Not only will there be the need to study outside of class, which is easy to predict, but you will need to spend lots of time on top of what you already expect: hours of memorizing muscle origins and insertions, not to mention their actions, of which there are many, and the functions of the systems of the body, which are multi-layered and intricate. I spent more time than expected in shopping for good sheets and a blanket; I had to repurchase each of the above. If you are conservative in the amount of supplies you purchase, be ready to do lots of laundry to keep up. There will be bodywork sessions you need to schedule time for outside of class, to practice techniques and learn how to innovate to create your own signature massage; these will need to work around your availability and that of your potential clients. The immersion of a full-time program made it hard for me to turn off being a student; I couldn’t watch sports without analyzing the movements of the athletes, and watching replays allowed me to break down how their movements were restricted or may lead to restrictions in their musculature. The program I’m in also required clinical hours, participating in a sports event to provide pre- and post-event massage for athletes, and community service in designated programs. While I enjoyed this exposure, it still took time.
Be prepared for change. I had anticipated a greater awareness of the body, more time spent in self-palpation, deeply considering how the muscles and systems in my body were effected by my choices in activity, posture, and diet. While I’ve always tried to be conscientious of hydrating, providing my body with good nutrition, and exercising regularly, the demands of massage school upped the ante for me in all regards. Not only did I need to eat, drink, stretch, and exercise more, I needed more sleep. When I exercise, I can’t help but consider the muscles involved and how I’m asking them to perform. I didn’t think that it would change how I watched collegiate and professional sports, but it did (see number 1, above). I started brewing my own kombucha tea, and what I learned in and out of class found its way into most conversations; when friends complained of any issue in their bodies, I couldn’t help but ask about the position in which they slept, the foods they ate and at what time, the habits that may influence the situation. And then there is the emotional component: I consider how I hold my posture when I feel certain ways, and what muscles are effected by those postures. I also watch how others’ emotions effect their postures, and set my mind in action as to what stretches may be helpful for them to alleviate the shortening and lengthening of muscles. Being a student of massage therapy has influenced the core of my being. That being said…
Be mindful of self-care. This is a journey with the intention of helping others, but you must be willing to help yourself first. Yes, you need to drink lots of water, and eat well, and get exercise that supports your new career. But you need to remember that in order to help others, you must be well yourself, to bring healing energy to your clients. After a long day of study and bodywork, allow yourself to relax and watch your favorite television or read your favorite book; you can leave some of that extra study for another day. Spend time with loved ones, eat at your favorite restaurants, cook your favorite meals. Allow yourself to indulge in the things that make life sweet for you, whether it’s a walk in the park, a glass of lemonade in the sunshine, or a lengthy conversation with someone you love who’s far away. Recharging our own batteries make us better therapists. Most of us in the developed world have a hard time creating balance in our lives, with all of the demands placed on us by society, and the demands we place upon ourselves. This is where massage therapy comes into play. Many of our potential clients are somewhat aware of this, as they have sought out massage for their self-care. It is imperative that we lead by example, and being of a helping nature, it is easy to neglect ourselves in the efforts of helping those around us. We cannot share this notion of balance with them if we do not practice it ourselves.
Being in massage school and becoming a massage therapist are wonderful opportunities for growth. It is an ever-evolving journey, with bumps along the way, as well as treasures to be found. Do not deny yourself the chance to make a truly positive change in the world, and in the lives of the people around you. Simply be open to all of the possibility that lies within the career you have chosen, as well as the possibility that lies within you. It is the journey, not the destination, that makes you who you are.Melissa Ryan is our 2014 Helping Others Scholarship award winner and a student at Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy in Albany, NY. You can read more about her here, and read more of her posts here. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net