His orange jacket contrasts sharply with his tanned and hairy skin.

He hurries over to me, urgency in every step. He’s not who I’m expecting, but I greet him with a smile and open-mind, because reputation is everything in this business. Right off the bat, he asks about our services. His accent is thick like the cream we use. I tell him about pregnancy, hot stone, Hawaiian styles and Thai Yoga. At each he shakes his head, his frizzy curls bouncing side to side.

I stop. His hand is held up, a universal sign of stopping. “Do you offer arctic massage?” he asks me. I try not to let my confusion show as my brain racks the possibilities: it’s been cold lately, maybe he means using winter ice to help with inflammation, or maybe he means cold stones. Maybe I’ve just never heard of the term, damn my education, I think.

I ask him to repeat himself. He speaks slowly and deliberately. “Do you (he points at me) do erotic massage?” I’m shocked and frankly relieved that he hasn’t pointed below for the other noun in his sentence. I also want to laugh, badly, but I can’t. I pull an arctic face. “No sir, we do not.” I show him the door ignoring his comments of ‘why not?’ (Because it’s illegal) ‘Where else he can go?’ (The cops maybe?) ‘Are you sure?’ (Seriously? Get out.)

We don’t even look like the kind of place to “maybe” offer these types of services. We’re in a Chiropractic office where nutritional supplements line the shelves and people lay on devices that stretch their vertebrae like a slow moving accordion. Elderly women are our most frequent customers.

This is just one misconception about massage therapy: that we border on the kinky. But there are others and it’s my belief that these misconceptions hurt my chances of being successful in this field.

The other day a regular of mine came in. As always, I ask what to focus on. She shakes her head and shrugs, “You know best, Wonder Woman.”

Later while she’s on the table, I find the same problem I typically do: tension in the wrists and hands. “Oh yeah, that’s really tight,” she tells me, “I think I might have carpal tunnel.” This is not the first time, nor will it be the last that she says this. It’s not because she’s dumb and forgets, no, more so it’s because she’s lead to believe that only I can fix her problem so she has to once again remind me of it.

It’s a two-way street however. I’m not with my clients even a quarter of the time- they are with themselves. I can’t massage them every time they’re in pain or discomfort. So really, it comes down to their responsibility of working with me to take care of them. It comes down to them doing stretches or self-massaging techniques in their own time away from me.

On the other side of this coin, my job is often perceived as a “fluffy” one. When I go out and tell people I’m a massage therapist, one of two things happens. I’m either asked to massage that person right then and there, or I’m told how nice it must be to get a massage. “Oh what a luxury,” they say. “How relaxing,” they say. “I’d love to go to the spa,” they say.

All of these can be true, just as they can be false. It really depends on each individual.

I have a client who can’t tie his own shoes unless he gets a massage. He comes in, his shoes messily slopped on his feet. I spend two hours working to stretch, increase circulatory flow and bend his legs in positions he can’t do on his own. Meanwhile, he’s breathing deeply and talking to distract himself from the pain incurred. It’s like getting a splinter out, it hurts while it’s being done, but afterwards it’s all better.

Once the two hours are up, he gets up slowly with his body sore from the treatment, but he’s relieved. He ties his shoes in a simple bowknot and comes out to show me. He’s as proud as a first grader who’s just done it for the first time.

For this client, massage therapy isn’t a relaxing, hot towel on the neck and scents of jasmine aromatherapy type of deal. This is way to manage his pain.

Massage therapy is an individual experience. Some people do get more of the relaxing types of massage, but for them, it helps with their anxiety and depression. I’ve spent a good half hour just on a person’s scalp, where people feel emotional tension rolling around.

But massage therapy is not often what people think it is. There’s a lot to it and I just don’t “rub” people’s’ bodies for a living. I help them, and if they’re willing to work on their own issues, it’s a team effort. Massage therapy isn’t intended to be a sexual, all-powerful or just a nice, relaxing treatment. It’s intended to bring awareness to individuals about themselves. And in my opinion, that’s the best you can offer for the road to recovery of any kind.

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com

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