Why I let go of being a massage therapist to become a yoga instructor.

I have always been drawn to the healing arts in some way. I give credit to my parents for that. My mother has always been affectionate with me, with a lot of hugs, kisses and "I Love You's" shared between the two of us. My father is the complete opposite, but I have never questioned his love for me. I find it funny that I attribute my 15+ year career as a massage therapist to him. He always worked hard for the family, and as a child he used to ask me to rub his shoulders and neck. I would jump at the chance every time. Part of me just wanted to show my gratitude for his efforts of giving us what we needed in life, most of me longed for those hugs, kisses and "I Love You" exchanges that momma always gave.

I injured my back the first time when I was fresh out of high school. I wasn't one of those kids that went right into college. I hated school, and I had no idea what I wanted to do for the next year, let alone the rest of my life. I worked manual labor and factory jobs. I managed to twist just right and my back spasmed. I dealt with it for a few days until I couldn't get off my stomach. I had no choice but to seek out care for my spine and I ended up seeing a local chiropractor. The chiropractor definitely helped bring alignment to my spine, but to this day I can still remember the spasmed muscles and the agony I was in for over a month.

People always asked me to "rub" their backs. I was always really good at it. Thanks daddy! I moved on from factory jobs and manual labor to waitressing. It was a lot easier in my body. I missed the weekends, nights and holidays off, but I had a lot more fun at my job. One day I was talking to my friend about how I was ready to move on in my life, maybe move to another state and figure out a career. He told me that my massages were always great and I should consider it as a career. I had no idea that my profession had actually chosen me. I had never even heard of massage therapy, so my friend bought me a book. Within two weeks of that conversation and reading that book, I was headed to North Carolina to study massage therapy.

I chose North Carolina because I had relatives that would let me live with them as I studied, and it was a licensing state. Vermont did not offer licensure or certification at the time, and the states near me that did were out of my price range. Once I moved to North Carolina, I enrolled in the massage therapy program being offered through the local community college. I had considered going to Charlotte to study neuromuscular therapy, but my aunt and uncle felt it was best to stay close to them seeing as this was my first time being away from home.

The program I had entered was in its very beginnings. Even so, I had some outstanding educators. I studied under doctors, a tai-chi practitioner, a prenatal therapist, a neuromuscular therapist, a hypnotherapist, and some outstanding massage therapists. I do want to mention that I felt it was extremely important for me to study as many modalities, and under as many instructors as possible. The massage training programs in the northeast that I could afford were often lead by one or two instructors, and that's it. I had around 15 instructors that I studied under. I can remember a few of them telling me, "You're on the crest of a wave."

I was very lucky to have studied when I did. Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years, but people were just beginning to recognize massage as therapy. They had just standardized national certification testing. I was one of the first people to sit for the massage therapy national certification exam in North Carolina. "Massage therapist" was replacing the term "masseuse". To this day, if I hear the word masseuse, I will cringe.

Once I was licensed to practice massage therapy, I moved around a bit. The crest of the wave definitely crashed hard. When I first started practicing massage therapy, I was paid half the price of the service by my employer. This was common practice. The spa I worked for would pay me $45 for a "Swedish" massage and any tips were mine to keep. Deep tissue or additional spa services I provided would include additional compensation. Even though I was employed by a spa I made a decent wage. There's no way I could work full time as a massage therapist, so being compensated well for such a physically demanding job is extremely important.

I eventually made my way to private practice. It took a long time, but I had a thriving business and I loved massage therapy. I got to choose my hours and who I wanted to work with. I made excellent pay, and worked additional jobs because I wanted to, not because I needed to. I sustained a private practice for several years until I made the decision to move for the sake of a relationship. I had worked in every possible scenario but I just wasn't prepared to handle the events that took place. My relationship had failed and I had moved to an area saturated with massage therapists. I was suffering from severe depression. I was literally "working my fingers to the bone" and getting paid terribly to do so. I worked my final years as a massage therapist for chiropractors. I increased my skill set exponentially, but the physical demands of the work literally broke me. I suffered severe inflammation. My body hurt all the time. I would be in pain constantly, and some days I would get back to my apartment after work, go to bed at 7pm and sleep until the next day. I was done.

I was telling my friend who was a yoga instructor, I was broken physically and financially, and I had nothing to fall back on. She told me that she received a grant through the state of Vermont to study yoga. She encouraged me to get to a regular practice and look into getting the same grant. I had practiced yoga over the years. I struggled on and off with depression. Never in my life could I imagine myself teaching anything, because I also struggle with listening and communicating clearly.

Getting to a regular yoga practice helped me immensely. If I had practiced asana throughout my massage career I probably would've never changed careers. For me it was the missing link. I have always treated massage as a therapeutic modality. I would work with clients and do my best to give advice within my scope of practice. People would come to me and want me to "dig it out." They would see me, I would offer my best, a month would go by and they would return with the same issue. Sometimes it was because their insurance would only cover one massage a month. Sometimes they couldn't afford to be seen more often because they were paying cash. I could only say so much because it wasn't within my scope of practice to give medical advice. That included stretching, counseling, or patterns that I would see come to surface within a treatment. How do you tell someone, "Hey, your job is killing you! Want to know how I know this? Because I'm experiencing the same thing!"

I received a full grant from the state of Vermont for my Yoga Teacher Training. That same week I also bulged my L5/S1 disc. My initial reaction was, "I'm too young for this. I can't live my entire life like this. How the hell am I going to get through teacher training when I am in severe pain?" Looking back on it, I'm not surprised that it happened. I utilized my thorough knowledge of the physical body, and my limited knowledge of yoga to help heal my spine. I also incorporated a very helpful physical therapist, his massage therapy background and inversion table into healing my back. I completed my YTT within a year, and I've only had three "flare ups" of my bulging disc since the initial onset. The last flare up was about three years ago.

I completed teacher training,  moved to Westchester, and walked away from a career as a massage therapist at the same time. Moving wasn't scary. I've moved more times than I care to say. What was terrifying was walking away from a 15+ year career as a massage therapist, into a career I barely knew anything about. I'm an all or nothing type of person. Over three years later I am still limping my way through the transition. I still give massage to friends and family, but not professionally. I reserve all of my energy to the study and teaching of yoga.

What I have learned through the transition is:

Human touch is healing. The breath is vital to healing. To say one is more important to healing is hard, but the breath is vital to life itself. Human touch will never reach as deeply into the recesses of the mind as the breath can. They can absolutely be offered together. Some journeys will need to be traveled alone.

I much prefer a career where I can put the healing into the hands of the practitioner. I can still provide touch when welcomed. Students can visit a breath guided physical practice, or journey through the teachings of yoga. I don't claim ownership or knowing anymore than anyone else does. I study constantly and offer what I have learned through my studies when I teach. The healing is facilitated by the practitioner. By deep listening. By exploration. By simply being.

My personal practice includes fun arm balances and handstands. The reality is most of the students I teach struggle enough with the basics. Asana can be fun, but I give equal attention to mindfulness and meditation, which can be equally as fun. Advanced doesn't mean fancy asana. For me advanced means moving through to move forward. My teaching has taken on a therapeutic approach due to my own injury, struggles, and years as a massage therapist. Everything I have experienced has helped me become the teacher I am today.

You can study and regurgitate information. This isn't knowledge. Knowledge is formed through direct experience. Take time to investigate, explore, listen to understand. Only teach what you know.


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