On the Integration of My Bodywork Practice with Herbal Medicine

In early 2012 I  began a period of self-exploration which included my career and my personal needs.  I was busy working my two jobs, balancing the career I loved with the steady paycheck that came with a stable retail job. I was comfortable with my skills, and I was building my reputation with the local community.  Still, I was wondering when my chance would finally come to break away from the work I had to do to survive, and finally set about doing the work I love to do, full-time.

Up until that time the thought of becoming an herbalist had never crossed my mind.  The suggestion took root in me one day as the mention of herbalism came up in a casual conversation. That day a voice somewhere inside me suddenly said something:

“Herbalist.  I could do that.”

Days went by, then weeks…and this voice did not grow silent.  In fact, quite surprisingly, it grew louder.  I started thinking of the possible uses for such an education, both in my professional and my personal life.  I started looking up relevant websites and looking through books, and realizing that a lot of the information presented resonated with the things I intuitively knew and believed.  I began imagining the integration of hand-made herbal products into my bodywork practice, thinking of the possibilities that could come from this, and loving the idea. The excitement that this generated was like finding a missing puzzle piece: the enhancement that this could bring to my caregiving, the feeling of a more rounded practice, the new choices that I could offer my clients and the sense of empowerment that could bring— the whole world of possibilities that blossomed before me was too strong to ignore.

Not only that, the personal benefits from knowing how I could treat my own body were invaluable to me. Knowing what I already knew about the body’s self-healing capabilities and realizing that there was a way to learn to aid and support the body in its natural restorative efforts, was the exact element that I wanted to bring into my life.  Finding my own inner balance, restoring and respecting my own mind, body, and spirit, and empowering myself to bring about my own optimal health is and always has been a personal goal.  And in the last year it has become a bigger priority than ever.  I am finally learning to care for myself, in order to be of greater value to both myself and everyone I care for.

Each year since becoming a licensed massage therapist, I’ve seen my list of credentials grow and change.  My bodywork toolkit has reflected the modalities that I felt would make me a more sought-after massage therapist, modalities that clients have requested of me over the years, and services that are regularly sought out in a spa setting:  Reiki.  Ayurvedic massage.  Pregnancy massage.  Hot Stone massage.  Craniosacral therapy.  My objective as a massage therapist has always been to be more than one would expect in a spa therapist.  My successful client retention has been based on the fact that I offer more than just a good back rub; I like to give my clients information. I tell them what takes place in the body physiologically during a massage, I help them to know how pain may have taken root in their bodies, I show them illustrations of muscles, knots and referral patterns, I give suggestions on how to extend the benefits of the massage using appropriate self-care, and I have, over the years, instilled in my clients my firm belief that regular bodywork is integral to maintaining whole body health and wellness.

I have always seen myself as a vehicle to healing.  At times I’ve seen my relationship with my clients turn toward that of “I trust my therapist and will do whatever she tells me I should do regarding my appointments.”  While I am flattered to have gained my clients’ trust and happy to have convinced them of the importance of including regular bodywork in their health maintenance routine, my larger goal is to educate to empower.  What I mean by this is that the Massage Therapist Knows Best is no better than the Doctor Knows Best mentality—I want to help my clients realize and understand that truly, the Body Knows Best, and with the aid of all health care practitioners working together in a complimentary fashion, all clients can make responsible lifestyle choices and hold themselves accountable for their health and wellness.  Bringing herbal medicine into my practice in order to assist with this seemed like a natural integration.

My herbal education began in April of 2013.  As part of a classroom full of apprentices, I felt so immediately at home that I knew instantly I had made the right decision.  I spent the year walking in the woods, working in the gardens, and cultivating new relationships with both the plants and my fellow apprentices.  I soaked in all I could from this new learning environment, and I nurtured a whole new way of looking at healthcare.  Supporting the body is a daily practice.  Learning to listen to it is an ability that resides in all of us.  It is our nature to live in harmony with our natural surroundings.

I have become reacquainted with the wild local places where I used to play as a child, and have even found a few new ones, in my search for plants to use in my practice.  It’s been wonderful to reconnect with that simple piece of my life, and remember myself as I was  in childhood.  I remember how much enjoyment I used to get simply from sitting outside in the middle of the woods or a field, listening to the wind in the trees and the animals who would become more bold as I became more still.  I notice now that becoming still is crucial to hearing and finding the plants that I need.  Often in my search for plants, I would sit in semi-frustration from not being able to find or recognize what I need, and after sitting down for a few minutes and quieting my body and mind, the plant would present itself within just a few feet of me.  What an amazing re-experience it is to give myself the time to sit still, and to take that outside experience inside with me, use it in my life, and in my practice.  How is it that in adulthood we forget to be joyful for the simplest of things that are often sitting right beside us?

Inner Balance Bodywork, my very first business venture, was born in June of 2013.  Although still a risk, the opportunity to take control of my work/ life balance and dedicate myself to a career that I am passionate about was too great to pass up.  I have not once regretted this decision. My overall goal is to live a simple, wonderful life, centered around my ability to combine all of my knowledge and skills into a whole-health practice.  In this way, I feel less like a business, and more like one who is extending an invitation to anyone who wants and is ready to take responsibility for their wellbeing.   I have never been happier.

Becoming a certified herbalist in November of 2013 means the beginning of a lifetime of learning.  My excitement over this newest addition to my toolbox continues to grow, as even in my intake conversations, I am able to call upon herbal resources to support my clients, both on and off the table.  I suggest teas with specific herbal ingredients and explain the difference between a cup of Lipton and an herbal infusion.  I hear people talk about what is bothering them that brought them to seek an appointment with me that day, and in my mind I am picking out which herb-infused  oil blend I can use.  I talk to people about how they can add herbs to their food in medicinal doses rather than just as seasonings, to get the benefit of the plant medicine while nourishing their body through a nutritional meal.  Even talking to my clients about lifestyle choices, such as using meditation to help ease the stress of the workday, and walking or other exercise to elevate the heart rate, taking time out each hour that they sit at a desk to stand up and stretch, or taking a yoga class once or twice a week, all factor into mindset that health is a choice, and is not such an overwhelming change as one might necessarily fear.

I feel as though it is a natural next step in my bodywork practice to talk to clients about the source of their issues.  Getting to know them in their massage appointments and observing their pain patterns, eventually developing a dialogue that is part advanced intake, part self-discovery, in order to segue into a conversation about a deeper level of healing work.  Helping them realize that pain is often a symptom of a deeper issue and encouraging them to seek out ways to resolve the source of the problem through a combination of bodywork modalities and plant medicine.  Encouraging such spirit-nourishing practices as meditation, journaling, yoga, and working with plants themselves to create their own medicine so that they truly feel powerful and not helpless victims of a system.

My modalities set me apart from other massage therapists as one who can bring techniques and products to the table that address the whole body, mind and spirit.  If the client choses nothing more than a bodywork treatment, he or she is still benefitting from the herbal and energetic component that I’ve brought to the table.  However, other options are there for them, and from general observation, there is a definite interest in the pursuit of good health through more natural measures.

I believe that better knowledge of one’s own body and its functions (and dysfunctions) allows us to make better choices about how we treat them, and rounding out my practice with herbal education can help me to provide greater insight into whole health.  Choosing to include herbal medicine in our health maintenance protocol allows us the opportunity to heal our bodies through greater understanding of the dis-ease and its source, resulting in a stronger mind-body-spirit balance.

I know that what I’ve learned about myself in my lifetime so far is only a fragment of that which I am.  I’m slowly learning to cast aside fear and doubt, embrace who I am and who I have been, and bravely stepping forward every day.  I’m paying attention to my body, I’m  listening to my spirit, and doing my best to give both the physical, herbal, spiritual and emotional nourishment they need.  I’m giving my mind the stimulation it craves by further educating myself, and my heart the comfort of surrounding myself with peaceful, loving beings who I am lucky to count among my friends.  Each day I look for joy, peace, and prosperity, and each day I am thankful to have found it in the woods, in my practice, in the scent of my massage oil, in the peaceful sigh of my client on the table, in the energy of my loved ones, and in the warmth of my cup of tea.  And I know that my journey has only just begun.

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