What a month! I had the opportunity to assist two teachers that I have studied with the longest and had the most influence on my massage practice. They are massage therapy hall of fame inductees (yes there is one) who have dedicated the past 30 years to teaching massage therapists and other bodywork professionals interested in incorporating cutting edge research and practical skills usable by Doctors of chiropractic, osteopathy, Physical therapists, structural integration practitioners (Rolfers) and massage therapists alike.
A little history:
I was a sought after therapist at the away spa with “good hands”. I became frustrated when clients who requested me repeatedly returned saying “I had three to five days where I felt good then the pain came back… Inevitably this led to me working harder and deeper than before but with the same results. The only thing that changed was that they said they were sore for a couple days then they felt better for a few days yet the pain returned. I had been chasing clients symptoms only to have about half of them return within the week. I knew I was missing something. I knew that I needed to find someone who could answer my questions. After a three day seminar with well deserved big name bodyworker Tom Myers (anatomist and advanced Rolfer taught by Ida Rolf ) I got all of the VHS tapes he had and books on his Anatomy Trains theory. His work changed my perspective and opened up the world possibilities of hands on therapy I never considered. I began to see the big picture. Learning to use the techniques and learning the anatomy trains proved the old adage about the more you learn the less you know to be true. A daunting scenario; I understood the system somewhat (memorized the techniques and tried to apply the theory) and got longer lasting results but something was still missing for me and some of my more complex clients. Once again, I found myself back on the path to enlightenment.
I read some articles in massage magazines and the most remarkable to me were by a guy named Erik Dalton PhD. He seemed to really know what he was talking about. I saw a seminar advertised with him and a massage therapist named James Waslaski who had a sports massage background some great ideas too. It seemed like the next good place to expand my repertoire and try to understand this massage thing. I met Erik and James at a seminar in Costa Rica in 2004(I think) and the effects were instant. my practice soared and I felt like I really started to get “it”. Erik’s introduction to Myoskeletal Alignment techniques showed me that what I was missing was an understanding of joint mechanics and the dysfunction they create. You won’t resolve joint issues in a posturally based model by only using muscle/ fascial release techniques. It’s just not possible. Massage school was a great foundation but they put the fear of god in us when it came to joint work. Avoid the bones at all cost was the motto. Erik’s direct transmission from Philip Greenman DO (the guy who literally wrote the book on manual medicine) filtered through the mind of a soft tissue master was a welcome sight for sore eyes for hundreds to thousands of bodyworkers. The work he intuitively began doing on his own neck after a bad fall left him with cervical fractures led him to the study of the low velocity joint work (slow in application) and myofascial system of OMT which was in application just like the PNF stretches I learned for muscles. The difference was that they addressed the soft tissue articular receptors of the joints of the neck and back. That coupled with his strong understanding of the myofascial network (also being an advanced Rolfer directly instructed by Ida Rolf prior to Myers’ study with Rolf) led me to understand why in my mind I was previously practicing an incomplete study of full body integration. I found that the work complimented and enhanced what I was already doing. My toolbox of touch was expanding.
Orthopedic massage at a glance seems spot work oriented. James showed us how to resolve a long list of musculotendinous dysfunction commonly found such as carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, meniscus sprains and shin splints and the like but he always had the entire body in mind and knew the importance of pelvic stabilization. If you came in with a carpal tunnel issue, James knew that for complete resolution, the whole body had to be taken into consideration and began at the Iliopsoas. Waslaski’s 12 step protocol helped me to make sense of all the techniques I learned and gave me a practical framework and working order for approaching dysfunction. On top of that his shoulder and hip joint capsule work and insight into tendinosis are trademarks of his practice that helped me to resolve sprains, strains and frozen shoulders like magic. People still believe that what I have seen and done many times is impossible (but that’s another story.)
Becoming TA’s for these two touch therapy innovators was something I moved into after years of taking several three and five day seminars which I repeated till I owned the work and understood the applications of appropriate and effective therapy.
So when I have a chance to see them and assist class it’s always a pleasure. They work with an ease that has me return to the clinic working easier (smarter not harder) and more effectively every time. Just watching them work and listening to the knowledge and experience flow is inspiring and I get to pick up on the subtle nuances of these bodywork masters. They also both happen to just be great unassuming guys who don’t come from a place of ego but let the work speak for itself. Always accessible and friendly, they have a sense of humor and levity that you wouldn’t expect from such venerable men in their field. Recently while in San Diego working with Erik and the Dalton gang, I got to see both Erik and James accept awards for achievement in massage therapy.
Erik did a great demo where he reversed a woman’s dowagers hump / flat thoracic combo in front of a full room of onlookers in mere minutes.
The following week I helped James out at the NY AMTA event in Verona NY and watched him do his magic there on a woman who initially couldn’t lift (abduct) her arm past 40° and released a guy’s strained muscle fibers that caused postural issues, muscle substitution and compensatory firing patterning. Both were soon asymptomatic and achieved full range of motion within minutes. I have seen them do this many times and it never gets old.
It was an inspiring month and my clients are all the better for it. Thanks to all my teachers especially James and Erik for shining light on the path. This work helps so many people that have fallen through the cracks of the medical system and for people who want to proactively establish more of a connection with their body. This work is not about a therapist fixing anyone, but more working with someone to facilitate a change. These guys aren’t just a big deal to me but to thousands of people who have benefitted from the treatment by them and their many students. I am grateful for them and what their years of experience has shown me and allowed me to share with others.