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Wendy Hammarstrom massages Freida Wone, Innerworks Center, Philadelphia

Although I have expressed my frustration with the process of becoming credentialed through the California Massage Therapy Council, as have many others, I was thrilled to hear the following news, in a letter from Ahmos Netanel:

You might have heard by now that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1822.  The CAMTC and the massage therapy community strongly believe that the governor listened to reason instead of rhetoric in making his decision, and that the veto itself reflects the disciplined, transparent and cooperative approach we have brought to certification of massage therapists in California.

In his veto message to members of the Legislature and the public, Governor Schwarzenegger wrote:

“I am returning Assembly Bill 1822 without my signature. This bill is unnecessary and inappropriately requires specific law enforcement association appointments to the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC). This Council is already working closely with law enforcement professionals across the state to ensure the profession is appropriately screened for past criminal activity before being certified. In addition, there are members of the public, not associated with the massage industry, already appointed to this Council. For this reason, I cannot sign this bill.”

In a decision of equal importance, the Governor signed Senate Bill 294, by the Chair of the Senate Business and Professions Committee, Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod.  This measure contains language written by Legislative Counsel and supported by the massage therapy community, clarifying that statewide certification by the CAMTC does allow CAMTC certified massage professionals to practice anywhere in the state – in general law cities and charter cities alike. 

On behalf of the CAMTC Board, I would like to thank all of the therapists and practitioners who stood up for their profession. The Board is very proud of how the massage therapy community so cogently expressed to policymakers the critical role they play in providing safe, quality care in California.  You and your colleagues are the ones who told the story of an honorable profession that is doing an extraordinary job of working constructively with law enforcement to weed out the bad apples. It is rewarding that massage professionals were able to make their own case against very difficult odds, but it is equally important that we leave the door open to our critics so they can be further educated about the benefits of massage therapy.

Respectfully,

 Ahmos Netanel

Chief Executive Officer

CALIFORNIA MASSAGE THERAPY COUNCIL

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I had my niece in mind when I made this mandala, so it is for Priya on her birthday.  It is also my offering for the summer solstice.  May it be a time of healing and centering for the earth (including its waters) and all its inhabitants!  Feel free to use this mandala as a centering device for yourself, and feel your calm, as it ripples outward.


Last summer my ninety year old father was hospitalized for a broken hip.  He was not getting much touch as his nurses were over-worked, and he developed a MRSA infection which meant no one could touch him without wearing plastic gloves.  In addition, his hearing aids were lost, and perhaps most challenging was the fact that he was brain damaged from an accident forty years ago.  When I got there his legs were blue from the knees down, and his feet were ice cold.  He was sleeping but seemed agitated.  I massaged his legs, feet and back.  He never woke up but when I left him he was sleeping with a peaceful look on his face.  The next morning his feet were warm and his legs and feet were a healthy color, and he was in good spirits.

Due to several complications he died several weeks later.  But during those weeks, at my insistence, he was graced with caring and loving touch from his immediate and extended family, and his entire Quaker meeting.  We in turn were graced to be sharing that sacred time with him.

Most people, like my father, appreciate caring touch.  Many, unfortunately, experience touch deprivation including people with AIDs, people with cancer and other illnesses; infants in Neo Natal Intensive Care Units, especially those who have been abandoned by their parents; people with injuries and amputations and deformities, the not very visible part of our population that is challenged with physical abnormalities; those recovering from addiction; victims of physical and emotional abuse who find it difficult to trust any touch; those suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome including victims of natural and man-made disasters and even car accidents; the elderly and the dying, and many veterans returning from Iraq who are suffering from the wounds of war. 

During times of high stress and financial hardship, healing touch is a gift you can offer someone, either done by you or if you prefer, you can find a reputable bodyworker who will work with you financially to find a price that works; most massage therapists I know offer holiday gift certificate specials.

Besides the emotional comfort of caring touch, massage therapy oxygenates the cells which increase endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers; it increases flexibility and movement in joints and eases stiffness and pain in arthritis sufferers and it gets the “chi” or life force moving, which helps us feel revitalized.  Healing touch reduces or eliminates stress related headaches, eases digestive disorders and chronic muscular pain including fibromyalgia, improves body image and speeds healing after surgery, and improves the immune system.  By increasing circulation, massage is invaluable in preventing bedsores that are so problematic, and too often life-threatening for the immobile.  It relieves agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, enhances blood pressure and pulse in geriatric patients, and helps women with all phases of the childbearing years.  Massage therapy comforts and relaxes children with attention deficit disorder, those with autism and people with many forms of mental illness.

You can start with those closest to you — your family and your immediate circle, including your pets.  My teenage daughter reminds me constantly that she needs massage to loosen tight muscles after an extreme physical work out, or to help her get to sleep when she is over-excited.  Our aging dogs need massage to help them with a myriad of conditions.

As vital as food and water is to our survival, so is touch and giving from the heart.


me massaging Clare Yetter

Healing neck pain

Is your neck tight?  Some suggestions to help:

1.  Get a massage that incorporates trigger points, acupressure and energy work.

2.  Looking straight ahead, stretch your right ear to your right shoulder with the right hand.  Breathe into the left side of your neck.

3.  When you sit and walk, imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head gently pulling you up.

4.  Squeeze your shoulders into your ears, then release.  Repeat three times.

5.  Standing, slowly lower your head into hanging forward bend.  Imagine all your tension in your back, shoulders and neck flowing into the earth.


In 1970, when I took a ceramics class at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I quickly discovered that I could not center clay on the pottery wheel.  After months of attempting to keep my clay creations from leaning to the left or right, I decided to ditch that idea and make pinch pots instead.  Over the next few years I studied tai chi and ten years later my studies took me into the heart of Kenpo Karate and White Crane Kung Fu.  It was those movement systems that taught me about finding one’s center, also called hara or tan tien.

The hara, also called “one point”, is said to be located just below the navel and about an inch inside the body.  It is a protected area and considered by many to be a sacred space.  It is not surprising that this is the womb area, and is immediately below where the umbilical cord connects mother and infant. Another factor that makes this area important is that the psoas, a major walking muscle and the only muscle to connect the lumbar spine to the legs is nearby. The intestines, located in the center, are where 95% of the serotonin is manufactured in our body.  The gut’s own nervous system or mini-brain has more nerve cells than our brain’s central nervous system.  The number of nerve fibers that carry messages from our GI tract to our brain is nine times more than those that travel from the brain to the GI tract.  Therefore, a calm gut or hara means calm mind and body.  (I have noticed when I take immodium to slow down motility, my mind relaxes also.)

As a yoga/movement instructor I emphasize that students become centered through mat work, stretching, conscious breathing and attention inward.  By focusing on the center, yoga practitioners are able to generate heat and healing energy throughout their body, at the same time bringing the person into the here and now, with less focus on worries.  The squat, the Iyengar standing and balance poses, dog pose, seated forward bends, and many others stretch the legs and open the hips to develop strength and flexibility in the lower body which encourages us to extend and open our upper body.  And what is the connector here? Our center – of gravity, balance and equilibrium.

Skilled dancers of all styles also move from their centers. In Contact Improvisation, dancers move with others in a constant flow of losing their balance, falling, catching and supporting, often with movements that mirror those of infants learning to move and to trust.  Many forms of movement originate from our center, and that includes bodywork.

The minds of skilled bodyworkers are focused and free of Ojai 12distraction so they are able to be totally in the present with their clients.  They may reach this state before beginning a session by consciously inhaling and consciously exhaling, and using energy awareness techniques such as yoga, meditation or focusing on a mandala.  This creates a free flow of healing energy so that the massage recipient experiences more than simply the physical sensations of having muscles rubbed.  They often experience a renewed sense of wholeness.

I am fascinated by the concept of hara and or center because I know what it is like to be not centered physically, a good example being last year when I was moving a large box in a dark garage. I fell backwards and literally flew through the air and landed on my hipbones. Also there were several times I tripped over grapevines in the hill behind my house which resulted in my completing a somersault mid-air.  I also know what it is like to lose my center emotionally/spiritually.  I know what it is like to “fall out of rhythm” as Brooke Medicine Eagle says, and to be helped back into my rhythm with the help of bodywork and movement.

The center is the starting point when I begin creating a mandala and my calligrapher neighbor has shown me the difference between making a line on paper, and making the line from your center.

Centering is a foundation of my Quaker upbringing and of yogic philosophy.  In Quaker worship, we meditate by calming our thoughts, centering and opening to divine communication.

When I was a child, an elegant family friend always impressed me with her graceful manner and movement.  After her husband died, she immersed herself in Zen Tea Ceremony.  When I bumped into her in New York City decades later, she was still striking, graceful and moving from her hara.


mandalas-earth energy


Summer into Fall

Summer into Fall

The Art of Centering in Yoga and Massage

In 1970, when I took a ceramics class at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I quickly discovered that I could not center clay on the pottery wheel. Over the next few years I was also studying tai chi and ten years later my studies took me into the heart of Kenpo Karate and White Crane Kung Fu. It was those movement systems that taught me about finding one’s center, also called hara or tan tien.

The hara, also called “one point”, is said to be located just below the navel and about an inch inside the body. It is a protected area and considered by many to be a sacred space. It is not surprising that this is the womb area, and that it is immediateley below where the umbilical cord connects mother and infant. Another factor that makes this area important is that the psoas, a major walking muscle and the only muscle to connect the lumbar spine, is nearby. Also the digestive tract, especially the intestines, is where 95% of the serotonin (feel good transmitter) is manufactured. In fact the gut area has its own nervous system, often called the mini-brain.

As a yoga/movement instructor I help students become centered through mat work, stretching, conscious breathing and attention inward. By focusing on our centers, yoga practitioners are able to generate heat and healing energy throughout their body, at the same time bringing the person into the here and now, with less focus on worries.

The squat, the Iyengar standing and balance poses, dog pose, seated forward bends, and many other positions stretch the legs and open the hips to develop strength and flexibility in the lower body. This allows us to root or ground and supports our extending and opening our upper body. And what is the connector here? Our center — of gravity, balance and equilibrium.

An alarming number of people, especially over sixty years old, have suffered from falls, and even more alarming is how many people die as a result of complications from the injuries. It is urgently important for people to stay in touch with their center as their anchor, thus I highly recommend yoga for people from early years to one hundred years old or more. And while they are at it, they can learn how to give massages!

Most forms of movement originate from our center, and that includes doing bodywork. The minds of skilled bodyworkers are focussed and free of distraction so they are able to be totally in the present with their clients. They may reach this state before beginning a session by consciously inhaling and consciously exhaling, and using energy awareness techniqes such as yoga, meditation or focusing on a mandala. This creates a free flow of healing energy so that the massage recipient experiences more than simply the physical sensations of having muscles rubbed. They often experience a renewed sense of wholeness.

Peter Levine, a well-known trauma recovery therapist and author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, believes that trauma is not in the event but in the nervous system. Thus everything we can do to enhance the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system will help us stay calm even while external events attempt to un-hinge us.

Not only is awareness of our center or hara an essential part of everyday balance and agility, it is a component of subtle and often spiritual ways of healing. We transmit healing energy from the same center that we use in an emergency, such as when a mother rescues her child pinned under a car. Our “chi” or life force, hyper activated in this instance, is also available to sooth us.

One of my favorite poses for bringing awareness to our center is called constructive rest pose. Lying on your back with knees bent,
legs hip width apart, feet flat on the floor and arms resting on your abdomen, across your chest or relaxed with palms up by your head, relax into gravity. This is a passive release of the psoas, encourages good alignment of the spine and full and deep respiration. Inhale, focus on your center, then exhale, internally sensing your breath move your energy or chi through your body, to release tension. After several breaths, allow your breathing to simply happen. After five, ten or twenty minues, roll onto your side, prop yourself up slowly, and re-enter the world.

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“Holding the breath is like holding the soul.” BKS Iyengar

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“Energy is the real substance behind the appearance of matter anad forms.” Randolph Stone, D.O., D.C., founder of Polarity Therapy

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“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.” Walt Whitman

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“Movement never lies.” Martha Graham


LightI have noticed that we as Americans often look through the elderly as they pass by, and we avert our glance to avoid making contact with a person who has injuries or deformities. I think we as a nation are treating returning soldiers in a similar way. Don’t look at them when they return in caskets, and don’t look at them when they come home alive. Sweep the whole issue of post-war needs under the rug, and keep sending more men and women out to fight. Why isn’t care for our soldiers of primary concern, and how does bodywork fit in?

I surprised myself when I called nearby Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California for information about therapeutic programs and modalities for returning veterans. As I was waiting on hold, I found myself struggling with thoughts such as, do I really want to hear how veterans have suffered and are continuing to suffer? Do I really want to know the situation? It felt very charged to me, and then I realized one of the reasons.

When I was the age of many of our veterans my father suffered a stroke while riding his bicycle in the New Hampshire Mountains. When paramedics reached him, part of his skull was smashed and his brain was protruding out his right ear. The doctors had to remove part of his right frontal lobe. My father was not a veteran; during World War II he was a conscientious objector doing civilian service, jumping out of airplanes to put out forest fires in Montana.

But what I hear about the “epidemic” of brain injuries in Iraq war veterans reminds me of my father’s recovery process. After being in a coma for forty days, he regained consciousness only to experience a tearful phase, followed by an angry and violent period during which time he had to be tied to his bed, and then a defeated and self-destructive stage. Gradually he began to recognize faces, gain clarity about the meaning of words (he would ask for lawnmovers at suppertime, when he meant peas), and learn how to walk again. My father spent his last forty years in recovery. He had many dark days and there were also times when we were graced with his warmth, wisdom and humor. (He used to carry a small wooden cube with him to show people how much of his brain was removed.)

Of the thousands of Iraqi war veterans who have returned home, many are suffering from head and neck injuries that also have long-term implications. Although the new body armor protects soldiers’ bodies, their limbs and minds are still vulnerable. Many survive but as did my father, suffer from memory loss, headaches, attention deficit disorder, depression and anxiety.

My father did eventually see a psychotherapist and received medication that at times helped some of his symptoms. He also received some massage therapy and breathing and relaxation exercises fsrom me, at a time when I was just beginning to learn about ways to help myself. He was open to receiving acupuncture for chronic pain as well, and even traveled to India to visit a Swami MD friend for help.

But how many veterans suffering from brain injury, or even more common, post-traumatic stress syndrome, are receiving help? According to the National Center for PTSD, of eighty percent of American Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who had serious mental health problems, and acknowledged it, only forty percent said they were interested in help and only twenty percent reported receiving formal mental health care. This reluctance is partly from a fear of being stigmatized, as many soldiers are told to suck it up, soldier on or deal with it. In addition, the veterans fear if they admitted they had PTSD symptoms they would be required to stay at their base to receive treatment rather than reurn home.

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Amost five hundred thousand Vietnam veterans suffer from prolonged cases of PTSD; another three hundred and fifty thousand struggle with moderate PTSD symptoms. As many as thirty percent of the homeless in the US are said to be Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD.

According to one author, “Vietnam vets are still checking the perimeter of their safety zone for danger.”

To be continued…
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“Of all forms of inequity, injustice in health care is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” Martin Luther King