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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

When I Started Massage

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

This month marks one decade since I started massage therapy school at Blue Cliff College in October 2013. This week we’re just going to explore a handful of changes that have taken place since I started massage.

10 years ago I walked in the doors at Blue Cliff College and began their 9-month (775 hour) training and started this massage therapy journey! So here are a few stories of change;

To Crème or Not to Crème…

When I started massage, I hated having to use lotions (or oils,) (or gels,) (or cremes). You’ll remember that before massage school, I’d been giving armature massages to my momma for her fibromyalgia pain. I would work on her with no lubricant or moisturizer until the end at her request to apply a cocoa butter lotion. AND I HATED IT! I have this aversion to the texture and greasy feeling of putting lubricants (or massage mediums) on myself. But I was in massage school and using my choice of oil or lotion was required. I begrudgingly got in the habit of using lotion through my training. I figured it would be the most abundant out in the world and I was most familiar with lotion.

When I got my first job as a massage therapist at Massage Envy, I stuck with lotion (although they generously supplied oils, gels, and cremes) for the longest time. It wasn’t until colleagues and cohorts from massage school kept insisting, I would like the gel consistency better that I finally gave in and tried it. They were right, I did like the massage gel better- still didn’t love having to use a lubricating medium but was less averse to the gel. Massage Envy would later develop their own line of massage mediums that worked very well- but not every place supplies so many options to work with.

At LaVida, I had to adjust to a product that would be as similar to massage gel as possible- and the best fit was massage oil. I’d been disgusted by oil up until then because “I don’t want to feel like I’m basting my clients for an oven”. The oil just felt too slick and thin. But their only other option was lotion- which I’d gotten away from because it absorbs so quickly into skin and has to be reapplied more frequently throughout the massage. So began my preference for working with oil.

No Men Allowed….

In massage school there was a mandatory course on massage business. Many therapists end up as proprietors of their own practices- not all, but many. In the class we had to work on creating our own operations and design our ideal massage business. I remember getting a talking to about a business card I designed. The tagline “pamper your inner goddess” struck a nerve with my stern instructor.

“Don’t you think that the word goddess just relates to women? Don’t you think men will hesitate to make an appointment?” she demanded.

“Well, yeah…” I told her, “I don’t really like men- I’d rather not work with them.” I was told that it wasn’t a good business plan, and I could either change the slogan or drop it off the card all together. I just dropped it.

At the time this exchange bothered me. Why did I have to advertise and market to people I wasn’t comfortable working with? Boys, Guys, and Men were these strange, aggressive, and intimidating people to me- I didn’t want any of that in the same vulnerable space as my massage practice. On another level it also made me feel shamed for making my practice focused on pampering and relaxation work- that wasn’t what was said, but it’s what I heard. The instructor was right of course, using gendered slogans wasn’t inclusive at all (not that inclusion of men was a high priority for me at the time).

This was all before I had a deeper understanding of gender (including my own) and a better appreciation for “relaxation” massage. The profession wide attitude of “relaxation” or “frou-frou” massage hasn’t changed, but my relationship with men has. I’ve had great mentors, colleagues, clients, and friends who are men. Men or masculine aligned people are no longer this great big scary threat they once were to me. In fact, to my surprise, men are sometimes my best and most reliable clients.

The R word…

When I started massage, the word “routine” was a bad word. Instructors, licensed therapists, employers, other students all talked down on having a routine treatment. Even while providing us with breakdowns/“recipes” of a full body massage protocol. You absolutely could not and should not give every client the same “cookie-cutter” massage. I never got what the big deal was- how else do you learn technique if not through repetition? Why were we so adamantly advised to avoid developing a routine?

I’ve since come to understand that routines are very helpful, if you can allow them to be adaptable on a case-by-case basis. This wasn’t explained to me by anyone. This had to be discovered all on my own. It took years of feeling like I was doing something wrong because I had a reliable routine I provided. I’ve written on this before. These days, the attitude among therapists seems to have changed, a routine might not be a bad idea if you can meet the different needs of each client as an individual. Routine isn’t treated like such a sin or swear word like it felt a decade ago.

These are just a few examples of so many changes that have taken place in the last 10 years! Massage Therapy has provided me with so many incredible opportunities and I’ve met so many incredible people throughout my career so far. As you can tell, massage has also provided me with professional and personal growth. I feel so blessed to have massage therapy.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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