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I recently collected a couple of meditation CDs that someone had left in the family room at one of our hospice inpatient units, presumably for patient and family use. I was working on collecting suitable guided meditation audio for this express purpose, so I wanted to listen to what we already had on-site.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the following words:

In order for you to overcome your illness, cancer, it is important for you to express your emotions. Trapped negative emotions create stress in your body, and suppress your immune system…Picture your body now completely free of cancer, and in perfect health…your immune system is alive and radiant and brimming with life…your immune system is strong and powerful…letting your mind completely relax as you get more and more used to the idea of your body being completely free of cancer and your immune system powerfully strong.

Needless to say, I did not return this CD to our hospice after I listened to it.

Thankfully I happened upon Meditation Oasis, a project of Mary and Richard Maddux. They distribute free guided meditation podcasts on a variety of topics. As I began listening to assess their suitability for hospice, I came across meditations on deep rest, coping with pain, processing grief, and flowing with change. I heard no claims of healing the body or curing disease, just suggestions for coping with difficult emotions within a framework of acceptance.

When I contacted Mary for permission to burn the podcasts onto CDs to distribute to our patients and families, she told me that she used to be a hospice social worker. Ah, yes, I thought. That makes perfect sense.

Although many of these meditations are hospice-appropriate, most of them are on general topics suitable for anyone who is looking for help with stress relief.  Just click on the link above, or search on iTunes.

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It’s official: I have been “attuned” as a Reiki practitioner. And I am still torn between wanting to believe and wanting not to believe.

My teachers at Memorial Sloane-Kettering, Wendy and Michelle, described the introductory Reiki course as an “initiation.” There was a small amount of lecturing, where they gave the history of Reiki as they practice it, but most of the class revolved around four initiation ceremonies.

We sat in a circle and meditated quietly while Wendy and Michelle went around to each participant, placing their hands on our heads, shoulders, and finally taking our hands. It was very ritualized (and weird in that respect) but also extremely relaxing and powerful.

The end of the class was devoted to hands-on practice time. We paired up and gave each other Reiki, both in a chair and on a massage table. We were also assigned “homework” that is required for moving on to Level 2. Unlike with massage therapy, Reiki practice is centered around self-treatment. So our homework involves integrating Reiki practice into our daily self-care routines.

What kind of Reiki student am I at this point? Curious, to be sure. And still skeptical. I have done some self-treatment sessions and have found them to be pretty relaxing. I’ve also tried it out a little bit on a couple of my clients.  Sometimes I “feel” the Reiki and sometimes I don’t.

In the week before my initiation I received a Reiki session from one of my colleagues. Her hands felt very hot. The session was short, only 1/2 hour, and it felt like it went by very fast. I didn’t feel any obvious flow of energy like I have during acupuncture treatments, but I did feel a weird sensation like I was floating at one point. And at the end, I was completely exhausted.

A few weeks after the initiation I received a “hands-off” chair Reiki session from another colleague. I could feel the heat generated by her hands but I was distracted by the sounds of her swallowing and by the smell of her perfume. I am so accustomed to massage therapy, to being touched, that the hands-off approach didn’t really click with me.  The experience was similar to the one I had when a Reflexologist worked only on my feet for an hour.  The rest of my body was cranky and felt neglected.

I was unsure of what to expect before I went to the Reiki training. Part of me anticipated some kind of seismic shift in my consciousness and that part of me is a little bit disappointed. The rest of me, though, feels like my experience was adequately challenging and enlightening and I don’t really need a “thunderbolt” experience.

For many years I have been aware of energy in hands-on bodywork but I have not made much of a conscious effort to work with it. I am hoping that, by continuing to experiment with Reiki, I can develop a useful framework for tapping into the energetic connection that exists between people.

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This week, the governor signed a new law requiring LMTs in New York to take 36 hours of continuing education every three years in order to be eligible to renew our registrations.

Unsurprisingly, this decision has been met by some grumbling among massage therapists in NYC. “We make so little money as it is,” said one of my colleagues, “and now we are being forced to spend it on courses.” Others have complained that it seems to be another way for the state to raise revenue during difficult economic times.

As an individual massage therapist I tend to agree with these sentiments. I already take courses that I feel will enhance my practice and help with my professional development. But I suspect that the profession overall will benefit from this new requirement.

Massage therapy continues to struggle for inclusion within the health care system. Several years ago the basic educational requirement for licensure was increased dramatically, from a certificate program to an Associates Degree. Ironically, it was this change in the law that led me to go to massage school when I did; I knew I would never be able to afford a two-year program, so I squeezed into the last year of the one-year program and was “grandfathered in” under the old licensing requirements. I also had attained a BA and an MA already, so I did not feel I needed to add an Associates to my list of degrees.

When I began to meet up with new graduates in the workplace, I envied their additional training. And now that I work for a healthcare organization, I appreciate the fact that the massage therapy license requires a level of education comparable to nursing, terminating in a college degree. It gives us a measure of professional respect that a mere certificate cannot confer.

Similarly, requiring that massage therapists continue to study and learn throughout their careers is another step towards professional legitimacy. Doctors and nurses have strong industry-based standards for continuing education, such as specialized certifications, that are pretty much required if they are to advance in their careers. Massage therapists have a national certification board with continuing education requirements but there does not seem to be much professional incentive within New York State to carry this certification; jobs do not require it, and salaries do not increase for those who attain it.

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This afternoon I presented a workshop on massage therapy at the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society, along with my colleagues Cynthia X. Pan, MD, Jane Morris, RN, and JD Elder, LMT.

We had about 25 attendees, most of whom were doctors and nurses, as well as a few social workers. In addition to a lecture on trends in massage therapy usage and the research supporting its efficacy, we provided instruction in modified massage techniques for medically frail patients.

Workshop participants paired up to get hands-on experience with these techniques so that they can incorporate them into their work. Rather than try to turn doctors and nurses into massage therapists, the real purpose of this workshop is to get them to use a caring touch when examining patients and performing routine tasks like measuring blood pressure, listening to the heart and lungs, or even taking blood samples.

Everyone who attended the workshop participated enthusiastically in the hands-on portion. It’s encouraging to see medical professionals get so excited about massage therapy. Afterwards I was able to speak with several doctors who expressed strong support and enthusiasm for the integration of massage therapy into the medical setting. Hopefully this work will continue to spread and flourish as massage therapists reach out to educate health care professionals about its value.

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Although this is a little bit off-topic, two of my Wise Hands colleagues, Lesley Majzlin and Ellen Roth, recently returned from a service project in Ethiopia. They spent a month instructing orphanage caregivers in massaging the infants and children under their care.

For more about this inspiring project, please click this link:

Massage Therapy Comes To Layla House

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