Back in ‘99 I received my 1000-hour Massage Certification from the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT), and several years later earned my Sports and Orthopedic Massage Certification. In the late 90s BCMT was ranked top five in the nation, a great school with excellent instructors. One instructor in particular stands out: Elaine.
The first thing I noticed about Elaine were her hands. She was not a tall or large woman. But her hands were so thick with muscle it looked like she had on a pair of baseball catcher’s mitts. When Elaine walked into the room, you knew you were going to laugh, and you knew you were going to learn. A lot. She hailed from New York City, and was of Puerto Rican heritage. She had dark curly hair cut short, lovely olive skin, and definitely could have been (maybe had been) a stand-up comedian. She was a classy version of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Elaine had some nifty tips. If you accidentally caused a client pain during the session, apologize immediately, and erase the mistake by rubbing that painful area with your hand. Brilliant, because when you rub an area that hurts you take advantage of the pain gate theory, wherein touch signals to the brain beat out the pain signals at the “gate”. She would walk around and feel our nails - each and every finger - to be sure no sharp edges were digging into our clients. She taught us to look at shoes - “just sittin’ over there looking at you while you’re working on those feet” to pick up on specific areas of the foot and lower leg that needed attention.
From Elaine I learned about massage not just as a practice, but as a philosophy. I learned things that influenced me 25 years ago, and continue to guide me now. Some of the most impactful:
You can create healing with strong hands.Strong and flexible hands support good work and longevity in this profession. I often visualize Elaine’s strong paws as I work, creating bloodflow, space, allowing for and creating change in the body.
A sense of humor gets you through.
Elaine’s wit allowed for learning to be fun in the massage room and the classroom, and is a reminder to me even in the most difficult of circumstances. Levity is healing.
Focus on the possibilities rather than the limitations.
Seeing a client for what can be (strength, pain reduction, mobility, relaxation) rather than stopping short at current limitations like scoliosis, Parkinson’s, sports injuries, surgical recovery, etc., opens up the possibility of change, of healing. When we did our own case studies for Sports and Ortho, the evidence, the results, were right there. Just because you don’t completely reverse or cure a condition doesn’t mean you haven’t allowed for transformation.
Sadly, Elaine passed away 11 or 12 years ago. We lost a great person when she went. It helps a little to know that her legacy lives on in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of massage therapists and clients too. I am confident all those whose lives she touched still hear her voice, and feel her guidance, just as I do.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT