Anger Management

Even the most balanced person in the world, when triggered, can completely lose it. Anger is a strong, uncomfortable emotional response to something or someone that has provoked you. It is how we psychologically interpret an offense, wrongdoing or denial that is often met with a desire to retaliate. It is our immediate response to stop a threatening behavior or situation that many psychologists believe has a primal function to ensure survival. However, in excess, anger can have many physical and mental consequences. Think of a pressure cooker. You can only let the steam inside build up for so long before the whole thing explodes.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…a pressure cooker meltdown in action.

For the last few weeks I have been functioning in a fog of anger resulting from an unfortunate series of events outside of my control. All attempts to go with the flow are challenged on a daily basis as I try to weather this Category 5 Super Cell ravaging my life. With my blood already boiling in its channels, add the 90 plus degree weather and humidity here in NYC, and I feel like I am being cooked from the inside out/outside in. Therefore, it is no surprise that my digestion, skin and sleep have all gone awry. In Chinese medicine, emotions and physical illness are closely tied. Anger causes excess heat in the body, so my feeling of being cooked is spot on. The emotion itself is tied into the Wood element, whose governing organs are the Liver and Gall Bladder per Chinese 5 Element Theory. Physiological functions aside, these organs function to drive us forward in life, set goals and get things done. Despite my best efforts though, I have been feeling like all my attempts at forward movement and reasoning are met by impenetrable brick walls that hit back. The buildup of anger causes an imbalance of excess manifesting in digestive dysfunction, headaches (especially behind the eyes, as is the case with a migraine), muscle tension and tendonitis especially in the pathways of the organs (lateral leg, flanks of the torso, shoulders and neck). These are just some defining symptoms for these organs, but as we all know, when one thing is out of whack, other areas of the body will be affected.

All the elements in Chinese 5 Element Theory have a generational and controlling/controller relationship. This means that each element and its organs have the capacity to nurture and be nurtured by other elements. They also have the ability to pull energy back from other elements and vice-versa as a sort of system of checks and balances to keep everything harmonious. In the case of Wood, the Liver and Gallbladder are nurturers of Fire (there’s the HEAT again) which is comprised of the Heart, Pericardium (the bodyguard of your Heart), Triple Energizer (your Immune system and temperature regulator) and Small Intestine (the almighty discerning organ of what should stay and what should be eliminated both in your body and in your life). So you see, if there is an imbalance in Wood, some of that excess is going to visit the child. The best way to address this would be to make the nurturer of Wood stronger, in order to suck some of the energy out. That would be the Water element, comprised of Bladder and Kidney. These meridians run from the head down the spine into the back of the legs and then up the interior legs starting from the middle of the sole of your foot all the way up to your clavicle. It’s a good amount of somatic topography to cover and has a major role in all our life functions. What do you need most if faced with adversity? A good strong back bone and inner resilience. What do you need if there is a FIRE a-brewing internally? A whole lot of WATER.

The excess of anger in Wood has the potential of over controlling the Earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen. Appetite and digestion would be affected, as I am seeing in myself. What is typical is a feeling of fullness which translates to a lack of appetite and a total aversion to hot food. In my case, despite the excess heat in my system, all my body craves is spice. This, I learned recently, is a huge no-no because it will only serve to feed the overheated beast. When in doubt, food should be lightly cooked and no extreme of temperatures should be entering one’s mouth. There are many “cooling” foods that aren’t necessarily cold. If anything, they are more water rich, which quells the fire and also detoxifies. Some examples are lemon, orange, watermelon, celery, Daikon (Chinese radish), kelp, tomato, chrysanthemum tea and seaweed. The Metal element consisting of Lung and Large Intestine are the controllers of Wood and are greatly affected by the buildup of heat, which rises. My normally clear complexion has seen some eruptions and with the skin being the 3rd Lung of the body, it is clear how the heat is trying to escape. Hello, inflammation! Large Intestine, the great eliminator of waste in the body, can’t do such a great job under these circumstances. Bouts of constipation and poop with undigested bits demonstrate this. Hence, why it is important to adjust your diet. And apparently, some of the biggest builders of heat in the body aside from spice are caffeine, certain vitamin B supplements, sugar, alcohol and adrenaline (stress hormone produced in times of high alert, kind of like now).

So what do I do with all this HEAT? Aside from the adjustments to my diet, I sought out some bodywork to bring my nervous system down. Two hours of point work and muscle release specific to the organs involved in my excess heat and I finally felt a still point in the madness. A day later, I was boiling again over yet another uncontrollable situation. In my mind I tried to go back to the still feeling I had when my practitioner’s hands came off of my head, but it was hard. There were moments during our work together, where he had me breathe with a deep long “oooooo” sound which tied into the release of my Large Intestine. I channeled that sound, thought of a song that I could sing under my breath as I walked the streets of NY and much later, at work between clients that would settle me down. And, it kind of worked. Sort of ironic that therapeutic touch and music, my two loves in life, were exactly what smoothed my feathers out.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

“Between Heaven and Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine” by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. & Efrem Korngold, L.Ac. O.M.D (c) 1991 Ballantine/Wellspring

“Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies” by Leon Hammer, M.D. revised version (c) 2010 Eastland Press

http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/581/warming-and-cooling-characteristics-of-common-foods/

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Jury rigged

One of the most valuable skills anyone can possess is the ability to temporarily fix things with whatever is available to you in the moment. There was a whole television series in the 80’s based on this skill, which I watched religiously. “MacGyver” was the perfect mixture of adventure and science to my young little mind and Richard Dean Anderson was so, so believable in his role. He cracked eggs from a chicken coup in South America over his car radiator to stop its leaking, so he could drive and escape the bad guys. Turned a coffin he was placed in, into a makeshift jet ski to escape “za Germans” — my hero!

MacGyver at work!

In classic American fashion, we use the term jerry rig to denote a patch job or temporary construction, which is incorrect. The proper term is jury rig, which is a nautical term stemming from makeshift masts and yards made in case of damage or the loss of the original mast. It’s a weak and temporary method; basically enough to help you steer your ship into the nearest port and get properly fixed. Same idea applies in everyday life. Jury rigged problems buy you time, but end up being a lot worse down the line if they aren’t addressed sooner than later.

In these precarious economic times, it’s understandable that jury rigging may be the only manner in which to address issues. However, keep in mind that a home is only as strong as its foundation. If the leg of your massage table is starting to come loose, it’s only a matter of time before the putty you used to secure it wears off and your client ends up on the floor. It may be worth investing in a new table. Believe it or not, there are affordable options out there, if you take the time to look. $108 dollars spent is better than a lawsuit. With respect to injury, trying to work through the pain of muscle spasms in your back by jury rigging your office chair is only going to get you out of work faster than if you take a personal day to get a massage, see the chiropractor and/or doctor to deal with it. Energetically speaking, if everything in your life is a patch job, you can never really move forward. Eastern theory indicates that the inability to think, plan and execute relates to the Liver and Gallbladder being out of balance.  They present with the following symptoms: muscular weakness in the limbs and back, irritability, sudden bursts of anger, migraines, indigestion, sinus issues and depression to name a few. For a more comprehensive list of symptoms, pick up a copy of Korngold’s “Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide To Chinese Medicine.” Acupuncture and Shiatsu massage both effectively address this type of imbalance and your practitioner can give you aftercare in the way of dietary modifications and stretches to support the work they have done. This is especially good if you cannot afford to do more than a few sessions. Life is too short and precious to be jury rigged. Do all that you can to permanently fix your problems, internally and externally.

Spa Confidential: An Opinion Editorial on the Wellness Underbelly

Back in 2000, chef Anthony Bourdain released his best seller “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly” a part auto-biography, part behind the scenes look at restaurant kitchens. For many, his cautionary tales, anecdotes and commentary changed the way people viewed the restaurant industry.  Inspired by some recent “unrest” amongst spa staff where I work, this post is a peek into the urban day spa. Nestled in the bowels of a cacophonous city, the spa should function as a mecca of relaxation for the guest. Leave your troubles at the door and enter a sanctuary of blissful rest for the next hour and change, depending on what treatment you have booked. However, if you are an observant type (and I so  am THAT person) you may be able to detect an undercurrent of negative, frenetic energy emanating from the staff servicing your decompression.

You may also wonder why, in a feel good business such as the spa industry, would anyone be in a negative way? Part of what makes me look forward to going to work is that 99.9% of my clients leave with a smile on their face and compliments falling out of their mouths. What other “service” profession is that gratifying?  Whatever the state they arrive in, be it imbalance, stress or sometimes pain, they leave in a better place than they arrived.  That makes me feel like my therapeutic duties have been satisfied. After all, I went back to school to become a massage therapist in order to help people. Being able to make a decent living is an added, secondary bonus. It sometimes makes me wonder where a colleague’s priorities are with respect to this profession, when I sense their disdain at having to work. More often that not, it is the feeling that their employers do not have their best interests in mind that overtakes their therapeutic mood, tainting them for their clients and all other people in their path. A recent corporate decision had many staff members airing their fears and complaints via online forum. Some of the things I read made absolute sense, but others were unbelievable laments of the ills dealt to them. Here is the thing – if I was that miserable and downtrodden at work, I wouldn’t stand for it. I would be on a fiendish search for a new home for my skills. Yes, the economy is not the greatest, but it is possible to find a number of part time gigs to supplement what you need to live, financially speaking. You can also grow your private clientelle, especially if you have been at this profession for a number of years. I am almost two years in and I have 4 steady clients I see privately in addition to my spa work. If I can do it, what’s stopping you? Is almighty FEAR rearing its head again? Or is it the stubbornness of the old school mentality of working the same job for 20-30 years, retiring and living off a comfortable pension for the rest of your years; no worries?

I don’t pretend to know everything (although I would love for that to be the case…ALWAYS 🙂 ), I just feel passionate about my profession and wish that more of my colleagues shared that sentiment. It’s so unfair, both to ourselves and to our clients, to allow policy changes and corporate memos to affect how we feel about the work and quality of service. It’s frustrating to have just a few minutes between appointments to not only walk your client back to reality, but clean the room, change the sheets, wash your hands and run to the next appointment without looking or acting harried. It’s frustrating to ask spa attendants for supplies you desperately need for your treatments, only to have them shrug and say they don’t know where anything is even though they have been working there longer than I have been licensed. It’s frustrating to have commissions you have worked hard for get slashed twice in a year, with no incentive on the horizon to reward your hard work. And finally, it’s frustrating that computer glitches and “prioritized” booking causes appointments to be unevenly distributed. How we anticipate these frustrations and how well we support each other as a team will make all the difference. I arrive early, I give the best possible service experience to my clients under the conditions I have to work with, I smile and say “YAY” when I greet them (not always, but when merited like “YAY, this is your first massage ever” or “YAY, you found a babysitter so we can give you the TLC you deserve, etc.), I squirrel away the supplies I need in bulk and give myself internal pep talks about the universe taking care of all. It’s been working for me so far, but as soon as it gets to the point where my clients become aware of my frustrations, I will need to reassess. Maybe the urban day spa may not be the right place for my work in the long run; however no matter what space I work within, I am always myself – a licensed health care professional with your well being in mind.

The profession of FIXING

The therapeutic relationship between client and therapist can get tricky when there is transference. This is a psychological phenomenon where an unconscious redirection of feelings occurs between people. These feelings are usually rooted in a relationship pattern from childhood yet unresolved. Some level of transference is normal and quite common. For instance, a client might pick a therapist who reminds them of their mother, transferring that role of nurturer onto them. However, when transference gets in the way of the therapeutic work it can put professional ethics and boundaries into question.

Today was the first time I let transference affect my work. I ended up resenting a client over something that had absolutely nothing to do with me. Here is what happened.

My client had literally no range of motion in his neck. He could neither actively nor passively turn or flex his neck any way but straight forward. I had never encountered this level of rigidity before, but I was inspired by the challenge. During our intake, he told me he had a stiff neck more years than I had been alive. With a slight sarcasm he said, “Let’s see what you can do.” In that moment, my client became my father, a man I had attempted to please my entire life to no avail. The emotions surrounding being constantly not good enough followed with that transference. His statement became a dare to see if I could FIX him. An affront to my skills set and experience. A sign that I was being set up for dismissal. Of course, I accepted the challenge determined to prove him wrong.

See daddy, I know something; lots of somethings.

I dug into my tool box of techniques and, while manually supporting the weight of his head with one hand, I used the strength of my fingers and fist to try and “melt” the cement strips that were his neck muscles. I worked methodically and repetitively on every muscle I could access in the posterior and anterior neck. With each little glimmer of movement, I became hopeful that his range would improve. By the time the massage ended though, I had only been able to get limited improvement. I didn’t FIX his problem. FAIL.

The thing is, the dare he posed to me was probably based on a presumption that the massage was not going to do anything for him. He arrived closed off to the work and with an unwillingness for change. When one is not open to change, nothing changes. Case in point, his stiff neck stayed as rigid as ever. As I gave him advice on aftercare, he kind of grunted and waved his hand in the air at me. It’s unfortunate that he disregarded my expertise, but I didn’t have to take it so personally.

The resentment bubbled up as the rest of the day progressed and like a good little masochist, I started to feel guilty about my transference. My more experienced colleague reminded me that our job as massage therapists is not to FIX people, despite our innermost desire at times to see an outcome immediate; a change enacted from our work in the flesh, so that we can feel a sense of accomplishment. I have that glitch within my matrix. I love it when a client says to me, “Oh my god, I feel like I have a new body” and other things to that affect after coming to me in some state of restriction/imbalance/rickety-ness. I should have derived my sense of accomplishment from the sheer fact that I gave him the best care possible despite his limitations. I’m taking today as a humbling reminder that I am not in the profession of FIXING. All I can do is invite them into a therapeutic environment, where they can feel safe to let go. Beyond that, I can only FIX myself.