Light Therapy: Baking the pain away

Let the sun’s rays bake my pain away…

I am FINALLY on vacation after a long, hard year of doing what a New Yorker does best – hustling! Gratuitous amounts of massage meant that business has been very good, but inevitably that overwork had its downside a.k.a tendonitis. My workouts helped me push through and past my ¨magic number¨ of massages per day, but with all that repetative movement it was inevitable that I would develop an overuse injury. Nevertheless, in the weeks that led up to my Mediterranean vacay, I had been laying out in the sun every morning before work to both settle my mind and develop a ¨starter¨ tan. The added bonus was the heat of the sun hitting directly onto my upper back and shoulders really dissipated a lot of the pain and tension I felt from the previous day´s physical demands. Unbeknownst to me this heliotherapy I was giving myself is actually a therapeutic technique dating back to antiquity. A number of ancient cultures had an idea of the healing properties of light. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed sitting in the sun to heal a variety of illnesses. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, preached that the sun could help heal nerves and muscles. Many ancient Greeks built roofless buildings for the purpose of exposing themselves to the sun´s rays. Outside of ancient Greece, the Egyptians took it a step further and practiced bathing themselves in various colored light to cure diseases. Thousands of miles away in India, medical texts dating back to 1,500 BC also note the healing properties of light for skin disorders. Go even further to China and their medical texts from over 2000 years ago detail a range of color and light therapies for skin and mental illness.

A woman receiving light from a modern light therapy i.e. phototherapy box

So, seeing that the ancients had an inkling of what the sun could do for one´s health, modern medicine didn´t get the memo until the early 19th century, where Niels Ryberg Finsen, a Danish doctor of Icelandic decent, studied the medicinal affects of light rays. His impetus was the severe metabolic disease he suffered from whose symptoms  he experimented with sunbathing to relieve. He died a year after winning the Nobel for a phototherapeutic device he created that simulated sun light to treat several skin conditions. Thirty years later, scientists realized a lack of Vitamin D produced in the body by exposure to sunlight, was the main cause of a disease known as ¨Rickets¨ which leads to the weakening and softening of bones. Twenty years after that, researchers in Hungary used soft laser light to relieve arthritis pain. In later years, NASA scientists did a plethora of research on the manner that LED light affects plant biology in an effort to understand how to grow plants in space. What they found was a very small spectrum of light provided most of the energy needed to grow plants. From this research, more strides were made in the understanding of the healing properties of light within animal and human cells. Currently, two forms of phototherapy exist; Non targeted light therapy that comes from a box, like in the image of the woman above and targeted light therapy, which is administered by a laser. These forms are used with much success in the treatment of such skin disorders as psoriasis, non-severe acne, vitiligo, eczema, atopic dermatitis, polymorphous light eruption and lichen planus. They have also been effective at treating mood and sleep disorders like SAD (seasonal affective disorder), non seasonal depression and circadian rhythm disorders like delayed sleep phase disorder. Further medical research is being done with light therapy to address accelerated wound healing and pain management, which brings me back to my tendonitis. My experimentation with light therapy from its natural source (the sun) elicited the following note. On the days that I did not lay out because weather did not permit me to, I found that the pain and weakness in my anterior shoulder and neck would become mildly worse and last the full work day. The days that I did get about 45 mins of sun exposure, it felt more like a dull ache and only after doing 6 hours of massage at the end of my day. It is clear to me that the sun does heal. In the two weeks I will be bathing in its Mediterranean glory, my hope is to eradicate most of the pain and heal those weary tendons. I am looking forward to the day when the medical community finally approves its use for pain management. We need more natural and ancient approved manners to heal our bodies and minds.

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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.