The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 24, 2013

Healing hands

Different strokes help folks weather a variety of conditions

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

Last year, the National Institutes of Health cited evidence on what to centuries of massage practitioners is common knowledge — the healing effects of human touch.

The NIH reported observations from Dr. Tiffany Field, who leads the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, indicating massage relaxes the nervous system by slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decreasing stress and pain hormones. More NIH-funded research has shown touch in the form of massage to be potentially beneficial in relieving symptoms of those suffering from low back pain, osteoarthritis and even cancer.

That’s no newsflash to longtime Beckley massage therapist Betty Fischer. She has practiced massage as a holistic method of complementary and alternative medicine spanning her career of 20 years. Short of the essential oils and products she uses to assist her skill, her kind of relief doesn’t come in a bottle.

After two decades of using her hands to facilitate healing, if there were one segment of the population in which Fischer has encountered obstacles, it has been with couples, lacking the ability to provide a simultaneous experience to those seeking it.

Fischer recently invited a partner who shares her passion for the benefits of massage, former Twistologie Studio owner Aimee Moore, who will expand the offerings of Fischer’s business, Essential Spa. Together, the pair now offers couples massage, along with an amalgamation of techniques, including Swedish, deep tissue and sports massage, Indian-style head massage and even prenatal and abdominal massage (to relieve menstrual cramping).

Couples massage is a practice growing in popularity in most major spas. For some men, reticent to go it alone, encouraging them to try massage alongside their spouse is the only way to reach them.

“Men do feel more confident to get massage when their wives bring them in,” verifies Moore.

The concept of unwinding together, two people being massaged in the same room by two different therapists is a tasteful and discreet, communal and peaceful alternative to dinner and a movie, and it also extends to friendships. “Girlfriends like to schedule massages together for a girls’ day out,” Fischer explains.

Reluctant though they may be, kudos to men for getting the most from their experience, once they make it through the door and onto the therapist’s table. “Men do relax faster than women do,” says Fischer. “He knows how to immediately change gears into relaxing. She is still thinking about everything that happened that day and what she’s left out there to do.”

Massage, whether experienced individually or with a spouse or friend, is an option to be tried for dealing with everything from daily stress to muscle pain and injury. In order for a therapist to understand how to properly relax a body, he or she has to build a professional relationship with a client over time.

“Building a relationship with one massage therapist is so important. You wouldn’t go to a new hairdresser every time you get your hair done. Scheduling regular massage, whether it’s every month or every week, helps us to get to know a client,” suggests Fischer. She learns her clients’ trouble spots like landmarks on a map, developing a clairvoyance of touch to read what each has experienced in regard to stress levels since their last visit.

Massage benefits can also be measured in the form of deep emotional releases for clients, the two therapists reveal. Without a word spoken, through the power of touch only, some clients will cry on the table, releasing pent-up emotions that surprise even them. “Sometimes they’re embarrassed at crying; most are actually very thankful and happy about having a personal breakthrough,” says Moore.

Fischer explains that massage therapy is more than an hour of a practiced delivery of a service — it’s a calling, and many entering the field don’t understand the compassion involved in the craft. “Massage allows people to connect to their true selves. They are experiencing a deep form of relaxation we work hard to create.”

The sum of such, a combination of touch, aromatherapy, relaxing music and environment, takes busy, beleaguered humans to a place they couldn’t otherwise reach on their own.

Massage Etiquette

1.    Leave your cell phone in the car.

2.    Don’t worry if you shaved your legs or not. “Don’t waste your energy worrying about those things,” says Moore. “I don’t care if your legs are prickly or if you just worked out and are sweaty.”

3.    Relax about modesty — you will be properly covered. Those uncomfortable forsaking clothing for the massage blankets or coverings provided can wear underwear… or for guys, gym shorts. The key is to balance comfort with access for the therapist to access your neck, back, arms, legs and feet. Therapists will uncover each area as they manipulate, and will cover again when they move to focus on another area.

4.    Don’t have an entirely full stomach, which will reduce the risk for discomfort, especially when lying on your stomach.

5.    Water, water, water, says Fischer. “You will benefit so much more from your massage experience if you are properly hydrated.” In addition to keeping skin supple, water before and after a massage will also help to flush out the toxins released into the bloodstream from the manipulated muscles.

6.    Don’t plan a massage on your lunch break or on a hectic day — for the maximum benefits of a relaxation experience, take the whole day off or plan a low-key activity to ease the transition from massage back into your regular day.

For more information or to schedule a massage or couples massage, contact Essential Spa at 304-890-1201 or visit .