Sizing up Success

by Bob King, bob@deepmtr.com,

Reprinted from Deep Massage Therapy Review, April 2006, used by permission

Is a large stature necessary to achieve success and longevity in the bodywork arena? “No!” is the answer from diminutive therapists everywhere.

Dina Casso, standing just less than 5 feet tall, has developed a reputation for effective and deep work on clients who frequent her practice at Bliss, an upscale Chicago-area day spa. Dina says it’s not unusual for clients to do a double-take when meeting her for the first time. One client even grabbed her hands to make sure she could provide adequate pressure.

Dina credits her dance background as an excellent complement to her bodywork career. Her strong proprioceptive awareness alerts her that some techniques with certain clients might have to be eliminated or altered. “For example,” she says, “if I give a sacral stretch from the head of the table on a client with a long torso, my back is flexed at a ninety-degree angle, my legs are locked, and I’m up on my toes. At that point, my leverage has been compromised. I’ve tried this technique from the side of the table, but then I have to rotate my lumbar spine for adequate engagement, and that twisting movement spirals all the way up my back.” Dina continually adjusts her body mechanics during each massage session. She regularly stretches and uses cryotherapy for her hands, thumbs, and wrists if she notices them becoming strained from frictioning or pincer compression techniques.

At 110 pounds, Katrina Baker specializes in myofascial and deep tissue work at a Boston clinic. Katrina “brings clinical massage to the masses,” the slogan at the clinic where she provides up to twenty-two one-hour sessions per week. She recently began a teacher-training program in yoga, a discipline she practices regularly. “The public responds well to my size,” she asserts, while employing a combination of deep tissue and myofascial approaches. “I sometimes have to explain that deep tissue massage does not have to hurt, which is a common misconception.”

Katrina uses elbow techniques in much of her work and keeps a very low table height in order to provide leverage-based tissue engagement. “My favorite teachers over the years have always explained that working deep is not working hard.”
As part of her maintenance program, she receives regular massage treatments from co-workers at the Boston Bodyworker. “I feel fortunate to be in a very supportive work environment, and it never feels like work because I love what I do.”

Carol Porter is a 106-pound, fourteen-year bodywork veteran who is currently free of injury and overuse problems. Carol uses a combination of free weights and yoga to stay flexible and strong. She learned early in her career how to maintain optimal health and fitness. Her first job was at a health club, and she quickly began trading massage sessions for personal training lessons. This led to other self-care techniques. “I take two consecutive days off per week to rest and repair,” she says. “I regularly practice meditation, do no more than five hours of massaging per day, and I receive regular bodywork. I feel that self-care is one of the keys to my longevity in this career.”

Terri Raisch, tipping the scales at 108 pounds, maintains a successful practice by stretching daily and performing torso curls to maintain her core stability. She stays conscious of her bodywork delivery system, “utilizing leg drive and weight transfer rather than arm strength,” to sink into deep layers of tissue. Proper warming of tissue helps her achieve optimal engagement and release hypertonicity. “Some therapists work too deep too fast and get caught in the game of exertion and strain,” she explains. Her self-care rituals include staying mentally focused, establishing proper professional boundaries, and maintaining a support system for her personal wellness.

Fifty-two-year-old Sharon Akiyama weighs 109 pounds, stands 5 feet tall, and maintains a full-time practice in Denver, Colorado. Sharon says her stature is a challenge, “because everyone I work with is bigger than me; taller, heavier, and bulkier.” She rises to the occasion by keeping herself in peak physical condition. In recent years, she has ventured into rock climbing, power lifting, and ballroom dancing, along with a strict program of cardio and physical conditioning. Sharon follows a healthy Asian-based diet and takes vitamins and mineral supplements.

Sharon compares massage to rock climbing. “It looks like it’s all upper body strength, but in reality you need powerful legs. The strength of my legs allows me to sink into stressed areas of tissue without straining my upper body. Learning to use my elbows in shiatsu takes considerable pressure off my thumbs. In Chinese medicine, your elbow is an extension of your fingers, so a little bit of leaning goes a long way,” Sharon adds. “I love massage therapy, and the only way I will be able to continue with my career is to stay in tip-top physical condition.”

Petite and powerful . . . it seems therapists of small stature all take the following actions:

It is my hope that these diminutive but powerful bodyworkers will help us put an end to outdated stereotypes such as “I’m too small to be successful” or “I’m not big enough to enter this profession.”

Maybe clients will soon stop examining the size of our hands and be more concerned about our commitment to excellence, our passion for service, and our expertise in massage therapy.

True success in our profession comes from within and a small frame can accommodate a big heart!


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