Let’s start at the beginning…why massage therapy as a career?
I became a massage therapist per the suggestion of my mother in law. After casually massaging her calf from an injury, she saw a talent in me that I had yet to recognize. So much so, she encouraged me to look into schooling. At this time, my career path was in a state of flux and I figured this field resonated with me. I have always been an affectionate person and have fond memories of getting scalp massages from my dad when I was an anxious child and couldn’t sleep. I feel a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment to have found a path that allows me to discover and heal myself and others.
How does being a gay black man affect your work?
Identity is something I have long struggled with in the face of societal pressures and expectations. I try to not allow the label of a gay black male define me, as these are immutable characteristics. There is no denying they play a role in how others perceive me and how I perceive myself. Each comes with their own benefits and drawbacks. Being gay may put some at ease, as they may see me as non threatening, but for others it may bring discomfort. The same goes for being male or black. Many ascribe ideas of strength, power or aggression with these identities and shy away or gravitate towards them as a result. I try to not take it personally and generally focus on being a better human (perhaps I may even upend their expectations.)
Massage has helped me understand my body, how it works, and accept my strengths and limitations. Identifying and accepting where I am but always looking for progress. In the world of massage it is important to meet someone where they are and work within their comfort zone to slowly break down the physical and mental barriers to build trust and bring forth healing. While I may not always enjoy these preconceived notions and don’t condone prejudice, I accept people have their own stories and my role is to make them comfortable in such an intimate setting.
A nervous, fearful, intimidated person doesn’t make for a good massage. No matter what. I must navigate my experience as a health professional with respect and focus on the work I do and the impact I have on others.
Has your job changed in the last few months?
My job has certainly changed over the past few months. I had to close for a few months due to Covid-19. Now, I practice heightened levels of caution in proceeding with my services. We wear face coverings and sanitation has been enhanced to ensure safe service. Extra time is allotted for this. Some techniques must be modified to accommodate wearing a mask. It can get a bit stuffy, but it is manageable. The safety and comfort of my clients is paramount and it is essential to follow protocols to ensure we all stay well.
Are there any common misconceptions you encounter in regards to self-care?
Self care is important as it allows you to find personal peace and balance. Thus giving you more to fuel yourself and provide assistance to others. You are no good to anyone if you’re not good to yourself first. At the end of the day you only have your body and mind. Strengthening and soothing these two allow you to navigate challenges and achieve goals with greater ease. The biggest misconception is that self care is a luxury. Self care is a way to maintain peace and balance within. It empowers us to face life’s challenges with strength and grace.
In your line of work you probably have a unique perspective on the relationship between stress and the body. What have you learned?
Stress manifests itself in the tissue and we carry it everywhere. Oftentimes without noticing. The area you feel the pain is oftentimes not the root of the cause. We call this “referred pain.”
I like to think of a relationship. When your significant other is upset they show signs. They may even act like they’re fine. You can do whatever to address the problem directly but they just don’t let it go. Many times it was something seemingly unrelated that happened in a different place or time that caused them to be upset. Connect the dots to see how they are related and don’t dismiss it because you don’t see the relation. Discover the underlying cause of what is manifesting this reaction and work within their boundaries to find a resolution.
What advice do you have for those who can’t afford massage therapy on how to pursue mindfulness, healing and stress relief?
My advice is to start connecting with yourself through touch and alone time. No tools or money are required to massage yourself or use items around your home. There is a certain level of empowerment in understanding what hurts or feels good on your body. Everyone’s perception and tolerance for discomfort is different. No one is better at knowing what hurts than you. This process builds understanding and trust into your perception of what is “normal” or “extreme.” It’s all about finding the balance within you. Wherever you are.
My advice is to find a local establishment like Project Yoga Richmond that offers donation based/sliding scale services. Free online resources such on youtube and social media offer simple at home tips and tricks for at home wellness. Using tools around the home such as tennis balls or purchasing a foam roller go a long way to relieve stress and target sore and tired muscles. Free guided meditation apps such Insight Timer, The Mindfulness App and Headspace allow you to check in/check out at your convenience and assist in creating positive habits.
Akeem Hutcherson graduated from the University of Richmond’s massage therapy program in 2014. He hopes to cultivate mindfulness within his clients as to how their bodies carry the stress of life and work toward balance and healing. Find him on Facebook, Instagram and at www.fasciafocusmassage.com.