Ep 383 - Breaking the Grind: Embracing Relaxation as a Priority with Cal Cates

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We all experience the idea that relaxation must be earned. But what if we didn’t need to have a reason to relax or be kind to ourselves? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with Cal Cates about how rest and relaxation are necessities, not luxuries, and how forgoing rest to keep the “grind culture” train moving creates a disservice to our clients, ourselves, and the profession as a whole.


“Rest and Relaxation are Necessities, Not Luxuries,” Massage and Bodywork magazine, September/October 2023, page 79, https://www.massageandbodyworkdigital.com/i/1505456-september-october-2023/80?

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Author Bio: 

Cal is an educator, writer, and speaker on topics ranging from massage therapy in a hospital setting to end-of-life care and massage therapy policy and regulation. Cal is the executive director and founder of Healwell, a nonprofit organization that works with children in hospitals and clinical facilities.

Cal also trains massage therapists about sustainable caregiving and partners with hospitals to conduct research about the effects of massage on people living with illness. For more information, visit healwell.org.

Cal is the host of the podcast Interdisciplinary, found everywhere podcasts are available, and a columnist for Massage & Bodywork magazine.



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Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.0 Kristin Coverly: Are you a massage or body work practitioner who's interested in equipment or amenities for your business? Touch America wants to save you money while providing quality equipment backed by personalized customer service from our family-owned company in North Carolina. Touch America offers a full line up of treatment tables to go along with Halotherapy design and supplies, shirodhara kits, speakerless sound equipments, relaxation loungers and more. Receive a 20% discount at touchamerica.com by applying your ABMP member discount code found on abmp.com/discounts. Visit touchamerica.com today.


0:00:50.9 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.

0:00:52.4 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:00:53.3 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Cal Cates. Cal is an educator, writer and speaker on topics ranging from massage therapy in the hospital setting, to end-of-life care and massage therapy policy and regulation. A founding director of the Society for oncology massage from 2007 to 2014 and current executive director and founder of Healwell. Cates works within and beyond the massage therapy community to elevate the level of practice and integration in massage overall and in healthcare specifically. Cates also is the co-creator of the podcast, Massage Therapy Without Borders and Interdisciplinary. For more information, visit healwell.org. And Cal is columnist for Massage and Bodywork magazine, and recently wrote a piece in the September October 2023 issue titled Rest and Relaxation are Necessities, Not Luxuries. Which brings us to our topic today. Hello, Cal and hello, Kristin.

0:01:53.0 Cal Cates: Good. I feel like after that introduction, people can will be like, "This person has no business talking about rest," but...

0:02:02.0 DB: Hold on let me just keep reading this bio that goes on for three pages. Now how do we rest Cal how do we do that?

0:02:05.7 CC: I don't know I'm too busy right now.

0:02:14.2 KC: I love it. Obviously, Darren just referenced the column that you just wrote for the recent edition and issue of Massage and Bodywork magazine, tell us about the overall message of the column and your motivation to write it? What was in your brain?

0:02:24.6 CC: Oh boy. What was in my brain? Well, I feel probably multiple things, I can't say for sure what inspired me at that moment to write about it, but I think there's a conversation happening in our culture right now around rest, and in some ways, I feel like it dovetails or mirrors the thing where people said, Oh, everybody's like, there's a real conversation about death right now. And then everybody takes a deep breath and goes, Oh, thank God, we're talking about it. I'm like, yeah, but we're not doing anything about it. We're just talking about it. And I feel like there's a real... Rest and relaxation are sort of dirty words in the massage profession in this weird way, when we're talking, particularly when we're talking about this, the vaunted phrase of elevating the profession.

0:03:13.2 CC: It feels a lot like many other movements where we sort of say like, Okay, we'll come back for you relaxation therapists, but the rest of us, the ortho people and the hospital-based people, and the real massage therapist, we're gonna get them in the door first and then will make way for this somehow less important type of massage, and then also, not only have we sort of intentionally or unintentionally devalued rest, but we have sort of decided that there are only certain types of massage that result in rest or that sort of facilitate rest, and that if I do this type of massage, rest isn't even on the agenda. And I think I wanted to just invite people to notice those biases and see if they really show up for them in their lives and practices.

0:04:01.4 DB: Yeah, I'm just thinking about it also from a student's perspective, when they get out of school, and if the structure and the system is already set up that, Well, this is where you start, but this isn't gonna be what you do, you're gonna continue to add more modalities, more things to your tool kit. And maybe that can be true, but also what you're doing is heroic right out the gate. People should know that.

0:04:27.3 CC: Yeah, it's funny in my house, we sort of are always reading two books at once, 'cause whatever book Carrie is reading, I'm also reading it by accident because every other page we're like, "Oh, can I read you this?" And so, I'm osmotically reading right now a book about a woman who went to medical school, I think in the same way that a lot of people go to massage school thinking like, I'm going to support people, I'm gonna make people feel better. And then you get into this system and you pick your head up one day and you go, "Oh, I'm not doing what made me come to this work," and I feel like that happens in massage as well, because we are having these conversations right now about, Is massage a sustainable profession, and how much hustle is involved in just sort of making a living as a massage practitioner? And I think all of these questions are rolled into what kind of energy are we bringing to our clients, are we noticing or facilitating rest in our own lives and all of these things that, who I am outside my treatment room impact who I am in my treatment room.

0:05:24.3 DB: Cal I think one of the things we're unfortunately fighting as a culture, and you write about it in the column, is a culture of production, action and achievement, and that relaxation must be earned. Can you just tell me a little bit more about that?

0:05:41.3 CC: I'll try to tell you a little bit more about that. I think it's true, and I wanna say in whatever way people can hear it, that this conversation is an invitation to notice. It is not a judgment, if you're hustling, you're not doing it wrong, in fact, you're probably being rewarded in all kinds of ways for exactly what you just described Darren. Our culture is really about, success equals a strong bottom line, it equals clients booked out for months, right? We're doing it right, if that is how it works, and I feel like our culture, we have work and not work, but rest, it's another place where the binary totally lets us down. Rest is the this third way of being that we just don't have, that we just don't know how to do, that when we are not doing the thing we call work, we're often still working in all kinds of ways. And culture says, "Hey, way to go, we do not sit down today, way to eat a power bar for lunch while you make up your massage table." Right? And you go, "Yeah, look at me, I saw eight people today," and some part of you feels like, "Nice job." And how do we... It's gonna be... Rest is going to be a group activity. We are going to have to support each other in challenging that cultural status quo of working harder, working faster, working all the time.

0:07:10.7 KC: That's so funny because literally right before we started recording this podcast, we were talking about closing the rings on our Apple Watch and how successful that feels, how great that feels to achieve that success each day.

0:07:26.5 CC: Yeah, I'm in the process of letting go of the streak on Wordle, because if I get stuck on Wordle, I just close it and then I come back later and my brain is like, I've got it, boom. But sometimes the day takes off and I forget to do it, and when I open the next day, I'm like, "My streak is gone!" Dude I do not care that my Wordle streak is gone. It is okay. But man, we're... Breaking up with technology, I think is a huge part of supporting rest, and that it is about, again, we have a daily conversation in our house, 'cause my wife has an Apple watch and I do not, and I hate the Apple Watch for all the reasons that people hate it, right? But I also...

0:08:06.5 CC: You get busy and at the end of the week you go, "Oh, I did work out like five times this week," or, "I did whatever... " I was more active than I thought I would be, but when you sit down on the couch at night with your tea or your little sip of bourbon or whatever, and the watch goes, "You could still do it." No, no, that's not... No. What do you mean I... 200 calories, you want me to burn 200 calories right now at 7 O'clock at night, just take a brisk walk around the block, my watch says. No I have been walking briskly all day.

0:08:33.0 DB: Maybe we need to focus on that bit of bourbon that you address there. Maybe that's our different podcast that will start soon, but you're right. I'm listening to it, and I'm listening to our Pavlovian responses. To all of these things. And you're like, "Hey listeners, you know it's okay if you don't close out the ring, you didn't really get anything." Also it's cool that you didn't open your Insights Timer and meditate 3000 days in a row. Its okay that you didn't do the Wordle today you're not gonna get a prize for it anyways, you know?

0:09:06.8 CC: No, it's true. Nobody cares. And do you wanna be the person who's like, "Look at me, 80 day Wordle streak." I don't know, maybe you do. But what's that about?

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0:10:34.7 KC: Let's get back to our conversation. I'm curious, as we're talking, and I'm sure our listeners are too, are we talking about a yes, and or an and/or situation? So we've got obviously practitioners who specialize in relaxation therapeutic sessions, but then we have other practitioners who are more treatment-based orthopedic-based, but that can be a yes, and situation, right? They can do that treatment work and bring a rest and relaxation component in. What do you think?

0:11:02.3 CC: Yes, absolutely. I think this is my sort of hope was that the invitation is like, don't stop being a Rolfer or being an orthopedic-focused therapist, and notice that people are coming to you because they're in need of rest. Yes, they have pain in their hip or there's a thing that made them come to you and yes, in some way, back to Darren's point, they have earned this rest, 'cause they've made enough disposable income to pay you to spend an hour or 90 minutes on your table, but the idea that we could be resting while massaging, that's not a thing. You go in your room and you're like, I'm working, right? But this is what you're doing for the next hour. Your mind can make it work or not work, and maybe it's not rest per se, although I feel like...

0:11:53.7 CC: I feel weirdly energized when I have spent the day in the hospital at the bedside of people who are really sick because I'm like hanging out with them, right? This is what I'm doing for the next six hours. Maybe we have had conversations, I feel a lot of things in my body while I'm in there, etcetera, but I didn't wanna be anywhere else, and it was a great time that I spent. And I am hopeful that many of the therapists listening, when you look at your book for the day, you go, Oh, there's at least one person on there like, Oh, I get to see so and so today, but they become another to do in your mind. And so when they come in, you're like, Okay, we're doing this.

0:12:33.8 CC: And you're looking at the clock and you're like, Okay. And after this one, I have two more sessions or whatever, but can you... One of my first meditation teachers came up with these five invitations, and one of the invitations is to find rest in the middle of things, and I think this is something that we have the potential to do when we're driving to work, when we are setting up our table, when we're actually giving a massage, we can work less hard, we could find that rest and we could plant seeds for our clients, and I think this is where people get a little scootchy and worried worry about scope and things. We can ask questions that invite our clients to notice their own grind culture, we don't have to say, "You know, you're hurting yourself by doing this every day." Right?

0:13:17.5 CC: Nobody's gonna respond well to that, but you could just say like, so what would happen if you didn't run tomorrow, and then maybe they say, "That's crazy," and you go, "Okay, useful information." And/or maybe they're like, "Huh, well, I could... " And then now you're in the middle of a conversation where they're like, "Huh, it never occurred to me to not run tomorrow, even though my ankle is swollen and my knee hurts or whatever." And so I think we do have that opportunity to just sort of suggest that there's another way, and I think we get better at doing that when we do that for ourselves.

0:13:49.1 KC: Yeah, and it sounds like we're talking about rest and relaxation in so many different ways, so really talking about it as humans that we can work that more into our balance and into our lives, and also as practitioners that we can find that while we're working, but also the rest and relaxation that we provide clients during a session, so kind of a multifaceted RNR convo.

0:14:11.4 CC: Definitely I mean, it is a process and it is also a condition, and so I think you're really pointing to those two things and that we're not accustomed to the condition and we don't know how to facilitate the process, just our culture doesn't support us in doing that.

0:14:28.1 DB: But Cal though, no pain, no gain. I mean come on.

0:14:31.8 CC: Pain is weakness leaving the body.

0:14:35.3 DB: Yeah, it sure is. And by the way, I was relaxing in and resting during your entire last answer, I mean, it was amazing. I thoroughly enjoying myself.

0:14:45.3 CC: Well, I wish you all could see the beatific smile on Darren's face right now, and the good that that brief period of rest did for him, and I think... You're joking, not joking, right? And we're gonna get back to the no pain, no gain thing, but I think, again, with the training that I've had an opportunity to do with healthcare providers, this is always, well, I don't have time to be compassionate, to feel in my body, to whatever. It doesn't take more time, it takes a choice to spend your time differently. If you have 30 seconds to breathe and feel your breath and not make it a big thing where you're breathing through your nose and out through your mouth and breathing on a square. If you wanna do that, great, but just sit still for... And I'm gonna pull out the just 'cause sitting still for 30 seconds is a profound challenge for some people, it's not a thing that we are used to doing, but I'm not talking about going out in your yard and in a chaise lounge and waiting for a bucket of Coronas to show up, and that's rest. That is a form of rest. Absolutely, but there is rest available, it's not that you don't have time, it's that you're not making time, and it doesn't have to be a lot to be valuable.

0:15:56.1 DB: Okay, in the column, Cal, you talk about this relaxation massage boat that's gonna be leaving the dock and a little bit about breaking the stigma of massages, pampering and Spa days and we talked about shaming at the beginning, how do we transition from massage as nice to necessary?

0:16:14.5 CC: Yeah, well, that's the boat I think that I'm sort of talking about is that we are... Again, maybe we're just talking about it and not doing much about it, but there's a heightened awareness about the legit mental health crisis that is happening certainly in the United States, and I would argue probably globally right now. There are so many things to worry about if you were paying attention, and studies and surveys show that Americans are worried about a lot of things that they can't do anything about. And we are recognizing that a record number of Americans are seeking mental health professionals, counseling, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, are taking drugs to support their mood and happiness and just ability to function. And for us to pull away from or to not recognize the opportunity to step toward being one of those support pillars to address this crisis feels like totally missing the boat. And it is a little bit of fake it till you make it. Because I do think that culturally, we are still very much invested in this idea of earning rest, and massage in particular, I think we struggle because it is a disposable income thing, access is an issue, and so some of the people who need the most rest can't get massage, because they don't have...

0:17:34.4 CC: Not only do they not have disposable income, but they have two jobs, three jobs, children, multi-generational families, there's a lot of pressure on them, and the idea that those people aren't able to get rest. When we are all rested, we will all do better, but we still it's very hierarchical in terms of who qualifies to rest, who can afford to rest, but I think it's important for us as a profession to say that no matter what specialty of touch you're engaging in, rest is one of the benefits. And it's okay to say that even if you're not "a fluff and buff therapist", and that it's not like a thing you put in the fine print at the bottom. You will be restored by an hour on my table, my hope is that I don't restore you, so you can go burn yourself to a fuzzy nub again, but we gotta start somewhere, right?

0:18:26.0 KC: And that's a really good point too, that when we're thinking about a client who's looking for a practitioner, they're visiting all the websites, they're reading all of the descriptions of the work that that practitioner does, that's a really important component that they're looking for in addition to the, I can help with blah, blah, blah, they're looking for that benefits-based language that talks about everything that will happen during the session and how they'll feel feel after, and that rest relaxation component is a really important part of it that I think some treatment-centered practitioners might leave out.

0:19:01.4 CC: Yeah, and I think, again, to move away from any sense of value judgment, it's like a nephrologist talks about kidney stuff, even though they know about lots of other parts of doctoring and therapists too, the more specialized we become, the less we remember the basics. And so maybe it's an invitation for all of us to take a look at our websites and say like, Yes, I've taken all these trainings and these are conditions that I find it fun to work with, and the thing that underlies all of my work is a sense of restoration, is a sense of peace, is an opportunity to just take some deep breaths and that doesn't diminish the value of what you're doing.

0:19:41.9 DB: Alright, Cal, as we bring this podcast to a close here, what are your final thoughts and what's next? I know we open opened the podcast with, we're talking about this, but aside from our websites, so what can we do?

0:19:56.3 CC: Well, I feel like every time when you have me on, and it's always so fun to be with you all, you ask me what we can do, and I think I always say we can start noticing. We don't even notice that we're not resting. So before you get out your, whatever your thing is that you use to make a plan, before you hash your whole rest plan, just take a look for the next week or two, is there room for rest that I'm not taking? Are there things that I'm doing that maybe I could stop doing, that I just do out of habit? What do I notice when I look around? If I took a rest quiz, would I be killing it? Or would I be like, "Wow, what's rest? I don't even know how to spell that." Right? So I think just paying attention to how rested do you feel? When I'm teaching meditation, people say, "I can't meditate when I close my eyes, I go to sleep." I'm like, "Sounds like you need some rest, sounds like your body doesn't what to do when you close your eyes except to go unconscious."

0:20:54.0 CC: And it's okay to say, "Wow, I'm really tired." And kind of if you're not tired, congratulations, because you have somehow broken out of the mold of what's expected of us culturally, and maybe get a rest buddy, maybe find somebody else that you think could benefit from rest and be like, "Hey, let's check in on each other, let's share like this is how I'm resting this week, or I did this thing today that was surprisingly restful and what do you think?" And then you can both be like, hey, and you can sort of be like, "That doesn't sound restful what you told me you're gonna be doing this weekend, like not judging just saying." 'Cause it helps to have somebody else looking out for you, and it helps to have someone else normalize the sort of gas lighting of culture about non-rest and yeah, so get a rest buddy, get a couple of rest buddies. I saw Darren eyebrows go up. You can rest with people definitely Tricia Hersey the Nap Bishop, they have collective rest events, where strangers come into a room that has been designed for napping and they nap together near each other, and it's transformative.

0:22:02.0 DB: It sounds like kindergarten when we laid on the mats.

0:22:06.5 CC: Right? Exactly.

0:22:07.6 DB: I love that.

0:22:10.1 CC: Except they have legit pillows, and it's not just a carpet square, it's like for real, you could just leave the planet in comfort. Yeah.

0:22:17.5 KC: Oh, I love it, I love rest, but I'm taking rest buddies home. That's my post-pod thing. I'm taking rest buddies home also. Also a phrase that I think applies here is, If you can't meditate... What's the phrase? If you can't meditate for five, you should probably meditate for 10 minutes. Right? Alright, I wanna thank our guest today, Cal Cates, for more information about Cal and the great work that is happening at Healwell, visit healwell.org. Thanks, Cal and thanks, Kristin.

0:22:44.5 CC: Thanks for having me you guys, always a pleasure.

0:22:46.5 KC: Thanks for another great podcast conversation.


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