A Guide to Nurturing Yourself

By Michael Finkelstein, MD

In my personal experience, few things are as effective as a 90-minute session with a great massage therapist— someone who works slowly and methodically and who is otherwise dialed in to me. I feel restored and revitalized—nourished by the time, intention, and attention offered. In my role as a holistic physician, however, I also see the flip side of the experience.

As quintessential nurturers, massage therapists often have imbalance in their lives—giving of themselves but not receiving, which, ironically, can lead to the kind of stress-related health challenges that massage therapists address in others.
To remain in equilibrium, and, therefore, in an optimal state of health, one must both give and receive in equal measure. Receiving is important for massage therapists, not only as individual human beings, but also as caregivers. Only when caregivers take the time for self-care can they acquire the energy to keep on giving. Fortunately, there are ways both big and small to give to yourself, receive from those around you, and otherwise restore your balance—even with a busy schedule.

Practice Healthy Multitasking
Everything is interdependent—muscles and nerves, bodies and minds, people and planet—and each connecting thread has a domino effect on the other. Slow Medicine, a concept that looks to find balance in our hectic health-care paradigm, recognizes this interdependence and guides individuals in connecting the dots between all the moving parts of our health. To this end, I believe there are seven spokes in the Slow Medicine wheel of health: the physical (play tennis, practice yoga); the mental-emotional (recite positive affirmations, practice guided imagery); our relationship to others (go out with friends for dinner, play games with a child you love); our relationship to the natural world (hike through a forest, watch birds in your backyard); our community (attend a neighborhood block party, join a networking group for massage therapists); our relationship to the Divine (attend services at a local spiritual center, pray or meditate at home); and our life’s purpose work (massage people back to health, volunteer for a homeless shelter).
Consider how to nurture each spoke of your personal wheel of health by doing something you love. Keep in mind that each spoke is a moving part with the potential to activate our innate healing response mechanism, and each spoke is dynamic—interacting with and amplifying the power of the other spokes. In other words, our wellness is not only the sum total of each spoke, or each moving part, it is also the synergistic relationship between them. If you meditate in your living room, on your own, you certainly may enhance your mental-emotional health by calming and clearing your mind. If, instead, you go with a friend to a group meditation in a local park, you not only may enhance your mental-emotional health, you simultaneously may enhance your relationship to others (your friend), your relationship to nature (the park), and your relationship to community (the meditation group)—amplifying the positive impact on your health.

Create a Morning Ritual
Instead of crashing into your day by texting, emailing, and otherwise responding to other people’s needs, take some time, as little as 10 minutes, to tune into yourself. You can recite positive affirmations, pray, read inspirational quotes, practice yoga, or write down expressions of gratitude, whether on your own or with the help of a book or CD. Whatever speaks to you, the important thing is to set the intention that you matter and that your morning ritual is nonnegotiable.

Put Yourself in the Calendar
Speaking of nonnegotiable, you put your massage clients, medical appointments, and business meetings into your calendar, right? You are just as important as they are, so make sure to put yourself in the calendar as well. When we do not block off time for ourselves, we are prone to pushing our own needs to the very end—a habit that is especially true for those with caregiver personalities, such as massage therapists. Begin with a small daily dose of “you” time, such as a 15-minute block in the evening, where you do some practice that nourishes you—whether it’s journaling, creating art, or dancing in your living room.
Gradually work your way up to blocking off time for a movie, a hike on some local trails, a night out with friends, and most importantly, weekly pampering. You provide hands-on healing on a daily basis, so, you of all people, deserve to receive it in turn—whether through a massage, haircut, or mani/pedi. For one hour a week, give yourself permission to invest in the soothing strokes and gentle care you offer others in your own practice.

Set Aside a Day of Rest
Your self-care should also include taking a full day of rest, once a week. In some cultures, this day is called the Sabbath. Not only is it an ancient religious practice for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, it is also a traditional ritual for all indigenous peoples who recognize the necessity to put down the shovel once every seven days. Think of the day as giving you formal permission to say no to anything you don’t love to do and yes to everything that feeds you, such as reading a book on the couch, playing in the water at the beach, or attending a theater performance. Consider staying away from your computer and turning off your phone for this block of time—a practice that will help soothe your entire nervous system and bring your system back into alignment.

Connect to Your Life’s Purpose
Stay connected to who you are and why you are here—which, among other things, will help you avoid going on autopilot in your work with clients. Create a vision board—with images that inspire you to follow your heart—made from photos, clips from magazines, or original artwork. Post this board prominently in your home or office. Sit with the board, incorporating the vision into your soul and inviting it to manifest into reality. Share it with loved ones, giving them the opportunity to support you in your process.
Remember, a great massage is one of the most valuable gifts to offer another human being. Honor the power and importance of your service by not only taking pride in what you provide others, but also by receiving in turn.

Michael Finkelstein, MD, is the author of Slow Medicine: Hope and Healing for Chronic Illness, endorsed by Andrew Weil, MD. Finkelstein has been featured in the New York Times and on CNN; has presented at leading venues, including GE Corporation and Omega Institute; and launched The Slow Medicine Foundation, www.slowmedicine.org, along with his life and work partner, Robin Queen Finkelstein (www.slowmedicinetherapist.com). Learn more at www.slowmedicinedoctor.com.