by Eric Rasmussen
The list of stereotypes of northern-European descended Midwestern people is not long, but it is fairly well known. They are polite and generous. They can certainly handle cold weather. They are often relatively private people. And they do not like to be touched.
This last characteristic of your average upper-midwesterner, though, has started to change. While they still are not big huggers, a lot of people, especially around the Chippewa Valley, have stepped out of the sanctity of their personal space bubbles in the name of better health and well-being. The popularity of chiropractics proves this point quite well. The bear hugs and face touching that accompany the average adjustment would have been seriously beyond the boundary of acceptable contact for most people only a handful of years ago. Another example would be the growing prevalence of massage. Between rigorous therapeutic massage and gentle relaxation massage, nearly everyone has either enjoyed some time face-down on a table, or would like to. And even the holdouts out there, the people still clinging to their personal private space, seem like they might come around, with a little convincing.
But now is not the time to be patting ourselves (or each other, now that we are cool with that sort of thing) on the back! Once we accept the healing and relaxing powers of touch, entire worlds of massage are available beyond the popular Swedish and deep tissue massages. Many of these different types come with techniques that require additional leaps of faith, much like was required of so many current massage enthusiasts the first time they disrobed and hopped on the table. From unique massage methods to essential oil-soaked rice balls to energy-detecting crystals, if we can continue to keep an open mind, the wonders of massage are far vaster than many of us realize.
So, our goal is to invite all the massage novices out there to the next level. And what better way to introduce you to these types of massage, all available locally from skilled and enthusiastic practitioners, than to try them ourselves? We know, the prospect of testing numerous types of massage sounds trying, even downright harrowing, but we are convinced these varieties are exactly what we tense Midwesterners need. And because this is our holiday issue, everyone who is looking for gifts for stressed-out friends and relatives can use this list as a guide for their gift certificate needs. Now, take a deep breath, and relax…
I have been getting semi-regular massages for several years. As one of the lucky people out there who do not struggle with back pain or headaches, I was always most interested in relaxation and the release of tension, and the classic deep tissue massage has always been something I have looked forward to a few times a year. So, I figured I would start my massage journey with something familiar, and Alisha Koutney of Mission Accomplished Studio in Eau Claire was happy to oblige.
Mission Accomplished Studio is unique, at least among the massage places I visited. Located on owner Kim Landry-Ayres’ converted farm property, the studio is actually half gym, half yoga center and massage. Both Kim and Alisha are also personal trainers and competitive body builders themselves, and Alisha’s dedication to weight lifting means tense muscles and knots do not stand a chance. Table massages take place in an airy, tiled room in the back. The deep tissue massage I received was as satisfying as any I have received: equal parts deep breathing, wincing as she hit the tense spots on my neck and back, and a full body sense of relief when it was over. Whether you are seeking pain relief or general muscle maintenance, nothing beats a classic deep tissue massage. Alisha, like any skilled masseuse, can keep it soft or relaxing, but it does seem that Alisha especially could put your sore muscles through the wringer.
As soon as I had recovered from my deep tissue experience, Kim Landry-Ayres, owner of Mission Accomplished Studio, was waiting for me in the yoga room with a little nest of blankets on the floor. Despite attempting to try all of these massages with a completely clean slate, I knew Thai Yoga Massage was a mix of classic massage and yoga. I tried yoga once, and it was nice, but it made me curious if this massage was going to require twisting into all sorts of poses. In other words, was this massage going to be work? Because that kind of seems to defeat the purpose of massage, at least for lazy massage enthusiasts like me.
The yoga part of Thai Yoga massage, fortunately for me, is handled entirely by the practitioner, which means Thai Yoga massage, from the receiver’s perspective, is a mix of muscle manipulation and stretching. THAT is something I could get on board with. After talking a little with Kim about the practice, she checked my energy flow with a crystal, which was a first for me. Then she started to pull, fold, and stretch my limbs while working various parts of my body.
I loved Thai Yoga massage. I am a relatively active person, and I exercise occasionally, but flexibility is not a trait I possess. Plus, I am slowly getting to the age where getting out of a chair or bed is accompanied by all sorts of joint cracking and stiffness, and the Thai Yoga massage’s focus on muscles and joints felt great. And according to my post-massage energy flow assessment, everything was streaming as it should. Bonus.
My first next-level massage (Thai Yoga) was only a half-step more advanced than anything I had tried before. My next stop seemed to me, a relatively skeptical, relatively average Midwesterner, like it was going to be miles beyond my experience. Here’s what I had been told about Craniosacral massage before I visited Jean Kowalski at Colors of Joy Healing Arts Center: it involved only minimal touching, if any at all, and the purpose was to massage my energy, not my body. I have an open mind, and I am always excited to try new things. But there was a definite amount of cynicism on my part.
Jean is located in downtown Eau Claire in a small office, and she immediately quelled a lot of my suspicions. We had a great conversation about the philosophy of energy that encompasses Craniosacral therapy, but more than anything, her dedication to her understanding of how people’s energy works impressed me. She had nothing to prove or defend, and that confidence had me on board immediately.
The massage itself completely blindsided me. The touch she used was extremely light, and after settling down, I entered some mental place akin to the state just before falling asleep. Several images came to me, which Jean was excited to discuss with me afterwards. After every massage, one is left in a state of swimmy relaxation. My mental state after this massage was on a whole different level – it was somewhere between sleeping for fourteen hours, seeing a life-altering film, and enjoying a transcendent meal. Skepticism solved.
I am not normally the kind of person who spends too much time thinking about gender stereotypes, but when it comes to massage, there is definitely a line. I would never think twice about trying any type of massage, until they start to cross the line into the spa and skin treatment milieu. The cucumber-over-the-eyes, mud bath types of treatments just don’t mesh with my rough, macho exterior. But, with Patricia Wickman of Radiant Living Yoga and Ayurveda, I had my first experience being doused, and let me tell you, my skin felt great. Don’t tell any of my guy friends.
Actually, Patricia is an Ayurveda practitioner, and what she does is much, much more than spa treatments and soft skin. Ayurveda is an entire wellness philosophy, and Patricia works with clients on everything from diet to massage to treatments like I received. For this experiment, I did not receive a full Ayurveda work-up, but instead had a change to try a type of massage that cleanses the body and cools one off at the height of summer. It was a hot day when I visited Patricia, so I was excited.
Referred to as Pinda, the massage actually involves rice balls infused with Ayurvedic herbs, which are dipped into a preparation of coconut milk and other ingredients and used to massage the subject. The rice balls were hot, but the solution was so cooling. It felt wonderfully refreshing. Then, I got to try something called a steam tent, which is exactly like it sounds – a pup tent looking apparatus that steams its inhabitant. Overall, the temperature extremes were very relaxing and perfect for a hot summer day. Even more exciting, as Patricia explained, is that Ayurveda contains treatments for every time of year, for every type of wellness goal. Not all of the offerings come with rice, though.
Every masseuse or massage center takes great care to create a relaxing, spiritual space that contributes to the experience. Healing Intention, the healing practice of Sandra Anderson, really stands out as an excellent place to find a little peace and relief. Sandra runs her practice out of her beautiful home on a wooded lot in a Lake Wissota neighborhood. Several of the practitioners I visited make their best contributions to customers’ lives not through occasional, detached massage visits, but through becoming a health and healing coach, and Sandra exemplifies this approach. Before trying a Reiki massage, we talked about her complete conception of wellness, a conception she is strongly passionate about. Sandra’s background is in western medicine, which she left when she started to become aware of her intuitive gifts. This gives her special expertise in serving all aspects of her clients.
The massage I received from Sandra was actually a hybrid of several energy-focused traditions, including Craniosacral, but was primarily derived from the Reiki tradition. Both traditions, from my perspective lying on the table, were very similar – very gentle touch, focus on the energy flows throughout the body, and a deep sense of relaxation when the massage is complete. Sandra also incorporated some aromatherapy through the use of essential oils. As a converted believer in these traditions, I enjoyed Reiki very much. I was also impressed by Sandra’s passion. While there was no dearth of conviction from any of the practitioners I visited, Sandra is clearly excited to help clients overcome all that ails them.
At the end of this journey, I had enjoyed six massages in a little over three weeks. I was so relaxed I was falling asleep while eating dinner, taking showers, and mowing the lawn. My muscles were so loose I would wake with my limbs wrapped around myself like a pretzel. And in terms of pure relaxation, my final massage, a Lomi Lomi massage at Sans Souci Massage in Eau Claire, was the metaphorical hot towel after a blissful hour on the table. Lomi Lomi is a derivation of a much larger wellness tradition out of Hawaii, similar in scope to Ayurveda. Although the Lomi Lomi massages offered at many massage businesses are quite far removed from that tradition, the techniques make for a unique and especially sigh-inducing experience.
What makes Lomi Lomi unique is the use of long, flowing strokes that are not as deep or intense as many other types of massage, but that still work tense muscles in a very gentle way. While a grimace-inducing deep tissue massage feels great, a gentle Lomi Lomi massage delivered much of the same benefit without all of the wincing. Another interesting observation that can only be made through trying numerous massages from numerous practitioners has to do with music. Every massage I experienced came with a unique music choice, from classical music to drum based world music to gentle atmospheric music. To make an authentic experience, Sans Souci even has Hawaiian music. All that was missing was a salty breeze.
Eric Rasmussen is a freelance writer, an English teacher at Memorial High School and a wonderful father and husband.
More Massage Info!
Healing with Cranio-Sacral Therapy with Jean Kowalski
Cranio-Sacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on method of evaluating and enhancing the functioning of our physiological body system – the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. CST is a powerful method to assist the body back into balance by using a soft touch, releasing restrictions in the cranio-sacral system to improve the functioning of the central nervous system.
CST complements the body’s natural healing processes and is effective for a wide range of health issues associated with pain and dysfunction, including though not limited to: migraine headaches, chronic neck and back pain, chronic fatigue, emotional difficulties, stress and tension, Fibromyalgia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and post-surgical dysfunction.
Thai Yoga Body Work with Kim Landry-Ayres
Thai Yoga is an ancient and sacred healing treatment that integrates Yoga and Ayurveda. It combines assisted yoga poses, rhythmic massage, acupressure, and energy work. It helps the receiver to release blocked areas and stimulates the flow of healing energies within the mind, body and spirit. Essential oils and gemstones will be used to enhance the experience. Some benefits include: stress reduction, relaxation, and a sense of being centered, balanced, and focused.
Deep Tissue with Alisha Koutney
Deep Tissue massage uses slow strokes and deep pressure to work on tight areas to release specific muscle tension. This technique goes deeper into the muscle and connective tissue to release tension developed from injury or overuse.
Reiki with Sandi Anderson
Reiki is a specific type of subtle energy work where healing is performed by the light touch of the hands, allowing the flow of the energy from a limitless source (God Force) to the patient via the Reiki practitioner. This simple, non-invasive healing system works with the person’s internal Higher Wise Self to promote health and well being of the entire physical, emotional and psychic body. When our natural life flow energy is disrupted or blocked, emotional or health problems tend to occur. The Reiki practitioner talks briefly with the client to better understand their current physical, mental, and emotional nature, and their needs and allows time for questions. The person seeking help lies fully clothed on a massage table while the practitioner gently places their hands slightly above or on the individual. Most sessions generally last 40 to 60 minutes, and people frequently report feeling deeply relaxed and peaceful during and after the session. There is a cumulative effect of using Reiki over time and regular sessions are recommended.One of the greatest benefits of Reiki therapy is stress reduction and relaxation, which triggers the body’s natural healing abilities, and so improves and maintains health. Reiki healing is a natural therapy that gently balances life energies and the well being of the recipient.
Lomi Lomi with Sarah Heinz
A typical Lomi Lomi Massage will begin with the therapist resting their hands on the client’s back and both breathing together, while saying a personal blessing of intent for the session. Every massage is customized to meet the client’s individual needs. The therapist will be using palms, forearms, knuckles, hands, and thumbs to apply long, soothing strokes, as well as gentle stretches to assist in energy flow and further relax muscles. You will remain fully covered at all times and only the body part being addressed will be exposed. Who wouldn’t want a quiet escape to the islands at the end of a long day?
Pinda with Patricia Wickman
Pinda Sveda is a recent adaptation of svedana (sweat) therapies that use poultices and plasters. Pinda Sveda, in which a bolus, or pinda, the size of an orange and made from grains and herbs, is dipped in cow’s milk, coconut milk and saffron and used to firmly massage the entire body. Like most svedana (sweat) therapies, pinda sveda helps to awaken cellular memory through the intense stimulations caused by heat and sweating. It causes the entire body to perspire by using medicinal plasters or “puddings” preceded by abhyanga (warm oil massage).
Purpose of Treatment
• Improves muscle tone and nourishes mamsa dhatu (muscle tissue)
• Increases circulation, improves complexion of skin and restores vigor
• Helps move toxins out of muscle and fat tissue
• Helps move old, deep-seated Pitta (anger, resentment, jealousy, etc.)
• Relieves stress, restores the appetite and sleep patterns