For most of us, a massage is a way to relax or a one off treat when visiting a spa, yet for those working in the industry it is far more than this. Proven to reduce stress, better the functioning of the immune system and improve sleep, do we all need a little more massage treatment in our lives? When it came to finding out more about the healing properties of massage there was one woman we wanted to speak too. Author of several successful books on the subject including, The Art of Indian Head Massage, Hand and Foot Massage and Healing Touch for Children, Mary Atkinson has worked in the industry for years, running her own private therapy practice and courses. We were thrilled when Mary agreed to take a break from her busy schedule and share her expertise with Hotcourses.
So Mary, looking back on your successful career, can you tell us a little about where it all began?
My original training was as a journalist back in the 70s. I worked for many years as a feature writer on women’s magazines such as Woman, Woman’s Own and Best. Then when we started a family and I left my salaried job to become a freelance journalist writing about health issues for the national press. The holistic health approach fascinated me and I started learning massage and reflexology at our local college in Chichester.
How did this develop? When did you realise you wanted to turn your hobby into a career?
When I was training in Indian head massage in the 90s, I looked around for some books to help with my studies and struggled to find any, so I approached a publisher and the next day a contract arrived. I then spent months researching Indian Head Massage by talking to Indian families and Indian therapists and writing copious notes. Once was published in 2000, it started a total change of career. Firstly, I was asked to develop a new complementary therapy service at our local hospice and then I was asked to teach Indian Head Massage at our local college – both of these were new ventures and out of my comfort zone, but I am so pleased that I said yes. I worked part time at the hospice and also trained to be an adult education teacher and added to my therapies by taking a diploma in Aromatherapy – it was a busy few years.
You have now published several books, where does the inspiration for these come from?
I love studying and learning new skills and as a trained journalist, there’s a natural desire for me to write about what I learn so I can share it with others. I love the whole process of developing an idea, often from talking to other people, doing the research, ordering my thoughts and writing it all down.
My latest book, Once Upon a Touch...Story Massage For Children, was written with a colleague Sandra Hooper and that was very rewarding. The inspiration came from my work with Cocaro, a Japanese charity, who invited me to travel to Rikuzentakata and work with the children affected by the tsunami in 2012. We introduced the idea of sharing a story massage, which combines storytelling with all the benefits of simple massage strokes. It proved so wonderfully beneficial that Sandra and I decided to start a Story Massage Project with an accredited day course, book and DVD.
That must have been so rewarding, what do you think massage brought to their lives?
It was and my work with the victims really brought home the power of massage to me. As well as sharing story massage with the children, we offered 15 minute hand and foot massages to the adults. One lady told me that the massage was like a precious gift, bringing peace of mind and respite from inner turmoil. Another said she felt that my hands had touched her heart. One man talked and cried and despite the language barrier, his smile was testimony to the comfort that he had enjoyed – I think that feedback says it all!
Definitely, what would you say is the best part of your job?
I love teaching my students – there is a wonderful moment when something ‘clicks’ and they gain new skills. Students write to tell me how their lives have changed since taking up a new career. Being a therapist is not just about a job, it’s a whole way of life and most therapists are amazing people who really care about making a difference in the world. I like mixing with these people – who wouldn’t?
What do you think is the most important thing to remember when learning the art of massage?
Never forget that you are massaging another person who has good days and bad days and thoughts and emotions just like you. Whatever type of massage you are doing, it’s so important not to get so wrapped up in the techniques that you forget about the person on the massage chair. It’s about tailoring the massage to the person and meeting their specific needs, this means that each massage you give will be different. My advice would be to have a specialism such as working people with Parkinson’s or working with pregnancy and birth – so that people know they can trust and rely on you. That doesn’t exclude other clients, but it means that you can build up a firm and loyal clientele and you know where to target any advertising or social media promotion.
What is your favourite type of massage to practise?
Indian head massage – it’s so versatile and can really help people learn to relax. People look and feel so much better after an Indian head massage. I love the fact that Indian head massage can be adapted to suit each individual client – it can be done through clothes or with aromatic oils. It can be a short and gentle therapy in a palliative care setting or a longer, more vigorous therapy for a healthy office worker. It’s so simple to learn and can help to get a child to sleep at night or give an elderly relative some extra loving care.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps and make a career out of massage?
The most important thing is to do your research – find an accredited course so that you gain insurance and belong to a professional body. It’s also vital to get business advice to help decide whether you want to work for yourself, or work within a salon or clinic setting. Once you are trained, I would also recommend meeting up with other therapists and taking courses or joining study days to continue your personal and professional development.
Finally, why do you think massage is so important?
There are many different types of massage, so this is quite difficult to answer. A sports massage can help reduce injury or speed up the healing process for sports people. My massage clients tend to be older people or those going through emotional problems or illness. For those clients, massage offers extra support at a difficult time and gives them to have the chance to relax and have ‘time out’ away from everything. The power of touch through therapeutic massage brings a deep relaxation and a sense of peace and stillness, which is essential to coping with the pressures and demands of our lives.
If you want to find out more about Mary’s work take a look at her website, or get in touch with her via Facebook or Twitter. Fancy learning how to heal with the power of touch? Take a look at the massage courses on offer and get practising.