Musings, Wellness


The Four Aspects of Empathy


Social work is an emotionally demanding job. In fact, as high as seventy percent of social workers will experience at least one symptom of secondary traumatic stress (STS); working in the human services is a risk factor in and of itself for developing STS, burnout, and compassion fatigue (Wagaman, Geiger, Shockley, Segal,2011). The good news is that compassion fatigue can be mitigated by developing all four aspects of empathy (affective sharing, self-other, perspective-taking, and emotional regulation) which in turn will yield compassion satisfaction. I found the results of this research to be immediately applicable and relevant to my future career as a social worker as well as to my current career as a Massage therapist. A wide variety of helping professionals from any demographic could benefit from developing these skills. I will use the term case worker to include the vast variety of human service workers to which this research is pertinent.


Before launching into a discussion of the research provided by Wagaman et. al.  it is important to explore some definitions. Compassion satisfaction is the good feeling that comes from helping someone through a difficult time. On the flip side, compassion fatigue is feeling of despair and hopelessness from trying to help too many people with too many difficult problems. Burnout and secondary traumatic stress can exist alongside compassion fatigue: with the first the worker experiences overwhelming exhaustion and finds basic work tasks to be difficult, with the latter the caseworker has a physiological and emotional stress reaction to a trauma expressed by a client.

The four aspects of empathy are affective response, perspective taking, emotional regulation and self-other.  Affective response describes the way that the nervous systems of the client and caseworker will sync up; simply put, when one person yawns the other will too. More broadly speaking, the caseworker upon hearing about a traumatic event or disturbing experience from a client feels agitation, fatigue, and physical ailments (Wagaman et al.,2011) Affective responses can be both physiological and emotional.

Perspective taking is the classic idea of “walking in someone else’s shoes.” This is a cognitive process which requires some imagination. The person in the environment approach is an example of perspective taking. Anytime we say, “I see where you are coming from” we are perspective taking

 Emotional regulation is the ability to stay calm and collected when a person or situation is escalated. Segal et. Al. (2019, p166) calls it turning down the emotional dial. The case worker must use metacognition to track feelings as they arise to be objective and fully present for the client. They also need to learn more about their own emotional processes so as not to experience STS from a client interaction.

Self-Other is a way to counter the mirroring phenomenon of affective sharing. The idea is that while the caseworker experiences the feelings of the client they still keep a meta view on which feelings are not their own, which feelings are a reaction to the client’s feelings, and which feelings do not belong to the caseworker at all. Setting and maintaining boundaries is an essential component of self-other (Wagaman et al., 2011).

The Study

The researchers inquired into the relationship between empathy and compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. The research was based on a survey of 173 social workers using the snowball method and multi-variable regression. This study found a strong correlation between compassion satisfaction and the ability of the caseworker to cultivate a strong sense of self-other as well as regulate emotions. Another finding was that therapists that had been in the profession for a long-time scored higher on the empathy assessment index.


Wegaman et al. (2011) addresses the power differential between social work supervisors and the social workers providing direct services to the clients. Resoundingly, those working directly with clients have a higher incident of burnout and compassion fatigue as opposed to those working in supervisory or administration positions. The supervisors must show empathy toward the supervisees to help them mitigate burnout and compassion fatigue.

Briefly touched on are strategies for strengthening emotional regulation and self-others; these included mindfulness techniques, boundary setting, and introspection to understand one’s feelings and triggers. Other strategies include self-talk, physically removing oneself from a situation, and practicing control of one’s physical or verbal reactions (Wagaman et al.,2011). The study also noted it was important for the therapist to share positive emotions like laughter with client. On the upside Wagaman et al, (2011) insists that empathy skills can be learned.

Is Empathy for Everyone?

I cannot think of a single reason why people of different genders, races, orientations etc. could not develop empathy skills. Afterall, a keystone of empathy is perspective taking and no matter one’s identity one can always try to understand those that are different than they are. It is worth mentioning that the study was very limited in its population sample; most the participants were White women with a master’s degree. Perspective taking is pertinent when working cross culturally

Some questions that came to mind. Could activating empathy be useful in anti-racism trainings? I posit that perspective taking is extra important for developing cultural competency.   It is important for the caseworker to be aware of their own privilege so that they can get a better perspective on their client? Furthermore, I am curious if caseworkers that have experienced more adverse traumatic experiences have a harder time with emotional regulation. A quick search through the library database shows that this is a well-researched topic with much to offer.

Another question that arose about this research regards the finding that social workers with more years in the profession scored higher on all aspects of empathy. I wonder if those professionals had long careers due to innate empathy skills, or if being in the job a long time helped them develop those skills?


Learning more about the four aspects of empathy is worthwhile as there is growing research that this approach increases compassion satisfaction while reducing compassion fatigue. The biggest indicator of longevity in the profession is an ability to develop self-regulation and a sense of self-other as a form of self-care. Even though the four aspects are a new concept for me, I will be able to apply these ideas immediately to my work as a massage therapist. My job is high on afferent response because we are directly touching people in distress. Developing a better sense of self-other will be helpful.


Segal, E.A., Gerdes, K.E. & Steiner, S. (2019). An introduction to the profession of social work (6th Ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning ISBN 13: 978-1337567046

Wagaman, M.A., Geiger, J.M., Shockley, C., & Segal, E.A. (2015). The role of empathy in burnout, compassion satisfaction, and secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social Work,3,201

Massage, Musings

Lunch with Cadavers

I just finished a weekend of learning at the Northwestern Health Sciences Massage Symposium. A highlight of the symposium is an opportunity to spend 30 minutes in their prestigious cadaver lab over the lunch hour. So, yes it was billed as Lunch and Cadavers. Stop reading if you are easily grossed out.

Into the Cadaver Lab

Outside the lab I was informed by the experienced attendees that I might want to put some Vick’s VapoRub under my nose to keep out the smell of formaldehyde. Thankfully, I was at a massage symposium and there were samples of smelly unguents to be had around every corner. I chose a packet of China Balm to be my olfactory friend. The smell was nothing compared to the existential unease that came over me.

For the most part, the bodies were mid-dissection. The skin was mostly removed and the exposed muscles were dry to the point of looking like beef jerky. That was less problematic for me than the intact body parts that gave hints of the life once lived.

For example, while the size of the femoral artery was fascinating to see I couldn’t help but notice the chipped blue nail polish on the intact, but wrinkled, toes of the donor. My vivid imagination overtook my scientific mind. I began playing out my own personal morgue scene from one of those murder mystery shows I love so much. Surely, she must have painted those toes about three weeks prior to her death but never had a chance to remove or re-apply the nail polish. So sad.  

Deep breath, April. Stay focused on the anatomy!!!

We moved on to the second cadaver. While my colleagues were eagerly grabbing at the glutes to get a better look, I was focused on the short curly hair of the donor; not to mention its missing face. As everyone “oohed” and “aahed” over the the third cadaver I was mesmerized by its intact ears and hands. They looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lab in a classic horror film. The pacemaker cords sprouting out of another donor’s chest didn’t bother me as much as the detail of the coarse hairs growing out of his ears. I couldn’t not create stories in my mind about these people. After only ten minutes I was the first to leave the lab. 

The other attendees were mostly graduates of the Northwestern Health Sciences massage program so perhaps they were more accustomed to an academic morgue. The instructors in the lab were way more interested in teaching anatomy than helping me process my encounter with death. Perhaps she was putting on a brave face for me but my fellow therapist said bluntly, “It’s no big deal, you get used to it.” The more I write this I realize I was less put off by the lab but more so by the insensitivity of my fellow massage therapists.

Allow Me to Process

Sadly some of my former clients have passed away. I have experienced that strange feeling of knowing that someone who was once pulsing and alive under my hands is no longer with us. There is a certain intimacy between my clients and me. I have a great respect for the vulnerability they bring into my room. It is always sad when I hear that someone I once worked with is gone. Let me just take this moment to say “thank you” into the great beyond to all those who have shared sessions with me and have crossed over.

Maybe next year will be the year that I put my imagination aside and join the cult of dissecting the dead. But this was destined to be the year where I humbly observed the fragile mortality of my fellow human beings. For now I will appreciate learning through palpating living breathing humans!




Recipes, Wellness

Lentil Soup

Here is one of my favorite go-to recipes.

I love Lentil Soup because it is nutritious, tasty, economical, versatile and above all else hard to screw up. It can easily be vegan, vegetarian or meaty.

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In this version I used leftover chicken.

We eat it plain, with homemade croutons or over mashed potatoes or rice.  Our favorite thing to do is put John’s homemade sour kraut into the soup.  The tangyness of the kraut balances out the earthiness of the soup.

If you are pressed for time you just through everything in the crock on high for 5 to 6 hours.

I wish that I could take the credit, but it comes from my favorite cookbook of all times: The Joy of Cooking.  The classic recipes of Joy are time tested and always turn out great.

In a large pot over medium low heat:

  • 3 TBLS olive oil

Add and cook until tender but not browned about 5 or so minutes:

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

Stir in:

  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups lentils(french or brown work), picked over and rinsed
  • 1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes(I prefer fire roasted)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme or (3 sprigs of thyme wrapped with the parsley)
  • A bundle of parsley (I wrap it in twine and pull out before serving)
  • 1 bay leaf(also pull out before serving)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are soft about 30 to 45 minutes. Pull out parsley bundle.

  • Stir in: 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper.
  • Taste and add more salt, pepper or vinegar.

Options: Leftover Chicken meat, or smoked sausage add flavor and make a great meaty addition.

Sometimes I stir in Spinach at the end.

For more flavor squeeze lemon juice or balsamic in at the end.

I like mine with a little Parmesan sprinkled into the bowl.

Like I mentioned before it is great with saur kraut.


Massage, Shiatsu

Thai Reflexology Massage



Thai Reflexology is a wonderful way to feel more grounded and calm. In addition to using my hands and fists,  I  use a rosewood stick blessed by Thai Buddhist monks to perform a reflexology treatment for feet.  This is an overall treatment that will make your feet feel great as well ground your whole being.   It is deeply rhythmic and relaxing.  Pairs great with a foot soak.  Can be incorporated into a Massage or Shiatsu of any length session. When I do the full treatment it is about 10 minutes total.

Thai Reflexology is a free add-on to any service by request!

Four years ago I learned this technique from Jill Burynski, Thai Yoga Instructor.  It was one of the best workshops that I have ever taken and use these ideas in many treatment sessions. In addition to learning to do a Thai reflexology session I learned some wonderful stretches for the legs.  I often incorporate Thai Massage Techniques into a Shiatsu therapy session.


Massage, Shiatsu

Abdominal Massage

Do you have indigestion, constipation or menstrual issues?  What about scars from a C-section?  What about that uneasy feeling in your abdomen when you are feeling anxious? Did you know that the Practical Healer has extensive training and experience working with these issues?

Benefits of Abdominal Massage

Relieve Constipation:

In a nutshell we get things MOVING.  The goal is to stimulate peristalses of the large and small intestines and get everything stuck in there unstuck. Also there are acupressure points in the tummy that are relieving.

Rest and Digest

We are also stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This system is also known as rest and digest.  We are getting your body to wind down and relax so that the body has a chance to heal itself. A gentle tummy rub is very soothing.  I will often have you breath into my hands as this is also very relaxing.

Menstrual Cramps:

Also caused by muscles spasms in the lower portion of your abdomen. We are getting those to calm down with specific Ampuku techniques.  Some of the work is done very gently on the skin over the area where the Uterus is.

Low Back Pain

What’s on the front side of the back; the stomach.  Sometimes we actually need to access the low back through the stomach in order to get the qi moving in the low back.  In particular this is how to access the Iliopsoas muscle group.

Abdominal Scars:

One of my favorite workshops I ever did was on erasing scars with Marjorie Brooks. This is especially important after abdominal surgeries like those involved with C-Sections and Fibroids. Scar tissue can actually spread and go deeper, below the surface.  These little fibers grab onto muscle tissue and organs and sometimes cause other pesky problem down the road, not to mention plain old discomfort.


The goal is to help everything under the surface to settle back into place.  The baby and placenta push the organs every which way in order to have enough room to grow.  We also want to aid the uterus in contracting back down to its normal size. Not to mention help heal the separation of the rectus abdominis.

massage 3

How it is done:

If I am doing a Shiatsu it is easy.  I just lift up your shirt use a little of my essential oil creme.  If doing a Swedish Massage I have a draping method to keep the breasts covered while exposing the tummy as seen in the above picture.

I do some nice gentle circles over the whole abdomen.  This is very calming and stimulates the digestive system.  Then I will use pressure and do a pattern in a clockwise direction.  You will probably hear some gurgles.  The pressure can be fairly light or go deep depending on need.  Then I will press specific points for specific conditions.  Sometimes I will just hold my hands

These techniques take about 4-10 minutes of your appointment depending on need.

In the case of C-Section scars or other scars it will take more.

Most of my clients choose 75 or 90 minute sessions so that we can cover everything including abdomin.


When I went to  Shiatsu school I learned three different styles of abdominal massage.  Later I went deeper into the topic with a workshop on Chi Nei Tsang-an esoteric style of abdominal work from Asia. If that wasn’t enough, I learned Western Abdominal Massage in the Swedish Massage Program at Centerpoint.  Also, I have taken a workshop on scar tissue massage which is particularly important when working with C-Section scars. I have practiced these a lot on myself.   I can personally testify that I have cured my own menstrual cramps with Shiatsu.

Essential Oils and Abdominal Massage

I pair abdominal massage techniques with an essential oil creme blend that I created myself.  Essential oils included in that blend are Cardamom, Ginger, Laurel, and Peppermint.  I will use this creme blend when working on your abdomen.

Also available as a roll-on for $10.00.


FAQ, Massage

Where to get a cheap Massage?

Great question.   First of all, a Massage from me isn’t “cheap”  I would go on a limb and say it’s a good value.  At $80/hour you are paying the going rate for an experienced Massage Therapist located in a major metro area.  You get 60 plus minutes of my time devoted just to you.  My office is nice and provides an escape from your daily life.  A Massage with me includes Aromatherapy.  It’s also custom tailored.  You also get someone that you can talk to or not talk to.


What if you really need a Massage and you don’t have $80.00


Look for an intro rate coupon.

Most places offer a generous first time discount.  I do too-(20 percent off)!  The down side is that your therapist will never get to know you or your body because you keep skipping around.  If you are going this route choose a Chiropractor’s office or Independently run Massage Clinic.  They tend to hire more experienced Massage Therapists and you will probably get a decent Massage.

If a Massage therapist is serious they will try to get you to come back for more.  If you are skipping around intermittently for a Massage you probably are as tight as the therapist says that you. Trust me, I know what “average” tight feels like and “haven’t had a Massage in a year” tight feels like.


Massage Envy or other Francises

The monthly membership is a good value if you really do commit to getting a Massage once a month.  I think it is around $60/Massage.  Non-Membership Massage is pricy.

A couple of things to keep in mind:  Their hour Massage is only about 45-50 minutes of hands on work.  With an independent practitioner an hour usually means about 55 minutes of hands on work.

Higher Turnover:  Chains do have good people on staff and they also have students just finishing school.  They aren’t too picky with the hiring.  It’s also really hard to set up a regular appointment with someone that you like.  Because the pay isn’t that great and the hours are long with few breaks, the turnover is higher.  Also, you will find more practitioners offering a generic Swedish Massage.  If that is what you need then Massage Envy might be just the place for you.


Mall Massage:

These usually have names like Dragon City, Massage Oriental or some other name that alludes to Asia.  The Massage Therapists are for the most part from Asia.  The prices are usually pretty good: sometimes as low as $52/hour including steamy towels.  You can just walk-in and state how many minutes you would like to do.  The rooms are semi-private and Asian relaxation flute pop is guaranteed. These therapists are STRONG and good with their hands.

But, and this is a big but-they don’t speak English.  If your problem just involves pointing, your pain issues aren’t that complicated and intense pressure doesn’t bother you then this can be a great choice.  Hint: I’ve been know to go here now and again-especially Massage Oriental.  In fact,  I appreciate the fact that I can’t communicate because I am a natural blabber mouth and this forces me to be quiet. I’m use to strong pressure and due to getting regular Massage  my neck and shoulder problems are pretty typical.

Do not go here if….. you have a complicated medical condition or know for yourself that you are more sensitive or bruise easily.  If you do, speak up if it is too much pressure.  These employees have good hands-on skill but they just cannot communicate enough to problem solve chronic or more rare problems.  They don’t do a lot of on the front side. Sometimes the draping is a little awkward-I always ask for a female practitioner because of this.



Do not buy a groupon Massage.  I repeat: Skip the groupon Massage!!!!  I’ve both serviced these appointments and talked with many dissatisfied customers over the years that have used groupon.

Here’s the deal: Groupon pays the therapist next to nothing.  Groupon also requires the business to sell a boat load of these.  What this means is that the business often becomes inundated with a lot of new clients looking for a cheap Massage.  These Massage therapists easily become overworked and injured.  They are not enjoying giving you the cheap Massage.  There’s a special place in hell for you if you do not tip generously a groupon Massage!!!

Tip: With any of these places try to go first thing in the morning while the therapist is fresh.  You do not want to be their seventh Massage of the day.

I have the luxury of pacing my schedule so that I can give everyone my full attention.

Best wishes getting the Massage you want!!!




Aromatherapy, Massage

April’s Active Again Arthritis Antidote

This week has been an exciting week for Aromatherapy adventures.  I have a new effective arthritis creme for you to try.

The active ingredient is Trauma Oil.  This special oil is a combination of St. John’s Wort and Calendula.  It is very effective at working with Arthritis and is also hard to find in the twin cities.  It can come in liquid form, but I find that hard to work with and because it is expensive I don’t want to lose a drop.  I combined the Trauma Oil with Bees Wax and Coconut Oil to make a creme just for you.

The essential oils used are Juniper, Sweet Orange, Ginger, and Cardamom.  It has a pleasant scent and is not too strong.  These oils are warming and your skin will notice.

My stepmother tried it on her arthritic toe and declared that she could walk easily again. She is an active lady that doesn’t want to be held back by toe pain.

Try “April’s Active Again Arthritis Antidote” Today.

I will use this in your Massage.  If you would like to take some home to try the cost is $10.00.  While starting out I will be selling this at just above the cost to make it.  I want as many people as possible to try it.

More on Arthritis: The fact is this, once you get the x-ray or MRI and the doctor determines that,yes,  indeed you do have arthritis there is not much that Massage can do for the actual arthritis.  The bone is worn away and I can’t fix that.  However, I can work on the muscles, tendons and ligaments that are irritated by the arthritis.  This Massage work plus April’s Active Again Arthritis Antidote will ease the pain cause by Arthritis.

See you soon.

Body Mechanics, Massage

Bend Over Better

One of my longtime clients recently sent this article to me.  It’s on the NPR website.

Lost Art Of Bending Over: How Other Cultures Spare Their Spines


This article compares the American way, where one curves the spine to reach down and pick something up, with the “table method” of our global neighbors.

This article advocates for the “table method” where one keeps the back straight and hinges at the hips. I personally have been trying out this table method over the last couple of weeks.  I notice that I have to actively engage the hamstrings to be effective. I felt it most in the hamstring attachments (where the underside of the butt meets the upper legs).

A lovely picture of me bending over to pick-up a toy from the yard. My attempt at a flat back and hinging at the hips.  I can feel it in the back of my legs.

How To ‘Table’ Bend (Excerpt from article)

To hip hinge:
1. Place your feet about 12 inches apart.
2. Keep your back straight.
3. As you bend your knees, allow your pubic bone to move backward.
4. Fold over by allowing your pubic bone to slide through your legs, down and back

By the way, I can help with those low back injuries.  Better yet, let’s just avoid them in the first place.

Aromatherapy, Uncategorized

Is that Essential Oil you bought the real thing?

I am currently enrolled in a continuing education course in Aromatherapy for Massage Therapists with the Aromahead Institute. I’ve been talking to a lot of lay people about this topic and also noticing how mainstream Essential Oils have become.

I’ve been using essential oils for well over 17 years and have a good working knowledge of the basics. I still remember the first time I encountered Essential Oils in a holistic healing shop near Edinburgh University in Scotland. I remember feeling like Harry Potter walking into  “Diagon Ally” for the first time (This is actually not that far from the truth.  This shop was not located far from the coffee shop from where J.K. Rowling wrote the first novels and where I too would take my coffee.) The store was so magical and smelled amazing.  I bought a candle lit oil diffuser and some lavender essential oils and the journey began.

On the mundane end of the spectrum I was just at Michaels with the girls. On the end-cap was a display of diffusers and “Essential Oils”  They were larger,  clear bottles and the price point was around 5 dollars and it didn’t include any information about the ingredients.  Which leads to the question………?

How do you know if you are putting something safe and pure into the air or on your skin? Read this article from Prevention to learn more……..

7 Signs Your Essential Are Fake

This article addresses the question: How do you know if your Essential Oils are fake?  Read on if you are wondering if that cheap bottle you bought at the gift shop is the real thing.… Some Vials labeled “Essential Oils” are nothing more than crappy chemicals with a little lavender oil thrown in. I love essential oils, but it is important that you are buying the real deal. From what I could tell the “Essential Oils” at Michael’s were about a step above a chemical laden potion.

Thankfully, in Minneapolis we have plenty of places to buy Essential Oils.  I feel like I can always trust the food co-ops like the Wedge, Seward or Mississippi market.  Stores like Present Moment and and Whole foods will also be a good bet. Lund’s carries the Aura Cacia line which works fine.  I’m not sure how their price compares or how much they sell, i.e. how long the oils sit on the shelf but it will fill your craving in a pinch.  Be wary of anything that says “perfume oil” or “essential oils and other natural oils”

If you have doubts text me a photo of the label and I will tell you what I can.

Companies like DoTerra and Young living are good quality, but perhaps priced a little high considering we have easy access to specialty stores in the twin cities.

Happy Smelling!


Musings, Uncategorized



Ice Skating on Lake of the Isles at Night

Winter Poem

Hold me

Frozen Water

Even when I stomp

You are deep and solid

Like magic

You are with white bubbles suspended

Within onyx

The smoke of a magic potion captured.


Your ice mirror reflects my soul

Deep cracks held together

By a Winter miracle.

Water molecules link in prayer

To the formless sky above.

In between this human wanders.


Deep below the fish are swimming.

I wonder if they hear my tread.

Loring Park Skating Rink

This is the Ice Skating Rink that you can see from the North Facing Window of my office.  All Winter I have watched the skaters glide around in the distance.  Finally, I took my girls down to try out the rink.  The rink is sponsored by Wells Fargo.  This means that the rink is kept in good shape and is FREE. As a bonus the skates are comfortable, plentiful and well-organized. I hope they have this here next year because this has become a favorite spot.



Adventures in the Riviera Maya

Ubiquitous Mayan Culture

For this mystical adventurer, Playa Del Carmen offers many soul nurturing activities. For the second year in a row my family had the good fortune to visit Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Traditional aspects of Mayan culture still abound in the Riviera Maya and without too much trouble can be found all over. For example, it’s not uncommon for the staff at resorts to speak Mayan. Most Spa services include some elements of traditional Mayan healing whether it be essential oils or energy balancing. In this blog I want to share a couple of my favorite stories from my trip.

As an aside, there are complex issues around labor issues involving indigenous culture and the tourist industry. I want to acknowledge that they exists and want to admit that I don’t have the answers or language to express the nuances of the ethics of visiting another country and participating in traditional cultural activities. The aim of this blog post is to tell you a story about my trip to Mexico.

Enduring Mayan Architecture

My daughters pose atop Mayan Ruins just outside Play Del Carmen

Just outside of town of Playa Del Carmen are the ancient ruins Xaman-Men Ha. Without any fanfare these humble ruins sit on the side of the road waiting for visitors to walk through them. These ruins sit near the main port where traveler’s would come to launch their pilgrimages to Cozumel; which usually involved prayers to a fertility goddess. Let’s face it-honeymooners still do the same!

Parque de los Fundadores showcases traditional ceremonies

A Mayan Dancer lights a ceremonial flame at Parque de los Fundadores, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

There are daily traditional performances at the Parque de los Fundadores.  On this particular trip we caught a Mayan prayer dance. Mexican and International tourist alike stop to watch the performances. These athletic men dance in figures, blow on conch shells, drum, and light fires and incense under this magnificent sculpture. At the end they pass the hat for tips.

Looking for adventure

Once you get to the Riviera Maya, it can be hard to find adventures outside of those offered as packages through the tourist agents at the resorts. On this trip I wanted to swim in a Cenote, but didn’t want to go to a Wisconsin Dells style tourist destination. It pays to research ahead because once you get to Mexico the wi-fi can be spotty which makes planning and purchasing activities through your phone more challenging. Most activities in the Riviera Maya require planning ahead. There are very few places from which you can just decide to drive up and buy a ticket on the same day.

Chikin Ha here was come

After much searching I came across Chikin Ha (no there are no chickens here). Chikin Ha appealed to me because it came across as being more eco-friendly and less touristy than many of the other offerings. The entrance fee was reasonable and the cab for all 6 of us was about $100 USD round trip. Seeing as I speak Spanish, the conversations I had with the driver made the long cab rides worth the expense.

When we pulled into Chikin-Ha we drove about 2 miles down an unmarked gravel road through a forest.  We talked with the cab driver about all the animals. This felt like a good start to an adventure.

The entrance to Chikin-Ha was fairly humble.  Just a couple of huts set up for check-in.  

A glorious Cenote. On the other side of the pool our family descends for a dip.

Cenotes are naturally formed underground rivers leftover from the ice age.  Over time the cave roofs would crash in exposing spring fed swimming holes.  We were able to swim and snorkle at our leisure. Everyone once in a while fully equipped scuba divers would emerge or submerge to enjoy the extensive underground river system. In spite of the leaf debris, the spring fed water felt clean and pure.

The second cenote was more mysterious.  There are two open pools connected by a cave. A guide rope goes from one entrance to another to allow swimmers to find their way through the dark cavern.  It took us a minute to conjure up the courage to jump in as the pool was quite dark.  The water would go from rocky and shallow to quite deep. At one point we looked down and a light from deep below. It was a set of scuba divers coming out of a cave even lower down!!!!! We felt reborn from this cenote adventure and ready to move on.

Iguanas Everywhere!

We walked a forested path.  The smoke of Palo Santo filled the air as we noticed an ancient looking man managing the forest through controlled burning. We also delighted in the copious iguanas ambling over the paths and climbing the trees.

Taakbil Ha

At last we approached Taakbil Ha-the most sacred of cenotes. We scrambled down a steep staircase into the lower landing of this cenote. Clear water and majestic rocks dazzled our eyes. Through the hole in the upper ledge I could see the trees. Somehow we were inside, outside, up and down all at the same time.

Then I noticed a crude handrail leading into the dark recess of the cave. I couldn’t help it, I had to follow. I peered into the darkness and heard some rustling and wondered, “what could it be?”.  Then I saw a glimmer of light, and then another. With surprise, I realized that someone was quietly and systematically lighting candles in the cave.  Time stood still as the cave illuminated. We saw a man working, a bench and an altar. In a cauldron, he set incense on fire and the smoke escaped through a hole in the ceiling.  In spite of the kids telling me to stay out, I moved silently to the bench and watched as the man finished lighting the candles.

At first the cave was pitch black, but one by one the shaman lit the candles. I quietly walked in and took a seat. Notice the whole in the ceiling.

And then we talked quietly in the stillness. …..

I asked the man if I could sit and he acquiesced. We began to talk in Spanish. From him I learned that he was, indeed a Shaman and was setting up a ceremony for employees and tourists.  He learned the art of Shamanism from his Grandfather. He felt grateful that he could continue the practices at this site. We remarked on what a beautiful ceremony it is.

He told me about the ceremony, “First, I take a piece of Copal Resin and put it into the right hand.  The person makes a prayer or a wish. Then they put it into the cauldron so that the smoke can go out through the hole in the cave up to the gods.  They make an offering. The gods hear the prayer and purification comes back down.”

We could have paid to be part of the tourist group coming into be purified, but it felt more magical to witness the inception of this ceremony and have a soul to soul talk in Spanish with this Shaman. The lesson was clear to me-it’s better to walk into a dark cave than to avoid it.

For me the most magical part was the fluency with which I spoke to him. After almost 30 years of studying Spanish off and on I reached a level of fluency in this trip wherein I no longer translate in my mind. When I had this long complicated conversation with the man I felt like I had a true soul to soul connection that didn’t need translation.

On the way out, I purchased the purification ointment they sold at the entrance. In the vial was a mixture of Jojoba Oil, Grape seed Oil, Palo Santo, and Moon light.  You put a drop on your crown Chakra for daily purification. Up until this quarantine I had been putting a drop on my clients to calm the mind.

 Between the clean water, the talk with the Shaman and the oil, we all felt a keen sense of peace as we drove out of Chikin-Ha.

On the steps to the final Cenote Taakbil Ha
Body Mechanics, FAQ, Massage, Shiatsu

Don’t your hands get tired?

That is probably the question I am asked most above all others.  Do my hands hurt? 

Rarely, but when they do it usually is not related to Massage.  A skilled body worker does not rely solely on one’s fingers to do the work.  In a session I will use my palms, knuckles, fists, elbows, and on special occasions-feet. 


A good Massage or Shiatsu session will also include stretches and body mobilization techniques; which are great for the client and the therapist.  They add variety as well as they are very effective.

Now that I am teaching Swedish Massage, I drill the students constantly on proper body mechanics.  Our work doesn’t come from the hands, but rather the core.  If you watch a Massage therapist work you will notice a lot of lunging.  It is from that movement that the pressure comes.

Over the last 17 years when I have had hand injuries, the culprit has often been a vigorous day in the garden or too much typing.  Rest assured your massage is not causing my hands pain.


Massage, Musings, Shiatsu, Wellness

Massage and Anxiety


On a regular basis clients experiencing some sort of anxiety come into my office.   Anxiety shows up differently from person to person; for example, one client may have a general sense of stress and worry while another might already be under the care of a doctor or psychologist for a diagnosed condition. Some people feel it in a general sense of agitation while others might have headaches. Body work helps ameliorate the signs and symptoms of anxiety both on a mental and physical level.  

Bodywork calms down the nervous system

Basically, Massage therapists are wizards of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is in charge of “rest and digest” and is when it is on the healing happens.  Part of what is at play with anxiety is a heightened flight or fight response which is hardwired into our sympathetic nervous systems.  We live our lives with our sympathetic nervous systems keyed up to handle what ever threats(real or imagined) are around the corner.  What we do as body-workers is provide an opportunity for your sympathetic nervous system to turn off and your parasympathetic nervous system to turn on. Signs that your body has switched to the parasympathetic nervous system are slower breathing, gurgling tummy, and a drop in body temperature. When you sit up and say, “wow, I can get on with my life” I know that I have done my job.

There is a method to the calmness of a Massage room as the soothing music, the aromatherapy, the heated stones all trigger the relaxation response.

The Physiology of Worry

Not only does body-work engage the parasympathetic nervous system, it actually causes changes in the endocrine system; the system in charge of hormone secretion.

For example, massage has been linked to elevated levels of dopamine and lower levels of cortisol, which provides evidence of reduced stress.”

Benjamin, Patricia J Tappan’s Handobook of Massage Therapy p.136

Dopamine and oxytocin are feel good hormones whereas cortisol is emitted during times of stress. Due to the relationship of the PNS and impact on hormones Massage also helps with the psychosomatic signs and symptoms like headaches, tight muscles and upset tummy through hands on application.  Regardless of the science behind Massage, caring human touch makes people feel good.

Emotional Release

Emotional release  is when a clients might have a deep sense of letting go of some intrinsic stress that has been held in the muscles and it usually involves a good cry during a bodywork session.   Our muscles store our memories and sometimes when we are touched in a safe environment our minds and muscles let go of some negative feelings that has been stored inside. Not to worry if this happens, crying is a normal way to shed stress and most people feel better afterward. 

It’s not the job of the Massage therapist to process the feelings like a talk therapist would, but rather to hold the space so that you can release deep tension.  I like to say that we listen with hands and heart.

The Practical Healer Full Body Approach

Whether you choose Massage or Shiatsu a full body approach is best.  For example; the scalp muscles can tense from making worry faces.   Also Abdominal massage is great if worry has your stomach tied in knots.  Rubbing out the shoulders is a way to take off the weight of the world.  Working on the feet helps bring the energy down from the head and is deeply relaxing.  Also, evening out the energy of the channels from an Asian bodywork perspective helps support the underlying condition.

Comfort and Safety are Key

The cornerstone of working with anxiety is good communication.  No two clients need the same thing.  I have anxious clients that prefer the deep pressure points of Shiatsu and others that prefer a soft Swedish Massage.  One thing that everyone has in common is a need to be comfortable and safe.  It’s not uncommon for those with anxiety to need adjustments to the bolsters, face cradle, music, lighting and so on.  A good Massage therapist is there to help and can make infinite adjustments.


As far as aromatherapy goes, Frankincense, Lavender and Ylang Ylang are notorious for calming the mind.  I can send you home with an aromatherapy inhaler which you use in times of stress.  It’s also great to use before you fall asleep.

Acupressure Points

There are many acupressure points that are associated with couple the mind. Below are a few examples. A therapist trained in Shiatsu can access these points to augment a treatment for someone struggling with excess worry.

Gently Pressing on Pericardium Six Reduces Nausea and Anxiety.


In conclusion bodywork is an effective tool for coping with anxiety-whatever form it takes.  On a personal note, I too can find myself taking a ride on the worry wagon.  Over the years I have learned that that talk therapy, medication, exercise and great body work are all helpful ways for me to deal with stress of anxiety. In particular bodywork helps with the psychosomatic manifestations like headache and stomach ache. I hope that you will find relief too so that you can continue to enjoy a vibrant life.

Shiatsu, Wellness

Shiatsu for you!

Swedish or Deep Tissue Massage are probably the most well known forms of bodywork. Did you know that there is another great form out there just for you-Shiatsu?.

Like with a good Massage the goal of Shiatsu is to ease pain and help you feel more relaxed. The intention and methodology, however, are a little different. The most noticeable difference is that it is done fully clothed which allows for more stretching. The technique also is more pressure point oriented. The acupressure points are activated along the meridians- the same as used in Acupuncture. It is through this manual manipulation of the energy that the muscles, tendons and ligaments find relief.

For example, if you come in experiencing neck pain I will work along the meridians of the neck. Those meridians extend down into the finger tips and for that reason I will work the whole meridian. I will also use corresponding acupressure points on the feet to ensure that your energy is balanced also.

Main advantages of Shiatsu

  • No greasy lotion
  • Keep clothes on
  • More energizing than Massage.
  • More efficient-I can cover more territory faster with pressure techniques
  • Awesome stretches for upper and lower body are included
  • Great for anxiety
  • Great for low back-in part because it’s easy to achieve side position,
  • Full body approach.
  • Good for digestive or menstrual complaints -do to abdominal massage component.

What’s with the Pulse?

It is traditional to take the clients pulse before beginning a Shiatsu treatment. This pulse is not like at the Drs. office. There are three different positions and two different depths. I am looking for the overall quality of your energy and will then work according to ancient principles.

History of Shiatsu