The Loving Gift of Touch
Published with permission of Caregiving Newsletter

When her mother, Virginia, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ellen struggled with the decision to move her mother into her home. Now that her mother's condition has worsened, she's thankkful her mother lives iwith her and that they will spend her mother's last days together.

But as the cancer destroys her mother's ability to comminicate, Ellen struggles for a way to stay connected with Virginia, to her know how much she loves her, how much she means to her. Each day as she sits with her mother, she asks herself, "How can I tell you I love you?"

Staying connected with your care recipients can sometimes be a frustrating experience. How to communicate with the dementia victim? The hard-of-hearing, nearly blind 96-year-old grandmother? How can you say "I love you" to someone who may not be able to understand the meaning of the words?

The gift of touch is a communication technique we sometimes overlook/ Recently, we asked Bruria Ginton, LicMT, about massage therapy (MT) and how caregibvers can apply some of the techniques in their own homes.

A daughter caring for her disabled mother once told me that touch was the only way she could communicate with her. Although her mother could not understand her words, the daughter could still say, "I love you" through her gentle, loving touch. She was a massage therapist--and applied massage therapy's techniques in caring for her mother. But how can lay perons use massage to care for their elderly loved ones?

Denise, you have answered your own question. In the situation that you describe and ask about, it's the message that counts. You really do not have do be a massage therapist in order to convey deep caring. For, in my opinion, touch IS a universal in-born language which we all know. For one reason or another, we have become inhibited and deprive one another of the enormous benefits of that safe, "I love you" and "I'm here for you" kind of touch. That care-giving daughter is probably already over-taxed by the situation she is in. To expect her to learn massage therapy is to place an extra burden on her. If anything, she too should be on the receiving end of regular massage therapy.

When I was in that situation with my own mother (after she suffered a stroke), I actually felt that I was parenting her--a strange but not an unusual experience. In other critical situations caring for loved ones, I've felt as though I was petting one of my cats! Yes, my skill and experience as an MT is a great plus, but, inevitably, my language then is quite different from the professional language which I speak with my clients and patients. So instead of trying to teach someone how to give a massage via this article--a well-meaning but unrealistic method--I'd rather go on to encourage children to simply treat ailing parents the way they would treat a cute little pet that they love. That's right, go ahead, pet 'em, pet 'em always watching carefully for their reaction.

For instance, gently take one of their hands in both of your hands, hold it for a moment to let 'em get used to the touch and watch for feedback. If there's no negative feedback, proceed to massage the hand, the wrist, the forearm very slowly, with your motion going upward toward the elbow, watching for feedback all the time. Although any massage oil or even a moisturizing lotion is fine, you can do this without any lubrication. The chances are that you will get tired before your loved one. Rest and repeat it again the following day. Repetition and regularity in massage augment the message of love many-fold. Feel free to experiment, always remembering that slow, continuous, reassuring movements are preferable to quick, agitated, uneven ones. And you must focus your attention and intention on your loved one. There's nothing more irritating than being touched by someone who is not paying attention to the person under their hands.

What are the benefits of a massage? How does massage impact our bodies in a positive way?

Directly and indirectly massage therapy (MT) impacts each and every system in our bodies--including the important "system" also known as the soul. Massage therapy is really designed to establish balance within and among the various bodymind systems. First and foremost, by manipulating soft tissue, MT improves circulation, allowing a more efficient delivery of nutrients and healing agents to the body and an equally important removal of waste products. This is especially helpful to disabled or bed-ridden individuals. By stimulating the nerve endings located throughout the skin, MT creates a fitter nervous system to deal effectively with physically and emotionally stress-filled situations. Then, MT mechanically relaxes tight muscles, thus maximizing the efficiency of any physical movement--from running and walking to, yes, even bowel movement. When muscles are relaxed, bones or the hard tissue to which those muscles are attached will often realign themselves, thus indirectly relieving the aches and pains associated with hard-tissue subluxation. And, when needed, MT facilitates the adjustment of bones by chiropractic methods. All of the above revitalize our largest organ and system, our natural covering and primary human communication tool--the skin. Finally, just as important, there is that emotional inborn need in all human beings which responds affirmatively to human touch, something which Bill Moyers calls "the real secret of medicine."

Why does stress always settle in our necks and shoulders? How can a massage help eliminate that pain?

Ha, ha, can you think of a more universally convenient place for stress to settle? Here we are, four-limbed creatures who decided they would rather stand up on two of them, rising against gravity on two rather skimpy feet and a spine that now had to perform so heavy a job on top of that lost base...hey, what else would you expect? Actually, some people, for less understandable reasons, carry stress in other areas. And, fortunately, when you think about it, it's always less serious when stress-overload attacks muscles (for instance, in our necks and shoulders) than when it attacks more vital systems, as it often does, like the stomach, the heart, etc, etc...

If caregivers are interested in treating their elderly loved one (or themselves!) with professional massage, how would they find a good massage therapist?

High technology is a big friend of the elderly. And the Internet is already creating a community of elderly people and their loved ones who can now connect with and access every kind of info at the click of a button. And it is MASSAGE THERAPY WEB CENTRAL [] that was created to provide consumer-friendly information about professional massage. It is complete with listings and the professional-bio pages of qualified practicing professionals who belong to the global professional network, ASSOCIATED MTs NEAR YOU(sm). Access, of course, is at any time from anywhere for anyone who's connected to the Internet or knows someone who is. By contrast, the Yellow Pages type of publications and classified ads are too often not a reliable source for professional massage. Fortunately, however, when you ask your friends and relatives, you'd be amazed how often they know someone who knows someone who is a professional-quality massage therapist.

How do massage therapy, aromatherapy and music therapy work together?

The three overlap somewhat, but they are in fact independent disciplines which, as such, are rarely used together. That is, a professional massage therapist does not have to be trained in aromatherapy or in music therapy in order to administer first- rate massage therapy. Most massage therapists, however, are well aware of the benefits of certain aromatic and musical experiences and will therefore implement the use of essential oils and relaxing music in their work--always taking the preferences of the client and patient into account. The combination can help induce deeper relaxation and therefore greater healing during an MT session. Personally, for instance, I like to use quiet classical music and faint fragrances which are not overly sweet, such as almond, lavender, apple, orang and apricot. If I'm very stressed out, I prefer to listen to a tape of the relaxing sound of waves, with occasional birds and distant bells. Speaking of combinations, visualization therapy--in combination with massage therapy--is an equally powerful tool, one which I recommend experiencing and using regularly.

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What books on massage therapy do you suggest that a lay person read?

What concerns me deeply as a massage therapist and a human being is that we live in a touch-deprived society--with violence more commonplace than touching. My favorite book, therefore,for the lay person and the professional is "Touching" by the reknown anthropologist, Ashley Montagu. Another great book is "Healing and the Mind" by Bill Moyers. (Both are available at HANDSON BOOKSTORE at [] and in many other bookstores around the USA.) If you read these books, you can't help but appreciate MT as well. As for someone who would like to study some massage techniques, I wouldn't recommend a book on massage therapy, a workshop or, at the very least, a video being much more practical.

Finally, do you have any success stories? Clients who have greatly benefited from your massages?

My most greatly publicized success stories include some of the world class athletes whom I have worked with in the 80's. As you can well appreciate, I usually refrain from discussing my clients' individual problems. But there were two athletes who have themselves described to the press how I helped them: Grete Waitz, the great Norwegian Olympic runner and nine-time winner of the New York City Marathon is one of my long-time clients who kept on winning despite a persistent upper leg injury; and Allison Roe, New Zealand's premier triathlete and marathoner who was sent to my office by the late Fred Lebow before the #1 Women's Six-Mile Race, here in Manhattan. Oh yes, another client who was facing quite a different athletic challenge is Dustin Hoffman, who was referred to me by his podiatrist when he was using high-heels during the filming of "Tootsie."

Just as exciting a "success story," though totally unknown, was Mimi, one of my favorite clients, whom I was seeing regularly in conjunction with her chiropractic treatments. Mimi was a Holocaust survivor in her eighties. She had no kids and was divorced and she had a noticeable short leg and a few other health problems. But Mimi was also infinitely positive. At 82, she was travelling with a boyfriend and always having something planned ahead. Her energetic outlook would actually uplift me just as much as my massage therapy work was appreciated by her.

Bruria Ginton, LicMT is a leading massage therapist who has been in private practice in Manhattan since 1979. She founded ASSOCIATED MTs NEAR YOU(sm), a global professional network for licensed massage therapists. Address or E-Mail reprint requests to: Bruria Ginton, LicMT, POB 20795, NY, NY 10025.

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