Finding the Groove

I went paddle boarding for the first time earlier this week. I’d seen it done, and it looked pretty smooth and graceful when other people did it. I wasn’t nervous about it at all until the guy who was setting us up on our boards asked my fellow newbie friend and me if we’d ever surfed before or “done anything else extreme.” Was this extreme? I’m not extreme. I don’t want to get extreme.

Luckily, it turns out paddle boarding on a relatively mellow river is not actually extreme either (but thanks anyway, guy). You start out on your knees, paddling away from the dock so you don’t concuss yourself if you fall right away, and then you’re supposed to put your hands down on the board and hop from kneeling to standing. If you’re not into hopping right up, fear not! I have discovered an alternative. Instead of one smooth hop, you can just go ahead and squat awkwardly, still clutching the board, and yell a lot while gathering enough stability to stand up. I’m told my transition from kneeling was highly entertaining for onlookers.

I think I’ll really enjoy paddle boarding next time I try it. The first time was a little wobbly. A lot wobbly. Not so much from the outside — I never tipped far or came close to falling — but inside, I felt like my legs were pretty violently shaking for the first 10 minutes or so. There were moments of grace too, late afternoon sun glinting off my hometown Charles River, board slapping at the ripples made by passing boats, peace. There were times when I found my groove. I fell out, found it again, fell in and out a few more times. I noted that the times when I felt most stable were the times when I focused not on trying not to fall, but on paddle strokes, long and deep, as close to the board as possible. Counting strokes on one side, then the other, board gliding straight forward. Funny thing about focus, how the rest — the balance, potential wobble of legs, worries about crashing into other boats or falling onto rocks just beneath the surface of that murky, shallow water — takes care of itself when there is somewhere else to focus that attention.

Metaphors abound. I made a conscious choice that day: full attention to getting the best strokes possible. I thought about that Thich Nhat Hanh business about washing the dishes, about mindfulness in general. I thought about other areas of my life where I’d recently fallen out of my groove.

I’ve given a couple of massages lately that were less graceful and connected than I’d like. Not many, but I’ve been taking mini-vacations and working less lately, so the percentages are skewed, leaving me feeling a little off kilter. I suspect we’ve all had the occasional off day or awkward appointment. The gift certificate client who says flat out that he’s not comfortable with massage, the person who tenses in response to even gentle touch. Hell, I’ve been that person more than once. I know very, very well that we are all just people with our own little tics, different issues in our unique tissues, different comfort levels with touch on any given day. And I believe the job, as massage therapists, is to hold space for that, to not analyze or extrapolate or take it personally when a client flinches or gets ticklish or when upper traps do not melt into buttery softness under our hands in the space of an hour. The job is to be client centered, do our best and then let it go. That’s what makes massage therapy the best job in the world, but sometimes it’s a little wobbly. Sometimes the old ego pipes up. Sometimes there’s not much flow to go with.

So how do you find your groove if you’ve been thrown off in your work? How do you let it go, that nagging feeling of not doing an awesome job, and get present again? I find that breathing is a good go-to, and honestly not a no-brainer for yours truly (even after years of yoga and conscious breathing, I still forget to do it all the time). Repeating “compassion, compassion, compassion,” in my head seems to help a little sometimes, tapping into the shared tenderness of just being a human. As with paddle boarding, focus on the strokes can be helpful. How graceful can I make this glide? How accurately can I trace these muscle fibers? How mindful can I be in my own form? Sometimes shifting focus, homing in on one aspect of one small movement, helps the other stuff drop away and brings in a little more flow.

These are my modest suggestions, but it’s really not a rhetorical question. How do you find your groove when you’re a little bit off? How do you center and ground? Or are you just naturally graceful all the time? Please tell me all about it!

The Center of the Universe


As much as I have grumbled about the subway over the years or taken it for granted, shuffling from A to B, packed in tightly with my fellow humans, it is pretty great. It travels far. There’s lots of art. Some of it is delightful. Those little guys walking the walls at Prince Street get me every time.

And sometimes there are poems. And sometimes they are nice.

This one has been embedded in my mind today.


Yes it is about Grand Central. But the part about eight million centers of the universe wedges in my mind from time to time. I’d planned a different post for you today, but this is what I’m feeling today, having learned that my grandma is sick, this woman I apparently believed to be immortal, pinnacle of health, lover of raspberries, dancing, and adventure. I’m unable to think of much else. I’m a very lucky lady, having gone long enough without heartbreak to forget what if felt like, the consuming nature, difficulty switching gears. But even without the extreme example, there are always things, human experiences, that remind me of the richness of life, the proximity in this city of richness to richness, human galaxies spinning out. Eight million centers of the universe.

Perhaps a different number where you are. But this is what we share, my lovely massage friends. The experience of stepping into universe after universe, a new center for an hour or so, the ability to touch, to hold, to be with what’s important. The very center of the universe. What a gift.


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

Letting The Good Times Roll

I got into massage therapy for a number of reasons, the most glaring of which, when I started school, was that I was working a desk job, getting all stressed out and thinking about work in the off hours, getting more into my head and less into my body every day for years. It hurt my upper back and neck, and sometimes it all felt a little dizzying — the crush of the subway every morning, the hyperfocus of looking at data, the constant care in choosing my words (working with board members can be a tricky business indeed), the anxiety of never getting on top of my workload. The sitting. And sitting. And sitting. I was a fundraiser, and I worked for an organization that was doing great work. But I wanted to help people in a more hands on way, and I wanted to stand up, and I wanted to move. I wanted more flow in my life, less neurosis.

So I took a leap and enrolled in school. I think New York is a pretty technical place to learn massage. Sure, we had a brief unit on Polarity Therapy, and we are required to learn Shiatsu, so there’s a little bit of energy work, a little woo factor working, but my education felt pretty clinical to me. Or maybe that was just me bringing my own old hyperfocus to massage. Establishing a firm technical understanding was my default priority, so specificity in muscle stripping and friction, for instance, were more of a focus for me than flowy, gooey, relaxing strokes. I learned a lot, but I still wasn’t much of a go with the flow kind of girl.

It was only when I got out of school and into the world and working that I noticed a softening of hands, an ability to work more intuitively, less with the thinky-ness, more with the flow. My massage becomes more comfortable, more natural, more meltingly soothing as I go.

I was thinking the other day about the things that fall away over time. I still love anatomy and specific work. As I get further from my schooling and lose some of the muscle names and attachment sites I crammed into my brain at that time, I make sure to brush up, because those things are important to me. (I took a class just yesterday where we got all up in the iliacus in a way that was new to me, and I kept my cool, but on the inside, the whole time I was practicing, I was yelling “this $#!%* is crazy!” because the places we can reach, and the effects that specific work can have, never stop blowing my mind.) That whole getting into your head and thinking thing is totally worthwhile sometimes.

But other things matter less. Watching what I say as much as I did in my previous career, making sure people say massage therapist instead of masseuse (took me a while to realize I really have no dog in that fight), I’ve dropped those habits, and it is liberating.

Some things take a little longer to release. I write passionately on my own blog about the studio where my practice is located, how much I’ve grown from yoga and movement classes there, but I’ve had some moments of mixed emotions with regards to moving my massage practice there. One of the things I love most about the studio is that it can be raucous and — dare I say — a little bawdy at times. Before the studio was open, I read a blog post about how it was going to be a little bit inappropriate, and I fell in love before the doors even opened. But some of the things that made me fall in love with the studio as a taker of classes felt a little weird to me as a massage therapist using the space, most notably the fact that people don’t feel a need to use their indoor voices when they’re there. There’s something about the whooping, the laughter, the shrieking of children during kids’ classes, the growling, shouts, and singing along to music in classes for grown-ups that feels free and cathartic, vibrant and open. But I moved my massage practice there a year ago, and I’ve been trying, that whole time, to make it a quiet little sanctuary, because that’s what I thought massage should be.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to announce my most recent shift in perspective, the latest falling away. Last week, I gave a massage during a particularly busy evening. There was music, there was child’s laughter. There were occasional bumps and thumps. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was hearing the sounds more because I was tuning in, driven by my own sense of propriety, craving silence. I apologized to my client, who was zoned out enough that she hadn’t registered the noises. It seemed that the “noise issue” was mostly an issue because of my focus, a friction that only I felt. I could feel my grip on the fantasy of a soundproof room releasing.

Later that night, I saw this video on Facebook. This is what was happening outside the massage room that very evening.


That’s right. It’s an impromptu ukulele and tiny bongo concert, and it is wonderful. Why fight it? My massage room is not silent. It is effervescent and boisterous, and it fits just right. Sometimes I forget the names of muscles that I really ought to know or why PNF techniques work, but all of that space in my brain has been taken over by joy in my work and the pursuit of grace.

Sometimes practice makes perfect. Practicing massage has given me chance after chance to glory in imperfection. I’m going with it, learning to take those chances.

Plus, the white noise machine is in the mail.


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist in Brooklyn, NY. Her massage practice is located in the most brazenly vibrant studio in town. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.



Playing Telephone

Did you ever play Telephone as a kid? The game where you sit in a circle or line, and one person whispers a phrase to be passed along, neighbor to neighbor, until the end of the line is reached? The person at the very end repeats the phrase as he or she has heard it, and everyone giggles at the way the phrase has transformed along the line. Whispering is not the best means of communication, and we all interpret things in our own way when we can’t hear accurately, passing phrases along to be interpreted anew. Hilarity ensues.


As massage therapists, we play telephone quite a bit. It’s not usually funny, but sometimes it is great fun. Other times, it can get a little messy.

Let’s start with the fun: Hands on! We learn techniques in school, and then we get out into the world and find our groove. Formerly differentiated petrissage techniques merge into one another, effleurage swoops into new and more graceful curves, sometimes friction moves in a shape that is neither strictly cross-fiber nor exactly circular. The moves we were taught become our own, and new ones grow from them, and we fall into flow. Or we take our own weary selves for massage and steal the therapists’ best moves  feel things that are new and different and work them into our own sessions. Sometimes, we’re not sure what the technique looked like or how it was accomplished, so we interpret and approximate as best we can, usually with subtle changes. Maybe we even use our new technique when giving a massage to a fellow therapist to be absorbed and re-interpreted all over again. At the end of the telephone line, we have many massage therapists practicing personal, unique massage, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Less beautiful is when we play Telephone when we talk about massage. We learn so much in school about anatomy, neurology, and pathology. If we don’t peruse our notes from time to time or find other ways to brush up on information, it can get muddled. We are only human, and we may drop key pieces over time, filling in the blanks with our own explanations, and we might even misspeak from time to time. Have you ever had a conversation with a client about a particular muscle or pathology where you found yourself floundering? I have. It’s not pretty. Luckily, there’s something we can do about this.

There is one more rule in the simple game of telephone. When you are the one receiving the message, about to pass it on, you can call “Operator” and have the phrase repeated. When you’re playing Telephone with children, the rules vary on the number of times you’re allowed to ask for clarification. In life, you can ask as many times as you want, however frequently you desire. When you take a continuing ed classes to review techniques, refine body mechanics, or add new skills to your repertoire, you are calling the Operator. When you review information that’s become hazy over time or keep an eye out for new research, that’s calling the Operator, too, and can keep you from sounding hazy yourself.

Playing Telephone keeps massage therapy vibrant and diverse and personal. Calling the operator from time to time can keep us all fresh and engaging. Lately, my Operator has come in the form of PubMed, old handbooks from massage school (thrown over in favor of the internet for years, but books have felt more direct for me lately), hand scrawled notes from continuing ed classes, and The Massage Therapy Foundation website. Who’s your go-to Operator these days?


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

Research and Approaches to Healing


I’ve been thinking a lot about research lately. Rather, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I used to think about research and how, lately, I seem to do so less and less.

I was a psychology major in college and, as such, had to read lots of research and execute a few studies. Quantitative methods was required for my course, and, as much as I see the place for quantitative research, constructing and executing just one “gold standard” double-blind study in an academic setting with plenty of help and guidance mostly taught me a) that I did not ever want to do it again, and b) that quantitative research is complicated and often imperfect, and as a bonus, it reinforced my belief that many people tend to misread, overgeneralize, and overstate the extent to which studies “prove” things. I do not mean to suggest that it doesn’t matter. Quantitative research matters very much, gives us valuable information and insight into this world of ours, and results in crazy advances for all humankind. I’m just not the girl to carry it out.

Qualitative research, on the other hand? Oh how it makes my heart surge. Qualitative methods was not required for my course, and it was a pretty small class. I understand why. To do it properly requires hours of transcription and coding and analysis, and, at the end, you essentially wind up with a story. It’s a little less sell-able  a little less shiny, a little less likely to turn up in the health section of the Times than quantitative studies with control groups and placebos and scientific method set out to measure the effects of one thing on another (unless, of course, there’s either a quantitative element or a large enough study to detect quantifiable patterns). It doesn’t disprove a hypothesis, and thus it is often sidelined, but I think it is pretty important stuff. It provides new ways of listening, new insights into stories. And stories matter. You can’t extrapolate from them the way you can with quantitative research, can’t say that the experience of a handful of people that you have carefully taken down and parsed and come to understand will predict the experience of another, but that doesn’t mean those experiences don’t matter. They do.

The other day, I saw a post from the marvelous Melissa who administrates Anatomy in Motion’s Facebook page (on the off chance you are not already up on it, Anatomy in Motion is a fantastic app she and her husband created, and they post great content on Facebook that yields many interesting discussions). She was dismayed that someone was posting anti-massage sentiments on some of their infographics in a vaguely troll-like fashion. I had plans to leave the house within a few minutes of seeing her post. Because internet drama bests my feeble time management skills time and again, I chose to forego brushing my hair and packing my bag for yoga in favor of scanning the recent posts to see what this guy had to say. What I found was a fairly straightforward post from Anatomy in Motion citing some information about TMJ (it didn’t mention massage as a treatment), and a response from someone declaring that massage does not ever help this ever, and that no study has ever shown that it does. Ever. He used some language that didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t foul-mouthed by any stretch, but he suggested that telling people that massage helps with TMJ dysfunction merely adds to the misinformation that “consumers have to wade through.” I felt a little lumped in with snake oil salesmen. I didn’t like it. I left the house as planned, and when I next looked at the discussion, someone with more time than I (OK, it was Melissa/Anatomy in Motion) had hopped onto PubMed and posted four great quantitative studies demonstrating the effectiveness of massage in treating TMJ dysfunction! Problem solved!

But my wheels had been spinning since I’d left the house. The snake oil association had got me thinking about the way that so many people approach healing, about our reliance on research that we take to be cut and dry, but that rarely is, on the reluctance to trust intuition and give complementary care a fair shake. I appreciate the studies that demonstrate that massage helps people who are suffering from TMJ dysfunction. I look for new research fairly regularly, share it when available, write blog posts promoting new information from time to time. I love that stuff. But I was twelve years old when my jaw first slid out of place and started popping every time I opened my mouth. I’ve had TMJ problems longer than I have not. And, when I pin the clavicular attachment of my SCM and tilt my head to the side, I feel the stretch through my neck, up into my masseter, feel a slow and achy opening in the joint itself. And that matters just as much as any study.

Sometimes, it really can feel like we are wading through information. There is so much we don’t know about the human body. For people who don’t “believe in” or use acupuncture, the meridians and elemental associations sound like mumbo jumbo. For people who don’t know about massage, I imagine talk of trigger points can sound similar. But it’s pretty commonly accepted that massage works on muscles, and muscles act on joints, and it has always made sense to me intuitively, long before I ever had a massage, back when I was just a kid with a cranky, painful jaw, that pressing the muscles could help ease the pain.

When I studied qualitative methods in college, in addition to course work and our main study, we had to submit a reflection paper at the end of the term. I remember vividly hand-drawing a cover (a little juvenile, perhaps, for a college paper, but the word “reflection” was in the assignment, so I guess I kind of went for it). I drew a human form, gingerbread-man-style, arms and legs and head, but empty, and I filled in the body with interlocking puzzle pieces. What I loved about my study, which was entirely interview based, was the idea that, rather than looking at people through the lens of an external hypothesis, I started from an open-ended place and let all data arise from interviews, from the individual. I loved my qualitative methods psych class for the same reason I now love massage: all the answers are within the individual, the pieces fit together always, in a unique and fascinating and way that has something to teach us.

The truth is that much massage research usually relies on both quantitative and qualitative measures, and it legitimizes the field, and it informs techniques, and it is fabulous. My issue is not with research itself, but with people like the man commenting on the TMJ post (and other posts, apparently, that I didn’t catch), who insist that the only effective treatments are those that have been pinned down and scrutinized and documented via quantitative methods. I wish that experience and common sense mattered a little bit more, that feeling a change in a joint, however subtle, was enough to demonstrate effectiveness or, at the very least, to not inspire rage. Massage helps me. It helps my clients. As much as I love research and will continue to use it to try and legitimize the field to nonbelievers, the stories I’ve seen of massage working wonders, however few and however undocumented, are just as important to me.


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

On Comfort

I am writing from my bedroom at my momma’s house, home for the holidays. It is not my childhood bedroom; she moved into this house when I was eighteen, and I’d been living with my dad for a few years by then. If anything, the fact that I even have a room here, jute rug I picked out as a teenager, cushy mattress purchased after I moved out to replace the lumpy futon of my youth, closet full of keepsakes and weird clothes from my past (some of them are really weird, you guys), makes it all the more comforting. Though I lived here for a little while after college, I did not live with my mom when she first set her roots here, but there has always been a place for me.

window shopping back in Brooklyn

In the circles I run in, yoga and massage and some talky therapist friends, there’s discussion sometimes about holding space. It came up a lot in school. It came up in some really great, memorable conversations early in my career, but I’ve found that, as I have grown as a massage therapist, the holding of space has become more of a background (an important one, a foundation really) and less of a focus in and of itself. And that is, for the most part, how it should be. Learning new techniques, exploring ways to build a strong practice, engaging in discussions about the direction of the field, the way we work, all the many, wonderful facets of massage, are all fantastic things worthy of lots of brain space.

Today I return to the comfort of held space. I think we’ve all felt pretty bruised by the news these last weeks and months, and, while I wanted to write a post today about touch in the aftermath of difficulty, negotiating what to do when conditions feel too acute to bear it, I don’t have the clarity or the wherewithal at this time. Sometimes all you can do is be where you are, and recent events have reminded me that peace and safety in those moments are truly tremendous gifts. And so, on the eve of the winter solstice, legs tucked under the white press-board desk I picked out when I was ten, whir of warm air rattling through vents, sky outside my window deeper dark than it ever gets in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I am thinking simply of comfort, grateful to my family for keeping this space for me, wishing this sense of safety could reach all the small corners of this world.

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. They’ll be getting longer bit by bit for a good half a year from here on out. I am wishing you comfort on the longest night — may you luxuriate in the coziness of your covers — and into the days when we in the Northern Hemisphere tilt closer to the sun. Thank you, good people of The Young Thumbs, for carving out this corner of the internet for discussions both important and whimsical, for food for thought and clear directions, and for holding space for clients, friends, and strangers throughout the year. It’s a simple act, but so very, very important.

Momma’s house always has the right tea.

That’s right, folks: Your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give. You guys are great. Also, I get most of my wisdom from tea bags.

Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

An Occasional Sliding Scale

Last month, I did my first Sliding Scale Saturday. It was one of those early fall days where the sun is unbelievably golden and the breezes are just getting crisp, the yoga studio where my practice is located was buzzing with weekend classes, some people got massage who otherwise might not be able to afford it, and everyone involved left feeling stellar. It was an all-around spectacular day, and I’m telling you about it in case you want to do it, too.

This is really a post for Sliding Scale novices. There are many who have done far more than I, and I’d love to hear all about it! I have always wanted to offer affordable massage to people who need it, but, as a relatively new therapist slowly building my practice (i.e., not working a ton), I didn’t feel comfortable making sliding scale the foundation of my practice when I started out. I know some people who have offered sliding scale rates full-time from the start of their careers who are absolutely thriving. That’s totally an option, and I think it’s fantastic, but it wasn’t my choice. This little step-by-step is aimed at people like me who aren’t ready (or just plain don’t want) to commit to having a sliding scale practice all the time, but who are interested in increasing access to massage bit by bit. It took me a long time to realize that there are ways to dip a toe in without drastically changing one’s practice. This is how I did it.

Step 1: Determine What You’re Worth.

This is a lengthy discussion for another time. I’m sticking it in as a starting point because I think it’s important, when reducing rates, that we do so for the right reasons. There are a lot of reasons to do this – business promotion and increasing access to massage come to mind for me – but  please don’t do it because you don’t think you’re worth the full rate other people charge. If you think about massage, if you’re passionate about it, if you work hard, then you’re worth a good rate. Lots of people out there have this down pat, but I did a little waffling in the early days of my career, and I’ve seen some talented, well-trained people establish less-than-living wages because they think it’s the only way they’ll get clients, and it makes me a little squirmy. Shoot for the stars, or at least the standard going rate in your town.

Step 2: How Low Can You Go? Establish Your Scale.

Now that you know that you are awesome and totally deserving of the fairest rates in all the land, think about the lowest amount you can make and not feel put out. If that’s totally free, so be it, but if you’re going to be grumpy if you give an amazing massage and your client slips you a tenner as payment, set your scale higher. My base rate was $35/hour, but this will vary quite a bit both regionally and personally. If you have hourly expenses (e.g., space rental), add them to your lowest rate to set the base for your scale. Base rate + hourly expenses = low end of sliding scale. If you have a good relationship with the owner of the space, it is worth mentioning that you are offering reduced rates and ask if your landlord will, in turn, reduce yours.  I rent space in a yoga and movement studio owned by an amazing lady who was offering pay-what-you-want classes that week. She was enthusiastically on board for Sliding Scale Saturday and did not charge me for the space. You might not have the same luck, but you probably won’t know if you don’t ask.

Step 3: Set Your Limits & Book!

Having a day devoted to sliding scale is not the only way to do this. You may choose to offer a set number of sliding scale sessions a month. Lots of people offer sliding scales or reduced rates to certain populations (like students and seniors) on a regular basis. Again, I’m not saying you need to set limits – plenty of people offer sliding scale all the time, and it works out great – but if you’re afraid of feeling broke, or if you feel put out when you are paid less than what you feel you’re worth, be honest about it. I set four sessions on one day. It didn’t seem like much, especially since they went like hotcakes with a waiting list trailing behind, but it was a little something, and I plan to do it again and again.

Step 4: Reflect and Repeat.

I have heard from people who primarily work with sliding scales that the payments even out over time, that some people pay less and some people pay more than the going rate because they can. There’s trust involved. The framework I set, of limiting the discounted sessions, did not allow for such wide fluctuations. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would pay my regular rate or higher, because I wasn’t asking for that, for the generosity of some to make up for dips in the scale over time. I expected little; I got more than I expected. In a way, Sliding Scale Saturday felt like an exercise in generosity for everyone involved. While clients got a big discount, they all thought about what they could give and, in my tiny sample, they all paid more than the minimum I asked. Generosity. I got to offer a very steep discount as my base and feel like I was giving something. Dara at my studio gave the space. Generosity feels good. As does massage. It was a great day, and I’m excited to make Sliding Scale Saturday a staple of my practice.

If you’ve never tried offering a sliding scale, I heartily encourage you to work it into your practice. It’s entirely possible to try it out without overhauling your rates and your practice as a whole. If you’ve done it for years and are brimming with thoughts on the topic, I would love to hear from you. Comment away!


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

Ginger Nubs and Marketing Hang-ups

This is my ginger plant.

I have not historically been very good at growing plants. My mama has a green thumb known throughout her town (or at least among friends and neighbors, who turn the corner at the end of the block and see her garden exploding from the row of grassy lawns that surrounds it). Like me, my brother lives in a city apartment. Unlike me, his windowsills and fire escape burst with lovely green life. Many plants have graced my city sills – bright amaryllises lovingly potted by my mother every Christmas, fresh herbs to brighten my home cooking, flowers brought as hostess gifts – and many have withered in my care. When the topic of gardening comes up, I’ve been known to go a little wistful. My identity, when it comes to gardening, has long been that I greatly admire those who grow plants, but I’m no good at it myself.

Similarly, I have never thought of myself as someone who is good at marketing. I have long admired those who excel at it, especially in my own field, but it hasn’t been something I have historically enjoyed. I have, in fact, uttered the phrase “I hate marketing,” on more than one occasion. (I’m sorry, awesome marketing people with whom I share this internet space. I haven’t said it in a long time, but I have said it, and I’m sorry.) The thought of promoting myself, at least in the abstract, still fills me with mild dread. I am not sure of the exact origin of the belief that I’m bad at marketing, but I suspect it has much to do with working for a long time in a field that I didn’t love. In my early twenties, networking felt awkward and forced, and I explained my desk job with rote descriptions devoid of passion. I am a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl, and my heart was very rarely in my work, so trying to promote myself (or my organization for that matter) was uncomfortable, and I chalked it up to hating self-promotion or promotion of my business, to not being a “marketing person.”

But here’s the thing: the notion that one can simply not be a “marketing person” is a myth. I remember very clearly the first time I realized this. I was at a friend’s birthday party, fresh out of massage school and newly licensed, wary of launching my private practice (if I built it, would they come?), baby stepping into my new career by working for a chiropractor and at a spa. Someone I had never met asked me what I did for a living, and I told her. She told me about a pain in her neck, and the conversation flowed from there. We talked muscle attachments and trigger points, posture and exercise, different ways to approach bodywork and self-care, and, somewhere in there, I realized that I was being downright effusive, bordering on bubbly. For years, talking about my work with strangers was my absolute least favorite thing to do at a party, a formality to get out of the way before really getting to know someone. Yet here I was, talking about my work, connecting with this new person, and it was the best part of my night. As the conversation drew to a close and she headed out the door, I gave her my card. Wait a minute. Had I just promoted myself and thoroughly enjoyed myself at the same time? My mind, as well as my identity as a hater of self-promotion, was blown.

Alas, a remarkable overnight transformation did not ensue. I did not realize one night that promoting my work could be fun and wake up in a swirl of enthusiastic private practice marketing the next day. A couple of years later, I still have to push myself fairly hard sometimes to generate blog posts and emails and the like. Talking to people about my work is a blast, but making the initial connections that lead to these conversations and ultimately to client relationships is still a bit of a slog for me. But it’s worth it. Working in the treatment room of the yoga studio I love, keeping my own files, bringing people in and having the opportunity to listen and connect all on my own merit is the most gratifying work that I have ever done. When I get an email from someone who has read my blog and thinks I might be just what they’re looking for, it goes straight to my heart.  Really.

What does this have to do with my ginger plant? The internet, with its infinite knowledge, informed me a few months back that it was possible to grow a ginger plant from the very ginger you find at the supermarket (it being a rhizome and all). Brooklyn is not necessarily the ideal climate for ginger, but I had some on hand, and I thought it might be fun to grow a little something. What did I have to lose other than this little ginger nub that was already past its culinary prime, sporting the beginnings of baby green shoots?  I threw it in a pot of dirt and gave it lots of water. For a few days, I covered it with a glass bowl to keep it cozy hot and humid. And it grew! Weeks passed, then months, and my plant is still alive. It is getting tall and lanky now, still sprouting new stalks. It looks like bamboo, a little slice of tropical Zen in my front window. I see it first thing when I come home, and it serves as a reminder of the growth that can happen when you toss out negative old ideas of yourself and try something new.

I’m not saying that my thumbs are now glowing green. I will continue to bring home potted herbs because I like plants, and it’s more economical than buying them cut anyway, and I will try my darnedest to keep them alive, but some of them might not make it. I’m sorry, guys. I’m really, really trying, but sometimes there are aphids and weird molds and not quite enough light and probably other stuff that hasn’t come up for me yet. And I am far from a master of marketing. I might spend a whole afternoon thinking up and writing out a really great promotion or ad that doesn’t actually bring anybody through my door. That’s a thing that can happen, but it’s OK by me. I may not be a master of gardening or marketing just yet, but there’s evidence on both fronts that my efforts are worthwhile. After all, neither plants nor my practice will ever thrive if I don’t give it a whirl.


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.