The photo above shows my husband Shane’s hands, and behind his hands, the new view that he wakes up to every morning. Shane is pursuing his dream of spending more time in the Yukon, and has taken a 6 month massage therapy stint to make this happen. He has been here 10 weeks, the longest period of time he has ever been away from his home at Kerry Farm in Saskatchewan. It is a rare person who who can say they still live in the house where they began their life!
When I first met Shane he was a grain farmer. He is a strong person, and certainly his hands told a tale of hard work and strength. Hands that worked with the earth, with seeds, with animals, with machines and engines…hands that often held the smell of diesel. A “get her done” mentality pervaded, so often he kept working even when his hands were tired, or chapped, or hurt, or sore.
His hands aren’t only strong, they are also deft. In his recent absence from our farm, we have had lots of small (and not so small) things go wrong, things that his hands know exactly how to fix, that our hands do not. Recently, none of us could remove a long pipe attached to a float valve in our horse watering bowl, not only because we were not strong enough, but also because we did not know the precise feel of it.
When Shane began to think about training to be a registered massage therapist, an old friend looked at him wryly and said, “Well, you better do something about those hands.” They had cuts and nicks, torn nails and cuticles. They were like rough sandpaper. They were “farmer’s hands”.
Going back to school at age 47 was no small feat. Making the transition from grain farmer to massage therapist is not a usual trajectory in career transitions. Shane remembers the first week, when the instructor gathered all of the (mostly female) students around a large garbage can to trim their nails. “If only the guys at the grain elevator could see me now!” he thought to himself. The “rough sandpaper” aspect of Shane’s hands could be softened with cream on the hands, protected by gloves at night or while driving. Ironically, the final softening of his hands comes when he buffs his hands with fine sandpaper.
Strength and the ability to endure are definitely assets as a massage therapist. Shane has those qualities in spades. But massage therapists also need their hands to “listen”, to hear the stories a body is telling, to be sensitive to the whole person they are massaging. As Raye Hendrickson, a Regina massage therapist writes, “In my massage practice, I consider my hands as another set of ears – they listen to people’s bodies and know, often before before my head does, what needs special attention.” Shane became aware that some of his fellow students have the natural gift of “listening hands” that Raye describes. While he does not count himself among those with this natural talent, he is learning and he is listening and becoming more closely attuned with the subtle messages conveyed through our bodies.
Shifting how he works with his hands has opened up new worlds for Shane. As a grain farmer, he didn’t often listen to his hands if they were freezing or hurting because the priority was a job to be done. He continues to learn to listen to his own hands and to listen to the other signals his body is giving. He is less likely to push through. He has observed that some people who come for a therapeutic massage have pushed their bodies and not really listened to them until the pain is quite severe.
As a massage therapist, he has been open to other healing modalities including reiki, Body Talk and healing touch.
Working with his hands as a massage therapist has opened up a special relationship with those who come to see him. He understands the power of touch and the power of presence in new ways. When his parents were aging and feeling various aches and pains, he was able to offer them comfort and solace through the healing power of touch and massage. His parents most certainly soothed him with loving touch as an infant. The circle completes itself as he offers them comfort and love in their final years using his hands.
And, who knows? Would he have felt the pull of the Yukon if he had continued as grain farmer? Perhaps. Massage therapy has opened many new worlds for Shane. Using his hands as a massage therapist has provided him with a portable way of making of making a living and making a difference as he explores new places.
This post has been written in the Yukon as I prepare for an upcoming PLAYshop called Hands On! Celebrating our Hands which will be held in Regina Sat. Feb. 10th, 2018 and in Fort Qu’Appelle Sat. Feb. 24th, 2018. Other posts about hands are Hand – Word Play and Gestures