Confessions of a Massage Therapist
The following is an interview with Glenn Ferrugiari, the National Director of Body Services at Red Door Spas. As told to Hannah Morrill.
Before I became a massage therapist, I was a professional dancer in New York City for 15 years. I danced on Broadway, in movies, and in commercials. I knew dancing was destroying my body and I wanted to know how I could fix it, so I took anatomy and physiology. That education really helped me understand the musculature of the body.
When I left the theater, I did a lot of odd jobs. I was a headhunter and the director of training for a department store. Then, one day, I decided I needed to get away from the corporate world and became a reservationist at a spa. At the end of the day, the massage therapists would be exhausted and I'd rub their shoulders, palms, and forearms. They'd say, "You're really, really good at this. You should probably be a massage therapist." So I became one. It's 15 years later, and I've worked for some very high-end spas before getting the job I have now.
I would equate being a massage therapist to heavy physical labor. We might as well be digging ditches with the amount of effort, force, and physical exertion that we put into our work. We don't just rub people with oil. And, let me tell you, no one wants anything but deep-tissue. While we don't want to disappoint our guests, we also don't want to kill ourselves. So we have to learn how to work smart and build stamina.
If you watch me, you'll notice that although my hands are in constant contact with the guest's body, I'm not doing a lot of arm motions. Most of the movement comes from my lower body-like my thighs, calves, and legs-which has bigger, stronger endurance muscles than my arms. I use the bulk of my lower body to augment the strength of my upper body.
We also have to learn how to work specific muscles. If we do that, guests will think we are using more pressure than we actually are. There are certain muscles that, when you put pressure on them, elicit that deep sensation people are looking for without a ton of effort by the massage therapist.
The people lying on our tables are absorbing energy from us; that's an important part of the relaxation process. But sometimes, they want more than we can give. Generally we very rarely disconnect, or take our hands from their bodies, but there are certain times when we need to. I'll remove my hands, put some peppermint on a tissue, put it in the front of my shirt, and breathe deeply. Within a second or so, I reconnect and am able to proceed.
Something Comes Up
There's a physiological reason men sometimes get erections when they're being massaged. The nervous system has two components: the sympathetic nervous system, which protects you, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows you to rest and relax. The latter is the component that's stimulated by the band of muscles on either side of your spine. When you're getting a massage, your parasympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. You are relaxed. You might be half asleep. And then, all of a sudden, a hand is going over a part of your body. Maybe it's the back of your knee, or the side of your leg, or across your décolletage. But it's going to trigger a natural physical response in your body-and in men it's visible, while in women it's not. Men should not be embarrassed. We're trained on how to control it: A little bit of pain, a little pinch in your shoulder, and the sympathetic nervous system kicks right back in.
There's nothing wrong with someone getting an erection. What's wrong is when it becomes inappropriate on their part. I paid $18,000 to get my license, and there is no way on God's good Earth that you could convince me to do anything inappropriate during a treatment. It's my reputation, it's my livelihood, and, in most cases, it's the guests who initiate those actions. At some of the high-end spas I've worked at, it's rampant. It's not a part of my career or profession that I enjoy talking about. [For the full story head to Refinery29!]