Changing the perception of bodywork from one of luxury to one of necessity
How does a massage therapist survive in a town saturated with massage therapists? It was a question for Kelly Stoll, certified advanced rolfer, and Jennifer Galvin, certified massage therapist. Over the past three years since opening Vital Body Therapy, the two have not only survived, they’ve grown their business to include a total of nine carefully-selected therapists, earning dozens of five-star yelp reviews along the way. For Galvin and Stoll, the answer is simple: do what nobody else is doing.
“Our mission is to change the public perception of bodywork from one of luxury to one of a necessity,” says Stoll. “We really see bodywork as rehabilitative and preventative, and a huge portion of our demographic come for that reason.”
Clients come with specific musculoskeletal pains, tension and limited movement caused by scar tissue, and even more severe conditions like plantar fasciitis. While painkillers and surgery are still the most common treatments for severe pain, Stoll and Galvin believe in an alternative route to a pain-free existence.
That’s not to say luxurious, stress-melting touch is not part of the equation, too. The elegant Victorian on Ocean View Avenue feels almost like a high-end doctor’s office, but with the soothing promise of pampered relaxation. The welcoming calm is intentional; stress negatively affects every physiological system in our bodies, including our muscles.
“Cortisol, because it prepares your body for fight or flight, increases the tonus, globally, of all your muscles,” says Stoll. “It’s the opposite of being relaxed. So on the relaxation end of bodywork, you’re addressing that sympathetic activation in a person’s nervous system which creates hypertonic muscles.” Translation: “knots” and tightness.
Touch is also a way to remap our brains. “We touch something because it helps convince your brain that it’s okay to do something that, for whatever reason, became inhibited,” says Stoll. Like when patients come in with the complaint “I can’t turn my head’, or “I can’t reach my arm above my head.” Lost mobility, if untreated, can mean major problems, often ending in surgery ten or twenty years down the road. The solution? “Okay, we’re going to lengthen these muscles, we’re going to touch your nervous system in a way that gets it to calm down, we’re going to lift this joint in a way that reminds it that it can go this direction, and then give you the experience of the movement and then it’s integrated into your brain’s map,” says Stoll.
But it’s more than just the muscles. Understanding the anatomical relationships affecting the pain is crucial to preventative and rehabilitative bodywork, and a key concept that Stoll and Galvin say sets them apart. It means paying close attention to the fascial network, an amazing full-body web of connective tissue made up of collagen and elastin.
“A good visual for the fascial network, is that if you sucked all of the contents out of your body, took the skin off, what would be left is this web, and it would be your shape,” says Galvin. “It would give you definition of every organ, every muscle, every bone. It’s like a gossamer web,” adds Stoll.
The shape of our “web” largely depends on how we use our bodies every day, how we sit, and how gravity pulls on us—and a kink in one part of the web is going to reverberate throughout the body.
“So if someone comes in with carpal tunnel, which shows up as pain or numbness, tingling in the hand, we would address that by freeing up all the pathways of the nerves, from the root of the nerve in the neck through the armpit down the arm,” says Stoll. “Carpal tunnel isn’t an event in your fingertips, it’s a relationship between your whole shoulder, your ribs and your spine. So everyone here would know that you would want to open or create space along that nerve pathway.”