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Challenge Yourself

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Technique. This is a sacred word to skin therapists. To begin with, it's French-more on that in a moment. For generations, technique has been the skin care profession's raison d'etre-oops, I mean entire reason for being. Mastering the traditional posture, movements, and protocol defined the very essence of being a skin therapist, similar, let's say, to the discipline of a classical ballerina or a Cordon Bleu chef faceting perfect, six-sided baby carrot nuggets. But here's the big news: technique is not enough.

As in, a recognizably equine beast with four legs, a mane, and ears, eyes, nose and mouth in the usual places? When his remarkable Cubist paintings were first exhibited, even the artist's cronies said, in essence, that their own kids could draw better. But of course one look at Picasso's pre-Cubist nudes and landscapes reveal that he was a master draftsman who had an unerring sense of line, form, and composition.
He could draw a horse that looked exactly like a horse. But after a while, perhaps he wanted more. He wanted to evoke the essence of "horse-ness" - energy, strength, speed, spirit, a fondness for sugar-cubes-- by going beyond the literal, pictorial representation.
As skin therapists, I challenge you to do the same. The first challenge is to master the techniques down to the last neuron-twitch of perfection. The second challenge is to throw this perfect mastery out the window and go beyond. Do you dare?

Part of our hang-up as therapists, not to pick on the French, has to do with the names of our techniques. Effleurage, petrissage, tapotement-- they sound beautiful, authoritative, intimidating, and are hard to spell. All of this makes us think that our lives are all about mastering these temperamental creatures, like trying to replicate the perfect Grand Plie or Grand Marnier Souffle-I have to stop now, I'm making myself dizzy.
Let's begin the de-mystification process, starting with the names by which we call those key movements that we all learn and repeat hypnotically thousands of times in pursuit of the feeling of getting it really right. These names no longer have to be French. There was a time when the French language was literally the lingua franca, the learned language spoken throughout academia, the arts, and commerce worldwide-but that ship sailed long ago. And today, Mandarin would be my second language of choice! But this grand terminology from another century holds us hostage, and I think we need to scrap it in order to really understand our vision as the skin care tribe. In fact, my e-mail address is at the end of this rant. Feel free to send me your new, alternative names for these classic terms. Please include your telephone number; if I pick an official winner, I promise to personally ring you up and sing "La Vie en Rose," badly.

There's no shortcut to mastering the form, and it's important. The body and hands must be held a certain way. The given movement must progress a certain way. And then, it no longer matters.
What I mean is this: it's a matter of evolving. An absence of devotion to technique makes you a Novice. This is Phase One. Mastery of these techniques, through passion and through pure repetition and muscle-memory, makes you a Professional. This is Phase Two. Here's where it gets dangerous-it's really easy to get stuck in Phase Two and think you're at the top of your game. But Phase Two can atrophy into Phase Three, which I call the Slave Phase. This is where slavish devotion to technique alone makes you a mechanic, or a mere technician. You have become obsessed with hitting the notes dead-on, and you do it with competence-- but you don't sing with any soul.
It is possible to move from Phase Three to Phase Four, which I call the Deconstructed Master. But it takes risk. If you're used to performing your solo with perfect pitch, it takes guts to step outside that comfort zone and improv, riff and scat like Ella Fitzgerald. You'll scare yourself. You'll make mistakes. You'll no longer feel smug. You'll hit enough flats and sharps along the way to make your inner Simon Cowell break out into a cold sweat. But get over it. Taking this risk is the only way out of techno-bondage.

Here's how to tell if you're a Slave. Your hands are moving, performing expertly, but you look down and you realize they are utterly disembodied from you. They could be a machine you've switched on. And you may lose yourself, thinking about a conversation you had with someone last night, or thinking about that lovely leftover lasagna you plan to nuke for lunch in 20 minutes-hmmm, you'll have to take those steam-towels out first. Was that marinara or meat sauce? You may not remember if you've masked the client, or not, or...what day is it? If you feel this way, your perfected technique has trumped all feeling, and you have disconnected from the client.
Begin by taking small risks in how you do your treatments. I'm not talking about anything which will leave your client in shock and awe. If you're working from a seated position, take the chair out of the treatment room and get on your feet - it's the best way I know to re-energize and re-connect. The energy-flow from the top of the client's head, or crown chakra, almost literally "plugs in" to your lower abdomen when you stand to work. If you are a female skin therapist, you carry your energy in this supercharged area just below the navel, and it's extremely powerful. Sitting blocks this connection. Also, of course, being on your feet allows you to move with a dance-like fluidity around the treatment bed. I'd be in favor of therapists working barefoot, except that this would cause a big international scandal about hygiene (last time I checked, we therapists don't touch clients with our feet - but, no matter).
Even something as simple as adding a steam at a different interval in the treatment, or using a slightly different approach or a different sequence is a way to break the physical and energetic gridlock of this phase. Take deep breaths and feel your body. Let your neurons and synapses take you back to the first year, the first month, the first DAY you were doing skin care treatments. Remember the spark, the literal electricity, the sheer alchemy of that first contact? Let your skin remember. Then let it speak to you.

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