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Massage therapist marks 23 years in Peabody

Staff writer

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Working as a cake decorator might not sound like the usual prelude to becoming a massage therapist, but that was the path chosen by Shirley Davis.

Davis’ first taste of massage therapy came while living in Iowa in the early ’90s, when she experienced reflexology, the massaging of the feet’s pressure points to effect corresponding areas of the body.

From there, she moved to the east coast to attend classes in Maryland. By 1995, she was working massage therapy part-time in Peabody, having moved near her hometown of Newton.

One of the advantages when she started was that there was a massage therapist in Aulne at the time, so customers were already aware of therapeutic massages, Davis said.

“I was very glad I didn’t have to educate others or promote myself,” she said. “I just put an ad in the paper and I had customers, because they were already familiar with therapeutic massages.”

It has become a more common practice over the years, particularly as the U.S. has become more stressed and densely populated, she said.

Despite the growing popularity, there is a significant difference in the reluctance of men, Davis said.

“Men are more reluctant to get massages,” she said. “Sometimes it takes being in quite a bit of pain to finally decide they’ll try it.”

While some aren’t immediately comfortable with the process, changing the atmosphere can improve that, Davis said.

She recently held her first couples’ massage with fellow Peabody massage therapist Rachel Gfeller. It can heighten relaxation because it gives customers someone to share the experience with, Davis said.

“It has a feeling of communion with your partner to do that together,” she said. “You’re both relaxed and it puts a smile on your face.”

While release and relaxation are the goals, it is still helpful to get feedback from customers, Davis said.

“Sometimes people don’t want to communicate,” she said. “Maybe they just want to relax, but if they let us know what they like then we can give them a more personalized experience.”

Even under the umbrella of massage therapy, there are many avenues a therapist can take, Davis said. They can fluctuate from reflexology to sport massage, which focuses on stretching to alleviate stress.

While there is a debate in the field whether relaxation massage or more physical, stretching massage is better, each serves its purpose, Davis said.

“In my opinion, both are equally beneficial,” she said. “If the muscle relaxes through relaxation, that’s just as important as the one that has been stretched and now is relaxed.”

While she has a formal education and renews her certification every two years, there are no industry regulations in Kansas, Davis said. Due to the lack of state industry standards, Davis and other members of the American Massage Therapy Association are lobbying at Topeka.

“Having gone to school makes you a better massage therapist,” she said. “There are people who have a natural talent for giving a massage, maybe somebody you know has rubbed your shoulders and it just felt wonderful. Some people have that talent, but I think our industry would be better with some regulation.”

Last modified Feb. 28, 2019

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