Deep-tissue perk

Companies catching on to the healing power of massage

A DOSE OF RELAXATION<br>Ana Varona, a massage therapist, offers massage as part of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s health and wellness program.

Ana Varona, a massage therapist, offers massage as part of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s health and wellness program.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

For some people, the word “massage” conjures up images of those racy personal ads in the back pages of newspapers. For some, a massage—no matter how legitimate and decidedly nonsexual—strikes a chord of shyness or fear because they are not comfortable with being touched by a stranger.

For many people, though, there’s nothing like a good, long Swedish or hot-stone massage to relieve stress. And, as more people become familiar with massage’s stress-relieving benefits, more are joining the ranks of those looking forward to their next opportunity to relax and de-stress under the hands of a capable therapist.

It turns out that even employers—including JC Penney, Best Buy, Allstate Insurance and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.—are catching on and offering stress-relieving massages to their employees.

Ana Varona, a pretty 53-year-old with a head full of bobbed, wavy, wheat-colored hair, is a licensed massage therapist who has been practicing since 1985, working for Sierra Nevada’s employee health and wellness program for almost a year.

Massage became part of the company’s health-care offerings, Varona said, after a survey of the employees showed a desire for such a service. The company’s owner, Ken Grossman, said he has long “been a proponent of the use of massage,” and “see[s] the benefit of being pro-active” about using massage to deal with muscle strains and injuries.

Varona has seen an increase in the number of employees coming to her over the past 10 months—many for their first massage ever—for the 30- to 45-minute table massages she gives in her office inside the brewery’s onsite health-care facility. (Each employee is entitled to one table massage every three months, as well as one, less extensive 15-minute chair massage during that same time period.)

“Every couple of weeks, I get new people [coming for a massage],” said Varona, acknowledging that a number of those who have never before had a massage because of misconceptions or fear are coming around, little by little.

“The word is slowly spreading. For some people, it’s two very radical ideas: massage, and massage at work. But eventually it will be a part of the culture. Eventually, [Sierra Nevada] employees won’t miss their quarterly massage for anything.”

Varona—whose training includes a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and study in trigger-point massage therapy and deep-tissue massage—cites the physical and mental stress that goes along with working in any large production company such as Sierra Nevada, where there is “a great diversity of jobs and all are quite demanding,” such as the restaurant workers, the forklift drivers, and the packaging staff, who are on their feet much of the time and concentrating on the smooth daily operation of the conveyor lines.

Varona describes her sky-blue-and-white massage office as “a little refuge, a little sanctuary.”

“I try to encourage people to leave their stress at the door,” said Varona. “I tell them, ‘Stop your worries, stop your stress, and just breathe.’ Putting attention onto breathing puts a person ‘out of their mind,’ in a good way.”

Varona asks clients to think of different images, such as “melting, like soft wax or butter,” to a background of soft, soothing music, to relax them so that she can work on spots in the body that are tense or painful. She asks the person receiving the massage to keep their attention on the place she’s massaging, to “meet me from the inside where I am pushing on the outside.” Varona speaks of being able to feel the palpable “twitchings,” “bubbles” and “releasings” in the tense, hard areas of a person’s body as she works on that area to relieve stress and pain.

Massage works as a tool for stress management, because “it works with the language of touch,” explained Varona. “The sensory organs in my hands are connecting with the sensory organs in someone else’s body. The language of touch is the language that the brain and the nervous system understand. Massage is a very effective way to soothe the nervous system and send a message to the brain that ‘You don’t have to hold all this tension.’ “

Vita Segalla, a well-known local massage therapist since 1982, speaks similarly of the body’s “holding of tension,” referring to a person’s body as a “receptacle” for stress. Segalla, whose massage training includes deep-tissue and myofascial-release therapy, is also trained in the non-massage techniques of Complete Self-Attunement (a meditational process) and the Alexander Technique, focusing on body awareness.

“Because I’ve had those [non-massage] trainings,” said Segalla, “when I put my hands on [my clients], I can feel the state the other person is in. I feel their energy blockages, their stresses and their strains.”

Segalla generally spends about an hour and 15 minutes, more or less, with each of her clients, many of whom come regularly to her Orient Street office—weekly, biweekly or monthly.

She is convinced that massage works as “preventative medicine … reliev[ing] stress on all levels—physical, mental and emotional—and if you have a spiritual stress, it can help with that, too. The physical body is like a receptacle for any emotional, physical or mental stress. The physical body contains it unless you do something to relieve it.

“Eventually, if you just keep accumulating stress and not relieving the stress, something’s going to happen—an episodic breakdown like road rage, or an illness.”