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Inspiration and actualization

I don’t remember when I first started thinking about going to massage school. Certainly in the first few years after I started receiving massage on a regular basis in 1989, I crossed over from just benefiting from and enjoying the massage to wanting to be the person who helped others feel as good as I was feeling.

But some things had to fall into place before my first day of massage school in January 1997. Some time had to open in my busy schedule; that happened when, following athroscopic knee surgery, I gave up long-distance running. I had to find a school that, given my work schedule at the time, would allow me to alternate between attending day and night classes. Somerset School of Massage Therapy did just that. I had to have the funds to pay for school. Somerset allowed me to make monthly payments.

And I needed mentors to whom I could confide my fears about learning anatomy and physiology, who could inspire me with their exemplary therapeutic skills and who could show me that massage school could be a springboard for learning other therapies such as CranioSacral Therapy. Chiropractic doctors Luviajane and Bruce Swanson filled those roles in admirable fashion.

Now it’s 10 years later. I am grateful for the skills I have learned and have shared with thousands of clients, and I realize that the time it took me to make the decision was necessary to strengthen my resolve, to acquire the support team I needed, to know that the move I was making was right for me.

I reflect on that process after another months-in-the-making decision that has led to some happy news. In February 2006 I saw posted on the Internet bulletin board Craigslist an audition notice for national anthem singers for the Newark Bears independent league baseball team. After 11 years of singing lessons, stints in community musical theater and church choirs, and a lifetime of singing enjoyment, I was intrigued by the notice. However, I did nothing.

Still, the idea gnawed at me for the next 12 months. Then, two months ago, I saw the posting again. This time I responded, scheduling an audition for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at the Bears stadium off Interstate 280.

For the next month, I practiced and practiced and practiced. In my usual singing chamber, my car, during my 90-minute one-way commute to and from my newspaper copy-editing day job in Middletown, N.Y., I sang the Star Spangled Banner up to 10 times in the morning and up to 10 times in the afternoon. I checked the Internet to make sure I knew the words. I enunciated. I practiced breath control to make the phrasing sound natural and not choppy. I made sure I started low so that the powerful high notes were reachable and not forced. I also rehearsed another powerful low-to-high song, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” to strengthen my diaphragmatic support.

Then March 24 arrived. I warmed up with 45 minutes of singing in the echo chamber of my bathroom. I sang in the car as I drove to Newark. I signed in outdoors at the concourse of the stadium, where performers sang a cappella into a microphone before the judges and bystanders, and then I went into the men’s room and practiced some more. I heard an accomplished male barbershop harmony duo; I heard pyrotechnic high notes from other auditioners; I heard strong applause for some, fainter applause for others.

And then I heard myself breathing deeply, grounding myself, as I looked over the heads of the judges and sang, “Oh, say can you see …”

I started too high. I knew that immediately. Instead of Robert Merrill, I was a lyrical tenor. Then some scratchiness crept into my voice; not enough to ruin the tryout, but to give it some texture. I hit the high notes fine, though not with the power I had in countless rehearsals.

And, then, with a “In the land of the free and the home of the brave,” it was over in a little more than a minute. I heard a smattering of applause as the judges thanked me. I nodded and walked away, blowing out breath to calm my suddenly trembling body.

I sounded great as I sang during the drive home. “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” my favorite, albeit difficult-to-sing, song, came effortlessly as did other high favorites.

Then came the waiting. I knew I had done OK. Was my straightforward rendition enough to land me a spot amid the embellishers, the self-assured, and the others more than 80 singers that day?

The answer came four days later via e-mail:

“Congratulations!! The judges were impressed… You have been selected as a 2007 Newark Bears National Anthem Singer!!!”

Incredible! Elation, nervousness, sharing the news with friends and family, all in a rush that Wednesday, March 28.

A month later came the date I would be singing: Tuesday, May 15; a 5:05 p.m. game. I was told to arrive at 4:15 p.m.. Soon after, a Newark Bears representative will escort me onto to the field.

Guess where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing for much of that afternoon? In the echo chamber of my bathroom, warming up my ever-strengthening voice for the minute-plus of microphone time to follow.

All rise for the singing of the national anthem – and if you’re not there that day, think of me breathing deeply, grounding myself, starting low and hitting those high notes with the richest bass-baritone I can muster.

It took me a year to think about it and now, like massage school 10 years ago, I’m finally doing it. You can, too, whatever the project that scares and excites you at the same time. Breathe deeply, and begin.

Technique of the month:

Side massage

Even though a massage therapist knows that a certain technique can relieve stress in a number of muscles, sometimes the primary reason he does the aforementioned technique is because it feels good.

So it is with a stroke that glides from the wrist to the hip.

With the client on his back, the therapist brings the client’s arm alongside his ear and beyond his head — as long as tight rotator cufff muscles don’t prohibit such a stretch. From there, the therapist lightly oils the client’s side and applies lightly firm, but not too heavy, palmar pressure from the hip up along the ribs over the armpit and up to the wrist. The therapist then reverses direction down to the hip and continues an up-and-down movement.

The combination of the arm stretch, the firmness of the touch on several muscle groups and the attention to an area of the body that rarely receives massage on its own all contribute to the “ahhh!” feeling that sometimes has a client sighing in relief and pleasure.

Stretch of the month:

Eyes and tongue and head and neck

These are good to do as slow wake-up exercises or while driving to combat fatigue.

First the eyes and tongue: Stick out the tongue and point the tip of the tongue upward as the eyes look upward, too. Then bring the tongue down and point the tip downward as the eyes look downward. Bring the tongue left as the eyes look left; bring the eyes right as the eyes look right. Bring the tongue diagonal upward left as the eyes look that way; bring the tongue diagonal downward right as the eyes look that way. Tongue and eyes diagonal upward right; tongue and eyes diagonal downward right. Repeat the circuit 10 times or more. Breathe deeply and relax.

Then do the same slow movements with the head and neck: up, down, left, right, diagonal upward left, diagonal downward right, diagonal upward right, diagonal downward left. Repeat the circuit 10 times or more. Breathe deeply and relax.

Hike of the month:

Appalachian Trail, Monroe, N.Y., to Sterling Forest, N.Y.

I had planned on starting my 2007 hiking season on April 16. However, the remnants of the April 15 nor’easter kept me inside away from soggy trails as I devoted the daytime-job vacation day to a variety of massage clients.

So now I have my sights set on the morning of May 14. My trail of choice is the Appalachian Trail where it crosses Route 17M north of Tuxedo, N.Y. A small parking area allows day hikers to either ascend a bridge to head east over the New York Thruway into Harriman State Park or to head west up a mountain into Monroe toward Lake Mombasha, Sterling Forest and Greenwood Lake. I plan on the latter. I’ve intercepted the trail near Lake Mombasha on many a commute to my day job in Middletown, N.Y., but that wooded section of a trail will be new to me.

See you out there, weather permitting.

Recipe of the month

Rhonda’s Creamy Banana Milk

(From the Hallelujah Acres newsletter (

1 quart distilled water
1 ripe banana
1 cup sunflower seeds
3 pitted dates OR 3 tablespoons raisins

Soak sunflower seeds overnight and drain. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend till creamy.


Until next time … stay in healthful touch.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy