By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
“Oh, my, that feels good.”
That’s the Sentinel, sounding perhaps a bit muffled because the Sentinel is lying facedown, nose tucked into the little hole built into the massage table for that purpose.
(Who knew the Sentinel even had a nose? But yes. It is a nose for news.)
Let us not digress, though, but return to the Dade County home office of massage therapist Tammy Smith, who as we speak is whacking the Sentinel with bamboo sticks.
No kidding. What Ms. Smith is doing is called tapotement – a French term, so hold your mouth with a certain gallic je-ne-sais-quoi as you enunciate “ta-poe-tah-manh” – and it is phase one, apparently, of a neuromuscular massage.
In traditional massage, tapotement, the quick, light, chop-chop-chop the masseuse does up and down a subject’s back, is performed with the hands. But Ms. Smith is instead using, as she demonstrates on the Sentinel, short bamboo rods, and on a small heating pad lie an assortment of others which she uses in every phase of massage.
“With the bamboo, I can use this little bamboo stick and I’m not even putting on any pressure, but the people feel a deep pressure,” she says. “I think every person I touch from now on is going to get some sort of bamboo.”
Ms. Smith has been licensed in massage therapy since 2006. She practices at a spa in Rome and in the Trenton office of chiropractor Chad McDill as well as from this, her own home office across from the Dade County Sports Complex.
But just recently she completed certification in this new method, bamboo fusion, which she learned from its creator, a transplanted Frenchwoman named Nathalie Cecelia.
Mme. Cecilia, says Ms. Smith, was the kind of masseuse who walks on patients’ backs, and she kept her balance while doing so with long bamboo poles. One day she took a sudden notion to perform tapotement on her patient’s back with these poles instead of using her hands. He loved it, and thus was a new therapy born.
The masseuse later designed various sizes of the sticks according to what they were to be used for, fashioning them from a combination of bamboo for its feel and rattan for its solidity. From that blend, says Ms. Smith, comes the “fusion” part of the name.
Ms. Smith says the new method not only offers patients additional benefits but allows her to perform more massages. “I’m more a deep-tissue, neuromuscular therapist. My fingers find knots and want to get them out,” she says.
But giving that kind of deep massage is a fairly athletic activity in itself and it takes its toll on the giver. Pre-bamboo, says Ms. Smith, six massages per days was her outside limit. “You might as well stick me with a fork after six, because my back hurts, my shoulders hurt, I’m just not touching anybody else,” she says.
The bamboo, she says, has improved the situation vastly, allowing her to massage just as hard but with less effort, and she has noticed it particularly saves her thumbs.
Ms. Smith began her career in massage after benefiting from it herself. She had retired from a 20-year stretch in the U.S. Navy, where she was a hydraulic technician for fighter jets, and was living in Florida doing the same sort of mechanic work, but as a civilian contractor, when in traffic one day she was rear-ended while sitting minding her own business at a red light.
“She didn’t even hit me very hard,” she recalls now. “But I had my head turned, looking for a pen, and I got sideways whiplash.”
Symptoms didn’t start immediately, but when they did, look out! What began as a stiff neck developed into something called Meniere’s disease, with vertigo and balance issues. Ms. Smith found herself becoming confused in noisy rooms and lost some hearing in one ear.
After she got hurt she went through all kinds of conventional medical tests. “They even did a sleep study on me,” she says.
Nothing helped, until finally she went to a chiropractor who had a massage therapist in his office. For Ms. Smith, her first massage was transformational. It – felt – wonderful!
“I came home after that first time and I told my husband, ‘I’m going to massage therapy school.’ He was like, have you lost your mind?” she says now. “He said, you want to go to school at 42?”
Answer: You betcha. At work, her supervisor, who took a dim view of female mechanics, had reacted to her ear problem by transferring her to a noisier room. And besides, she was fascinated with massage and learning that she had what in the trade is called “the Touch.”
So Ms. Smith did her training at the Heritage Institute in Jacksonville, Fla., staying there to finish up even after she and her husband, Fred, decided to move to Dade County, where his family had deep roots. She followed Fred when she had completed her licensure, and the couple bought a family house on Highway 11 from Fred’s uncle.
There Ms. Smith has set up her massage table in a small detached building beside the home, and there the Sentinel now lies facedown as Ms. Smith unknots the Sentinel’s levator scapulae.
Who knew the Sentinel even had a levator scaulae? But Ms. Smith says everybody does, and everybody who works with arms stretched out in front – which is to say anybody who uses a keyboard or drives a car – gets it kinked up. “I’ve done nurses, secretaries, doctors – anybody that gets what I call the ‘mouse knot,’ ” she says.
Muscles have memory, explains Ms. Smith; tighten one up and it thinks it’s supposed to stay that way. That happens to all of us. So everyone benefits from massage, she says, not just patients with some physical condition they’re being treated for but regular folks dealing with everyday stress.
“Just anybody needs it,” she says. “You’ve got people that are workaholics that don’t know how to relax, it gives them a chance to step out of life for a little while.”
Charges at the spa and the chiropractor’s office may vary, but in her private practice Ms. Smith charges $30 for a half-hour massage, $50 for the hour – and those prices are good whether you go to her or she comes to you. Besides her tables at home and at Dr. McDill’s office, she has a third that stays in her car as she travels to clients all over the county.
“This isn’t a real big town and a lot of people have not learned the benefits of massage yet, so they’re still kind of skeptical about it,” says Ms. Smith. She is determined to keep prices low while she grows her business.
If you or someone you love would like a massage – Ms. Smith points out gift certificates make excellent Christmas presents – she may be reached at (706) 657-5076.
Far be it from the Sentinel to editorialize, but on the other hand the Sentinel would be less than candid not to conclude, at this juncture:
“Oh, my, that feels good.”