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Where To Work … And Why I Chose Spa Life

I know the words ‘spa’ and ‘massage’ in the same sentence usually elicit a dramatic eye-rolling by most registered massage therapists. Spa massage has somehow become synonymous with all things fluffy and fruity. RMTs employed at chiropractic and physiotherapy clinics are certainly the more credible lot, incorporating all that pathology and neurology curricula and sharing it with curious clients interested in their extensor hallucis brevis and inferior extensor retinaculum.


September 30, 2009
By Jules Torti


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I know the words ‘spa’ and ‘massage’ in the same sentence usually elicit a dramatic eye-rolling by most registered massage therapists. Spa massage has somehow become synonymous with all things fluffy and fruity. RMTs employed at chiropractic and physiotherapy clinics are certainly the more credible lot, incorporating all that pathology and neurology curricula and sharing it with curious clients interested in their extensor hallucis brevis and inferior extensor retinaculum.

spa-face-mask1931594.jpg As a recent detractor into the spa world, I have a newly altered and soundly educated view of all things spa. I began thinking of how every one obtains the same, equal opportunity “G” licence to drive. From this point on, drivers choose standard over automatic and Hummers over beat-up ‘74 Chevettes. Regardless of what you drive, we all  have the same responsibilities and rules to follow. As an RMT, whether in a private clinic doing motor vehicle accident insurance claims or in a spa doing chocolate souffle massages, it’s really the same save for the atmosphere.

My fingertips and the ingrained knowledge behind them cannot simply feel the texture of just surface skin anymore. Even in a spa setting my fingers are still trigger point seeking missiles. I can’t ignore a hypertonic levator or a quadratus lumborum in spasm. I feel it despite my relaxation saturated surroundings and under the guise of a relaxation treatment, I slip in a lot of therapeutic between the effleurage strokes.

There are RMTs outside of spas doing fluffy and fruity (trust me, I’ve felt them butterfly winging my aching back), and there are also heavy-handed treatment oriented therapists infiltrating the spa industry just because the ambience is a magnet pull. Why not attack scar tissue with ylang ylang and chocolate oils in a candle-lit, zen environment. Do I need bright lights and anatomical charts on the walls to do my job? Imagine 6,000 square feet of deep-breathing zen. Everything smells sensual and edible, even the linens. You might think this spa has private shares in Ikea tea light stock given the buttery glow in every room and hallway. Candles flicker and the music is pleasant, not Enya overkill or those relentlessly crashing waves. Spa voices are encouraged as clients pad softly through the halls of a west coast palette – sea foam, moss green and redwood. Flagstone brick warms the hot stone massage treatment room walls as hot towels hug tired feet at the beginning of a massage.

The Wild Orange Spa in Abbotsford, British Columbia was opened in February 2004 by two sisters, Farrah Juric and Lisa Sweetney. Both are keen on exceeding customer satisfaction standards and wowing spa guests with strict attention to detail and a consistently reliable environment to step into.

The inspiration behind the spa’s name is the wild orange tree groves found along the Amalfi Coast in Italy which conjures up an instant sweetly serene image. With eleven treatment rooms, eight additional treatment areas, 15 estheticians and three massage therapists, this place is destined to expand into Fraser’s Valley must-go, Christmas wish list location.

Slip on a waffle robe and spa sandals, take a seat on the leather lounge chairs, enjoy herbal teas, cucumber and lemon infused water, and generous handfuls of pretzels and dried fruit. Stacks of glossy magazines of all interests and a flat screen wall television will immediately help ease you into the spa coma zone. Even Martha could relax here as everything is perfect.

The minimalist atmosphere is gently perked with subtle scents of orange blossom and eucalyptus, and the seductive waft of the Vichy shower. Women clamor to the luxurious leather pedicure stations and meet later to ooohh and ahhh over cuticles and muscles massaged into pudding, and silky bodies scrubbed with figs and olive pits. All this over a decadent spa lunch of baby shrimp on baguette and orange juice with personality catered by Restaurant 62.

The well-waxed, exfoliated, buffed and balmed pampered Abbotsford residents love The Wild Orange. As an employee, I join their praises. I am thrilled to finally find a company that deducts Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and holiday pay to boot! Amalfi coast, here I come! It’s what I’ve always wanted. Really. I am happy to take a step back from previous accounting responsibilities and not have to cringe come tax time guessing the insane amount I’ll have to dish out.
Finally, more importantly, I’m busy too.

I average five to six clients a day (which might send me to an early carpal tunnel induced career grave, but the busyness is a welcome change). My constant anxiousness from this career stems directly from the waiting. Waiting for business. And clients. Waiting to make money. Not earning a salary or hourly rate instills an underlying nail-biting craziness in you as you wonder how much your next pay cheque will see-saw.

Working as a RMT at a hotel for nearly four years was taxing mentally. The hotel industry is subject to global issues like the war, September 11th and SARS.

I was massaging in the most turbulent time of tourism and am happy to step out of that sensitive arena into a community supported business.

At the hotel, I became accustomed to one hour work-outs in the gym, followed by a lazy steam or sauna, and then a leisurely hour to eat lunch poolside. Did I mention that I started every shift enjoying a Starbucks something-or-other and a muffin while reading the Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star (and okay, sometimes the Post too)? This was all unpaid of course as I was an independent contractor on commission, but it was my survival tactic for enduring work. Or, non-work. I can only justify this period of making less money by realizing that in turn I also paid less taxes, and I was fabulously in shape because I rode the stationary bike in the gym Tour de France distances.

I remember complaining to my sister when I was busy at the hotel, because then it became an intrusion into my well-rehearsed routine. I was irritated that I didn’t get a chance to run on the treadmill for an hour and do my crunches and soak in the hot tub. Kiley objectively pointed out that most people don’t get to work-out on the job, or have leisurely lunches by a pool. But hey, I wasn’t getting paid for all that loafing around!

I acknowledged my luck, but at the same time, I envied my sister’s RSP match program at work. She had medical benefits and a desk that was hers. I wanted the stability she had of a consistent pay cheque and holiday pay. Finally, I’ve found it in Abbotsford, ‘the city in the country,’ the blueberry capital of North America.

If it comes down to complaining about throbbing wrists from excessively massaging, or banging my head again over no clients and a consumed mind constantly thinking of other careers and money-making ventures (like the day I told my manager at the hotel that I was going to look for a lost parakeet in the east end of Toronto because they were offering a hundred bucks as a reward), I’ll choose the jammed up wrists, hands down.

Now I massage sensible hours, the spa is open 10-6, until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, Saturday 10-5. These hours are very liveable. At the end of my shift, I run home, my eyes fixed on Mt. Baker in the horizon, and fall to sleep, gently exhausted from an honest day’s work. Okay, really exhausted, but my mind is satisfied and I can read more of the arts section instead of the classifieds.

Where we choose to work as RMTs is as individual and unique as a Hummer or a Chevette (I pick the Hummer with a vintage 50cc Vespa for inner-city tooling around). Choose an atmosphere that motivates you and try to recognize an underlying miserable state and its source. I thought I needed a new career, but
really I just needed a new environment to thrive. Submerged in tea lights and ylang ylang, I’ve found my perfect niche that gives me the drive I always wanted.


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