SOLON- Susie Garton was driving through town when she noticed something that would turn out to be the final catalyst for an idea she'd had for a couple of years.
"I saw someone was taking down the sign for Main Street Massage," she said.
Having moved to Solon with her family about six years ago, Garton had been commuting past the storefront almost daily on her way to and from Iowa City where she provided massage and bodywork services at the Towncrest practice she started 18 years ago. When her two children, now 19 and 20, were still attending City High, it was convenient to work in Iowa City while they were in school. But now that the kids were grown, Garton was ready to start transitioning her business closer to home.
"I'd been thinking about doing this for a couple of years, trying to find a small space because I don't always like to drive in the winter," Garton said.
And so she opened Solon Shiatsu and Massage last November at 101 Windflower Ln. It didn't take long for local clients to discover her. Garton was pleasantly surprised to get a quick response to an ad placed in the Economist in her first weeks setting up shop.
"Out of the blue, I got a text from woman who wanted to get in for a massage. And I thought, her name sounds so familiar..." said Garton. "I went back over all of my old intake forms, and sure enough, I used to work on her in 2002 and 2003 in Iowa City. But she's from Solon!"
The benefits of massage are well-known to Garton and the many clients she has served at the Iowa City practice she established in 1998. Nationally, the recognition that massage can be an effective component of overall strategies for maintaining good health has accelerated in the past decade in tandem with the emphasis on wellness and holistic approaches to mind-body health. According to data compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association, "an average of 18 percent of adult Americans had received at least one massage between July 2014 and July 2015" while "27 percent?received a massage in the previous five years."
Of those who received massages, 91 percent believed that massage could be effective in reducing pain while 33 percent turned to massage therapy for relaxation and stress reduction.
These days, it's not uncommon to find chair massage stations in larger workplaces, such as the University of Iowa's hospitals, where walk-in services have been available to employees and the general public since 2009. Increasingly, healthcare providers recommend regular massages as part of comprehensive treatments to alleviate a broad range of common ailments: headaches, stress, high blood pressure, backaches, sore and strained muscles and arthritis, to name just a few.
Garton herself was introduced to massage in the late 1990s by her sister. "She was going to school to learn to be a massage therapist," Garton recalls. "At the time, students were required to give 100 people complimentary massages as part of their training." Serving as a practicum student for her sister to work on, Garton discovered that massage felt "amazing," and got hooked immediately.
"With the kids being so little, I was looking for a job that was more flexible at the time, so I just jumped right in," Garton said. "I found a way to get the money together, and I started massage school."
About a year later, Garton completed the 800-hour program to become a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) at the Shiatsu Clinic and School in Iowa City. After another 100 hours of practicum massages, Garton took the written test required for certification and started her career.
Through her training and subsequent practice, Garton specializes in focused touch Shiatsu, a method derived from ancient Eastern medicine. Translated from Japanese, shiatsu means "finger pressure," which is a pretty accurate description of the technique. Sometimes called acupressure, shiatsu is based on pressure point techniques that originated in Japan. The specific "trigger points" that therapists work on are based upon a system of meridians which, according to traditional Chinese medicine, aligns the flow of energy to bring mind and body into balance and thus ease physical pain, restore vitality and promote overall well-being.
"In traditional shiatsu you're on the floor. They stretch you out. They follow the meridians," Garton explained, pointing to colorful map of the human body on the wall of her Solon office. Knowledge of anatomy and body systems such as endocrine, lymph, muscle, bone and hormone is essential to this form of massage therapy. Garton combines such knowledge with careful attention to client feedback to determine what works best for each individual.
To maintain certification, Garton must complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years. Meeting this requirement through the curriculum offered by the Carlson School of Massage Therapy in Anamosa, Garton has expanded her repertoire to include massage techniques aimed at working deep tissues, such as the gliding strokes, kneading and manual tapping characteristics of Swedish massage.
"When I first started, all I did was shiatsu," Garton said. "Shiatsu is wonderful. I think it's very effective. But I think people like oil, and they like lotion, and stuff on the skin that's not just a pressure point." She noted that the use of oils and lotions facilitate the rubbing and kneading techniques of Swedish massage and often add a dimension of aromatherapy that many clients find soothing and pleasant.
"My focus is on shiatsu, but I think there's a lot of benefit to incorporating other techniques depending on the need and what the person wants," Garton said.
"I'm going to go deeper with my shiatsu pressure, and then later go in there and maybe use some rubbing and kneading with oil or lotion. I can incorporate deep tissue massage, but it will done primarily through shiatsu pressure techniques," she added.
Garton welcomes clients of all ages and offers services tailored to their needs. "I have people in their 80s. I have people who are dealing with cancer," she said. Some clients come to her well-educated about the benefits of massage, such as the college student who received her first massage from Garton at age 6: "The parent has taught the child that massage is important. And they like it, so they stay with it."
Other clients who come for a session without much knowledge of massage become true believers after one experience. "There's people who never had a massage before, and then they discover, 'wow, I don't have my headaches anymore,'" said Garton. "Like this woman with migraines. She said, 'I don't hurt right now, and that's amazing. Thank you!' So I feel good about that."
As she helps clients understand how massage can relieve chronic conditions and promote an overall sense of well-being, Garton reminds them that "it's not going to fix everything. You've got to take care of yourself." Case in point: a man who sees her regularly, works hard to understand his own body and takes an active role in working with Garton to maximize the benefits of massage.
Garton applies the tenet of self-care to herself as well. "Many people get hurt as massage therapists and don't last very long," she said. "I try really hard to protect myself through proper technique." As a 70-year-client reminds her: "body mechanics, body mechanics, body mechanics!"
Currently, Garton offers table and chair massages at both her Solon and Iowa City locations: 101 Windflower Ln., Ste. 300C and 2418 Towncrest Dr. (319-430-6310). Massage appointments may be arranged by telephone, text or online through Garton's website: http://www.susiegartonlmt.massagetherapy.com/home. Gift certificates and volume discounts are available.