Journal

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An Afternoon with Andrea C. Spencer, LMT

It’s mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, and I’m climbing the carpeted stairs to the second floor where one of Andrea Spencer’s therapy rooms is located.  As I poke my head above the wide banister, I hear the soothing sound of gently trickling water coming from a small tabletop fountain. There is a feeling of hushed peace.  I pause to take off my shoes, and Andrea greets me cheerily as she tidies her cozy space after a client’s appointment. I settle on a low leather bench and relax as I breathe in the lightly scented air.  Antique and modern anatomy charts adorn the walls. A tall rectangular floor lamp to my left emits a soft glow. I’ve come today to conduct an informal interview with Andrea about her work as a Licensed Massage Therapist, and her connection to Springboard Pilates as a client and collaborator.

Andrea has now been doing massage for almost ten years.  She specializes in myofascial release and deep tissue therapies, and she is the founder of Apple Core Therapy, a complete wellness center located in Portland, Maine.  In her spare time, Andrea also joins forces with Meredith Coffin, Owner and Instructor at Springboard Pilates, in a unique bodywork-Pilates offering called the Reset Package.  (More on this later.)

I’ve known Andrea for about five years, and I always look forward to time spent in her presence – she’s calm, direct, and intuitive.  She laughs easily, a throaty, joyful sound. She has a love for companion dogs and animal rescue, and has two very special rescue pups at home.  Her brindle-colored American Standard Bulldog, Quinn, sometimes makes a guest appearance in her treatment room, where his gentle presence makes him a perfect unofficial therapy dog for the many clients who are just as enamored of him as Andrea is.

Andrea and I immediately start chatting as we unwrap our sandwiches from the café across the street.  My fingers fly over my keyboard as she talks, and we enjoy occasionally wandering off the path of the original question.  What follows is a version of her answers that I reluctantly whittled down to fit in this space.

THE NATURE OF ANDREA’S WORK, AND WHERE IT IS TAKING HER

Andrea is known in the Portland scene for her excellence in myofascial release and deep tissue; the fact that you may have to wait 4-6 weeks to get an appointment with her is proof of her popularity.  As we dive in to a deep discussion of these modalities that are her specialties, she explains that they are intensely physical, and often difficult for clients to accept at first. This leads the conversation to what will be a recurring theme: trust and empathy are of paramount importance in Andrea’s work. And while she stresses that she is in no way qualified as a talk therapist, she says that she has become much more comfortable over the years with clients shedding a few tears during their treatments – a favorable sign that they trust her and have let her “in.”

She notes that myofascial release helps people to deal with years of not countering poor body positioning (she calls this “cultural” posture) that results from working for long periods on computers, or driving instead of walking.  She also believes that poor posture can be directly related to unfavorable emotions. “Pain sometimes becomes an identity for people,” she says.

It is this undesirable pain-as-identity that gets her excited to be moving in the direction of therapeutic energy work that will help clients with their emotional needs.  We talk about one of her newest treatment offerings: a 26-pound heated infrared amethyst therapy biomat. Treatments using this soothing bed take place in a separate room from Andrea’s other services.  Clients can book 30, 60, or 90 minute hands-free sessions to lie on top of the heated bed, which creates a sauna-like atmosphere. The benefits are thought to be many, ranging from pain relief to lessening of symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Andrea also offers guided heated infrared amethyst therapy sessions, which incorporate craniosacral therapy (another one of her specialties), the use of healing stones, guided meditation, and verbal visualization.

Ultimately, she’d like her work to help people long past the end of the session, and she’d like her clients to be educated about their massage therapy and even start to understand the theories involved.  And while she thinks Western medicine has a very important place in our culture, she feels strongly that people should be thinking for themselves when it comes to their bodies. She points out that we only have one body for the rest of our lives, and believes we should know enough about it to take care of it ourselves – most or all of the time.

THE PILATES METHOD, SPRINGBOARD PILATES, AND THE RESET PACKAGE

I’m curious to know how Andrea was introduced to Pilates, and the Springboard studio.  She tells me that after learning about the Pilates method from her brother’s fiancée (now wife), she and a friend decided to try mat classes at Springboard.  Not long after those first classes, Andrea agreed to be the case study for a teacher who was furthering her Pilates education through one of the training programs offered by The Pilates Center of Boulder, Colorado.  (Springboard is a host studio for TPC.) She remembers that it was fascinating to observe this teacher growing more skilled at using her voice and cueing to teach Andrea the language of Pilates. “It was like, how do you get in there [a client’s brain] and make it make sense to them?”

I ask Andrea to press the fast-forward button from her time as a case study to a few years ago, when she and Meredith, who has been happily teaching Pilates for ten years and has owned Springboard Pilates for almost five years, came up with the Reset Package.  She describes how wanting to collaborate with her friend blossomed from her affection for Meredith. She laughs as she comments that the Reset is also in line with her dreams of creating her own modality. “It’s far-fetched, but it’s there.”

For readers who aren’t in the know, the Reset Package unites Andrea and Meredith’s passions and talents in a private, personalized two-hour workshop that is typically booked on a Saturday at the Springboard studio.  Each Reset begins with Andrea and Meredith carefully assessing a client’s posture as they move and walk, verbally sharing what they notice. As Andrea employs hands-on bodywork, Meredith continues to observe and take notes.  She also translates for the client, describing how what Andrea is doing will relate to the Pilates exercises that will come next.

In the Pilates portion, Meredith and Andrea decide together what to have the client do on either the Reformer or Cadillac (both pieces of equipment created by Joseph Pilates, and found in any Pilates studio worth its salt). Meredith then guides the client through exercises that have been specifically chosen to help train that client’s body in new movement patterns.

It is Meredith and Andrea’s belief that the two hours of undivided focus with each other and the client will help to press a “reset” button in the client’s mind and body.  Ultimately, they hope to empower people to walk out with 
newfound knowledge about their bodies and postural alignment that will keep them healthier and happier.

Andrea sees the Reset as being for people who love to learn, and for people who may want and/or need something to really be about them for two hours.  She loves the overall education that happens. When I ask her why someone would book one of these private workshops, Andrea is thoughtful for a moment and then says, “We’d take a whole lot better care of each other if we learned to take care of ourselves first.”  This strikes me as a wise observation, and one that reveals, once again, how compassion is at the heart of her work.

WHY ANDREA IS DOING WHAT SHE DOES

We talk a little about how Andrea’s current career is very different from other employment she’s had in the past.  She loves how massage therapy grounds her and connects her “. . .to health and to the positivity that humans have in them.”  She feels that the competitiveness of our culture and the near-constant stimulus from the many screens in our lives – laptops, televisions, and phones – is changing our brains.  We both remember childhoods in which we learned to tell time from analog clocks, sat still for long periods with a good book, and explored outdoors by ourselves, and wonder if those things are still possible for today’s kids.  She feels that anxiety is being passed on, and wants her work to be part of the antidote.

I ask Andrea to describe her favorite forms of self-care, and she gives me a pretty comprehensive list:  Pilates. Yin yoga. Walking. Getting bodywork. Getting lots of sleep. Other small pleasures (“A little bit of whiskey sometimes helps,” she says with a smile).  Enjoying the comfort and companionship of her dogs. It seems that she has arrived at this place in her life – doing work she loves, feeling grounded – by careful consideration of what does and does not makes her happy, and by not letting others’ expectations of her cloud her judgment or worry her.

We’ve spent almost two hours together now, and I have become more and more impressed by Andrea’s serious and passionate answers to my questions.  It’s clear that she thinks a great deal about how her work affects her own life and others’ lives, and I sense that she has taken massage therapy far beyond the confines of what she learned in school.

Several days after our interview, as I’m considering how I’ll organize my notes into something readable, it dawns on me:  the reason why Andrea is so good at what she does is that she knows WHY she’s doing her work. I’ve come to see this knowing as a hallmark of people who are exceptional at what they’ve chosen to do.  Even if that “why” has never been spoken aloud or shared with another human being, knowing it is half – or all – of the battle. And when people know the why, they contribute in positive and beautiful ways to their communities.  If you know Andrea, you’ve seen and felt this positivity, and if you’re a lucky client, you’ve felt the warmth and strength of her skilled touch. May we all, in time, find the answer to that WHY.

To find out more about Andrea’s services and to book an appointment, please visit Apple Core Therapy’s website at www.applecoretherapy.com.

Spots in the Summer Reset Packages are available on the following days: Saturday, July 14th 11 a.m.,  Saturday, August 4th 11 a.m., Friday, August 24th at 3 p.m.,  and Saturday, August 25th 11 a.m.  Please email info@springboardpilates.com or sign-up on Mind Body to reserve your spot!