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13 Secrets of Massage Therapists

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Getting a good massage can be a blissful experience. Whether you get a deep tissue, shiatsu, reflexology, or Swedish massage, you'll hopefully feel serene and pampered afterward. But massage therapists do much more than simply knead your muscles and decrease your stress. We spoke to a few to learn their secrets of their relaxing trade.

1. DON’T CALL THEM MASSEUSES. 

“I think that all massage therapists cringe at the term masseuse,” Stevie Duren, a certified massage therapist at Bliss Bodywork in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, tells mental_floss. Although some people use the terms masseuse and massage therapist interchangeably, Duren says that masseuse has a sexual innuendo and implies a lack of education. Regulations vary by state, but most massage therapists undergo hundreds of hours of training, learn multiple bodywork modalities, and pass an exam to become certified or licensed. And they must complete continuing education credits to stay up to date with the latest research and techniques.

The word masseuse, however, doesn’t bother licensed massage therapist Nicki Dekunchak, who owns Philadelphia’s Hands at Home. “Most people don’t know the proper term is massage therapist,” Dekunchak says.

2. THEY HOPE YOU'LL SHOWER FIRST. 

Because massage therapists get up close and personal with your body, the way you smell doesn’t go unnoticed. Although you may be planning to shower after the massage, be considerate and practice good hygiene before your massage as well. But don’t worry if you haven’t shaved your legs—massage therapists aren’t looking at your stubble, and it doesn’t affect their treatment plan. 

If you shower before your massage, allow enough time for your hair to dry. According to licensed massage therapist Michelle Doetsch, wet hair can cause moisture to seep through the sheet on the massage table into the padding underneath. If the padding gets wet, Doetsch has to change it before her next client’s appointment and do an extra load of laundry. 

3. THE BENEFITS GO BEYOND THE PHYSICAL.

Massage can be both a complementary healthcare practice (accepted by some medical insurance plans) for people with chronic pain and injuries and a relaxing, spiritually nourishing activity. According to licensed Illinois massage therapist Rick Smith, no field is quite as rewarding as massage therapy. “When someone comes to me for help, I'm truly honored. In only a few sessions massage therapy can relieve, to one degree or another, physical stress and discomfort, muscular pain, emotional stress and tension, limited range of motion, and that overall feeling of malaise. And all without drugs or invasive procedures,” he says.

4. YOUR MULTITASKING MIGHT NOT INSULT THEM.

Although getting a massage can be the ideal time to unplug, relax, and forget about emails, some people text, work, or tweet on their phones while they get a massage. In her office, Duren doesn’t allow clients to have their phones turned on (except for extenuating circumstances), but if she’s working elsewhere, she lets the client choose. “I would rather have a client make time to receive bodywork and feel that they can still do what they have to do, rather than using the excuse that they don't have the time to get bodywork,” she says. Dekunchak echoes that sentiment, explaining to mental_floss that she has a handful of clients who need to work during their massage. “My motto is it’s your time. Do what you want with it!”

5. THEY CAN SPOT POTENTIAL SKIN CANCER.

Because they see parts of your body that you might not be able to easily see—think the back of your hips or behind your knees—massage therapists can spot irregular or suspect moles. If you get regular massages with the same massage therapist, it’s even more likely that he or she will notice any changes in your skin and suggest you go to a dermatologist.

6. DON’T MISTAKE THEM FOR SEX WORKERS. 

Although you remove your clothes (and underwear, if you wish), lie on a massage table, and receive physical pleasure, don’t mistake your massage therapist for a sex worker. The American Massage Therapy Association’s Code of Ethics states that massage therapists shall “uphold the highest standards of professionalism” and “refrain from engaging in any sexual conduct or sexual activities involving their clients in the course of a massage therapy session.” Therapists are also required to properly drape their clients, only undraping an area while they’re massaging it. 

7. IF YOU’RE NOT PUNCTUAL, THEY MIGHT HAVE TO SKIP LUNCH. 

Because massage therapists are usually paid for their time, don’t be late to your appointment. You’ll either miss out on the full time of your massage, or you’ll make your massage therapist’s day more stressful. Besides massaging clients, therapists might need to change the linens, sanitize the table, return oils and other tools to their proper places, and respond to emails and phone calls. Showing up late means that your massage therapist might not have enough time to complete all their responsibilities and eat lunch. 

8. THEY RELY ON TIPS TO MAKE ENDS MEET. 

Most massage therapists don’t make a ton of money ($43,000 was the mean annual wage in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and because the work hours are irregular, some of them also work a second job to pay the bills. Unless they own their own business, they only earn a percentage of the price you pay. So whether they work as an independent contractor in a spa or for an hourly wage in a medical clinic, most massage therapists rely on tips to make ends meet. If you’re satisfied with the quality of your massage, tip your therapist 18 to 20 percent.

9. THEY MIGHT KNOW IF YOU NEED MORE FIBER IN YOUR DIET.

Your body gives clues about its state of health or disease, and massage therapists can read these clues—a hard stomach, tight lower back muscles, or knotted hamstrings—with their hands. “A therapist can often tell if a client is constipated by working the intestinal area. I usually only do this kind of work if specifically requested,” says Duren.

10. SILENCE IS GOLDEN. 

If you’re a nervous talker during a massage, don’t worry about filling the silence. Some clients enjoy talking on the table, but others prefer silence to savor the moment and fully relax. Whatever you choose, your massage therapist will probably be fine either way, as long as your time on the table is calming, soothing, and therapeutic.  

11. THE BURNOUT RATE IS HIGH. 

Three to five years after graduation, the burnout rate for massage therapists has been estimated at between 50 and 88 percent. Because they work on their feet, using their hands, arms, and elbows to massage, therapists can get carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and trigger finger. Even if massage therapists take breaks between massages, repetitive stress injuries can make their jobs painful, contributing to a large number of therapists who leave the field each year.

12. GOOD MASSAGE THERAPISTS ARE IN TUNE WITH YOUR BODY.

Judith Levinrad Norman, who teaches massage therapy at New York City’s Swedish Institute, tells Oprah Magazine that good massage requires really tuning in. Comparing massage to meditation, she explains that she clears her mind, focuses on being present, and connects to her client’s body. No matter what area of the body she works on, Norman tries to encourage her clients to let go and loosen up. “After you've worked on a lot of bodies, you see with your hands. You don't see with your eyes anymore. I don't need to look—my hands know,” she says. 

13. THEY GET MASSAGES, TOO.

Because their work is physical, massage therapists definitely get massages, too. Massage therapist Julie Azzopardi admits that she trades massages with her colleagues at the spa where she works and tries to get a massage once a week or once every other week. Duren says she gets massages because she has to. “The work that I do is intense and strenuous and I have to keep myself in good repair to offer the kind of work I do to my clients,” she says. Dekunchak admits that she gets regular massages, even at 9 months pregnant.

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10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
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Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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