When Gary Hulett retired from his 32 years of service with the US Post Office, he’d already known for three years that he was preparing for his next calling in life. Reiki, the Japanese energy healing technique that works with the energy field through hands on healing, was the gateway for Gary. “It was a reiki class that I took back in 2002 that opened the door,” he said. Apparently the instructor felt he was destined for a healing path and strongly suggested he train as a massage therapist.

So, in 2007, Gary registered with Oregon School of Massage and within two years, he was a licensed massage therapist with a practice in Salem, Oregon. When I noted that he wasted no time between his March 2009 graduation and the May licensing exam of that year he said, “I wanted to make sure it was all still fresh in my mind.”

Gary exemplifies the commitment of the older learner. “Returning to Learning,” an extensive research survey conducted by the Lumina Foundation, found that adult learners in general are more dedicated and focused than younger learners probably because they’re in school because they want to be, while younger learners are usually there because they feel they have to be.

For Gary, most of his practice is comprised of adults, age 50 plus. “I even have one client, almost 80 years old, who comes to me once a week.” In recent years, he has been offering massage out of 910 Capitol St NE, a 1910 building in Salem known for its healing arts. To accommodate clients who, due to age or disability, are not capable of climbing the stairs in this old building, Gary also offers the convenience of seeing clients out of a massage space in his own home where access is much easier.

The Stress of 2020: A Sign of the Times

As dentists are reporting increases in teeth grinding and doctors and therapists are dealing with higher levels of anxiety and depression in patients, I asked Gary what pandemic-driven symptoms he is observing and addressing with his clientele. Beyond offering the therapy of healing hands with pronounced concentration on neck and shoulder issues, Gary says “I talk to my clients about breathing and breath awareness. I suggest taking walks and doing gentle stretches. And epsom salts baths are very healing,” says Gary.

I urge them to listen to the science and to follow the science regarding the mask-wearing, social distancing and hand washing. And I suggest that they not watch too much of the news, since this stresses people out.” Gary also keeps referrals on hand for counseling and suicide prevention. A former veteran himself, he directs vets to the VA for services and speaks highly of the Wise Warriors, a facilitated meeting he regularly joins for vets struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Massage in the Age of Covid

Like most massage therapists, Gary reports that his business is off significantly since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. After the shut down in March, he immediately reopened at the end of May as was permitted once the State entered Phase II. In the months that have followed, Gary estimated that he is only seeing 50 percent of the clients he saw Pre-Covid. Fortunately for Gary, he has a new business (and possibly lifestyle) development plan in place.

Opportunity Calls from the Coast

New opportunities have availed themselves, giving Gary the ability to sow new seeds, expanding his practice in another part of the state. He’s looking toward the Oregon Coast.

It’s still in the early exploratory stages, but judging by the responses he got the day he offered his first massages out in Newport, he’ll be pursuing the new plan. “I’ve always enjoyed the Coast but I’m not trying to make a major move without knowing it will work,” he says.

Although he’s only conducted massage on three clients so far, Gary says they all asked him “when are you coming back?” And he has others working to get the word out as well. Gary let on that he is a medical marijuana user and it just so happens that his grower is out there on the Coast and has offered to post notice of his massage services.

Also singing his praises is Nancy Earl, his former Massage Fundamentals teacher from OSM, where Gary eventually worked as a Teaching Assistant for her as well. Earl lives in nearby Lincoln City and is familiar with the Central Coast’s health and wellness scene. Beyond mentor and promotor, she is also the person who offered Gary a hard-to-turn-down invitation to use a trailer on her property as his visiting live and work airbnb for his two-day visit to the Coast every other week. And it sounds like he’s worked out a sweet exchange that includes a combination of very reasonable rent and massage trade.

Finding the Rewards in Massage

So far, the stars seem to be aligning well for Gary on the Coast. In the meantime, he is thankful for the opportunity to do this work, wherever it takes him. He says it’s the most fun job and the most rewarding work he’s ever done.

Besides maintaining his massage practice in the last 11 years, Gary has also taught at OSM over the years and tutors individual students as well. His teaching approach could be summed up as collaborative discovery. “I tell them, you can ask me anything, and if I do not know the answer, I will research the question, and I will ask you to do the same and then we will share what we’ve learned. We will learn it together.” And as he approaches his massage career anew with the changing times, it appears that Gary’s luck is due in part to his willingness to be a perennial student for life.

Gary Hulett can be contacted at 503.569.2132 or cloudhands@peak.org.

Liz Howell writes about health, wellness, and sustainability. She can be contacted at elizabethhowellpdx@gmail.com.

Submitted 12.04.20

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