ANNAPOLIS – Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, spent about 20 minutes face-down in a padded chair Thursday, listening to New Age music and breathing deeply while two massage therapists worked the kinks out of his neck, back and hands.
Behind him, other legislators and their staffers lined up to put themselves in the hands of one of the massage therapists who came to thank lawmakers for legitimizing their profession last year.
“Massage Therapy Day” participants either bounced out of the massage chairs that were set up in the Lowe House Office Building or they left looking like they had just woken up from a deep sleep. Sounds of babbling brooks and harp music drifted from the room through the second floor of the office building.
“I woke up this morning with a crick in my neck and now I feel a lot better — for me it really helped,” said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, R-Montgomery, who looked more invigorated than sleepy as he left Thursday.
The free massages were offered by the Maryland chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, whose members normally charge as much as $75 an hour.
Chapter President Nina Wendt said the group was showing its appreciation for a law, passed last year, that they said will legitimize the profession by requiring massage therapists to be certified.
“We also wanted to show the health benefits of massage therapy. We’ve been very pleased with the response so far,” Wendt said an hour into the program.
Wendt said the law should open the door for insurance coverage of massage therapy. And by regulating massage therapy as a health profession, she said, therapists will be on the same level as physical therapists and chiropractors.
Supporters said the new law will also help police crack down on “massage parlors” that are fronts for prostitution.
“Now that the state is certifying, if police walk in (to a massage parlor) and if the proper certification isn’t on the wall, it’ll be much easier … to crack down” on prostitution, said Owings.
He said the law has been 11 years in the making and final regulations should be worked out by early spring, when it is set to take effect.
Owings, the primary sponsor of the bill, is no stranger to back pain. He’s had four or five herniated disks removed. But Thursday was his first therapeutic massage and he said it won’t be his last.
As soon as he leaned forward in the chair, he had a smile on his face. He had the same smile after his massage.
“I feel great!” he said, echoing the sentiment of many in the room. “There’s a distinct difference between how I felt when I came in and how I feel now.”
Another face-down legislator told her massage therapist that she would have an easier time voting since she was so relaxed. As soon as she sat down, Del. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford County, said, “This feels great.” Then she was quiet.
The sound of backs being beaten almost drowned out the New Age music and off-the-cuff remarks.
Only an hour into Thursday’s event, seven massage chairs weren’t enough to meet the demand. The line was, at times, 10 deep. So organizers brought in another chair. Another massage day is scheduled in March.
But reality eventually intruded.
Just as Owings was ready to melt, his secretary came in with an urgent message. The chairman of a committee he sits on was called away and House leaders said Owings had to take over. Now.
“I was truly in a relaxed mood, mentally and physically. I found committee much easier,” he said later in the day.