A small Vineyard Haven studio is home to Gina Williams’ massage therapy business, Hands of Hope. She grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, and only recently moved back. After 20 or so years living in New Hampshire, she decided it was time to revisit her roots. She brought her 9-year-old daughter and a five-year-old business. Hands of Hope is new in town, and Williams offers not only her passion and experience, but also a sense of healing beyond herself. She caught up with The Times, inviting us into the story of what brought her home, to this career, and on a path she feels she was meant to follow.
Why massage therapy?
I was having a lot of bad back pain myself. I was in a transition period in my life, and wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. I was selling furniture, but I wanted to use my life to be a blessing to others — to help people. Selling furniture wasn’t doing it. I went in for a massage treatment on my back, and I remember lying on the table and thinking, This is it. It just clicked.
That night, I was poking around online for massage therapy schools in the area. I was living in New Hampshire at the time. I sent out an email that night, called the next day, and the day after that I interviewed and signed up. I quit the furniture job and finished massage school in 10 months.
How did you feel about the practice?
I knew right away it was what I wanted to do. I’m fascinated by the human body. Massage was a great way to learn about it, and really, truly help people. I learned it’s not just about relaxing, although that’s an extremely important aspect, because stress alone will do damage to the body, but it’s about the physical healing. I’ve gotten people to places where they didn’t need surgery anymore. Giving people range of motion they’ve lost for years. Helping the body heal from injuries. I’m not doing the healing; our bodies are meant to heal themselves. They are created that way, and we just have to know how and when to adjust them a little bit.
What services do you offer?
I do a blend of relaxation and deeper muscle work. I draw in a lot of deep-tissue clients because my pressure is deeper. I do it in a way that doesn’t hurt. You’ll find some clients come away from a massage and say they were in pain. I go deeper, but I’m not going to hurt you. The key is to stay in touch with the client, because it’s truly about them. A little discomfort is common, but too much tensing up is counterproductive. I also offer cupping and hot stones. Hot stones are especially popular in the winter.
What are some common issues you see among clients?
I see a variation of issues in hips and shoulders. Also lower back and neck. I’ll see what’s going on during a session, and then try to help them become more aware of their posture or how they’re sitting.
Something I’ve always found fascinating is that it’s not necessarily where you feel the pain where the problem’s coming from. Something in someone’s hip could be causing neck pain. Something in someone’s foot could be causing shoulder pain. The body is one unit. Somewhere along the line we’re taught, or assume, it’s sectioned.
Another common issue is stress. We all have different stress in our lives, and we all handle it differently. I want to get more training on how emotions are stored in our bodies. If something happened to you many years ago, it gets stuck and prevents you from being able to release and get to the next level of healing.
Any noticable differences between clients in New Hampshire versus Martha’s Vineyard?
What I can tell you is the stress level feels higher here. I’ve only been back since June, but I’ve had a majority of Island customers, and only a handful of visitors. In the summer, you can just feel the stress level is crazy high. It’s not to say there’s not stress everywhere, it’s just more palpable here.
I do notice people are more willing to come to sessions more often. In New Hampshire, clients generally came once a month. Here, more like once a week or once every other week.
How often do you recommend?
It depends on the person, but at least once a month. At that rate, I can build on what we’ve done the last time. But if I get someone with severe pain in one area, I lay out a plan. They’ll come once a week for six weeks, and then we’ll re-evaluate. If I’m really trying to help someone work through something very specific, I’ll have them coming more often in the beginning, and then moving through more of a maintenance.
What do you find is most rewarding about the job?
For one thing, it’s seeing the difference between when a client walks in versus when they walk out. When they come back, or when they don’t come back — some people just get better. Seeing the positive change in someone’s body and helping them get to that place is what really strikes me. Being the person who comes to mind the next time something happens, that’s really how I know I’ve connected with someone and made the impact I want to have.
What’s most challenging?
Trying to get past the idea that massage is just a luxury. It’s tough. You see pictures and spa-like advertising — and nothing against spas, but flowers in hair and stones along the back, it can change the perception of what massage is about. When I get a client in here, it’s no problem, but it is when you’re trying to reach people who haven’t tried it before. Affordability is huge, and I get that, especially being a single mom. But if we look at how much money and time is lost because we’re in pain or our body isn’t functioning, it’s definitely worth the money. It goes back to the education of what massage can do.
How do you integrate education into sessions?
I like to spend a minute explaining to them what I find. That’s why I have these anatomy posters hanging on the walls, because although it’s a relaxing space, there’s a scientific and medical aspect to what I’m doing.
We can go to doctor after doctor, but we have the ability to know our bodies best. People are disconnected from their bodies, and that’s one of the most amazing things to watch people feel into over time. I love being able to help someone get in touch with themselves.
How does massage benefit you as the therapist?
It really brings me into a space of peace and healing. It means so much to be able to heal people. When I have something I’m working through, I feel like my energy goes to my hands. Even when I’m not at work, I’m crafting and gardening and keeping my hands busy. My clients have energy that needs to be moved, but so do I, and when I have a client on the table, I’m able to do that. I’m able to move my energy in a positive way, which helps on several levels.
Also seeing the positive response in clients. We all want to know we have purpose, and I know I was led to this career for a reason. Every day I’m able to see that before me. It’s an empowering feeling for me, but to be able to empower someone else to know their body better, to feel better, and walk better. To be able to see a client bend over to tie their shoes for the first time in years, It’s really powerful.
When I say I was led to this career, I really feel like I was led by God to do this. There’s an element of healing that comes from outside myself. I do have significant training, but I’ll be working and there’s a level of intuition that tells me to go to a certain area. I can tell where I need to stop or push off, and clients often ask, How did you know that? I’m just doing what I need to do, and when you’re following that, it happens as it’s supposed to.
Is that how you settled on your business’s name?
Yes. It comes from the idea of bringing hope through helping someone’s body. I try to share a positive word or feeling of love or moment of healing. It’s amazing the conversations I’ve been able to have with clients — conversations of faith. I wanted the name to reflect the faith I have. It’s truly what’s led me to this career, and allowed me to provide for my daughter.
Take us through your studio space.
I’ve got my heated table, which I get great feedback on this time of year. I keep the lights off, and we have salt lights and paper lanterns for soft lighting. Low lighting helps people relax. I play quiet, subtle piano music with ocean waves in the background. Anything that helps tell your brain it’s OK to relax. Warmth, towels for shoulder support, bolsters under the knees or ankles to help take pressure off the back. The body needs to feel fully supported so your brain knows it’s safe to relax. I keep the hot stones next to a few different types of creams. I recently started using CBD-infused cream. I also have these CBD [cannabidiol] oils and gummies.
What does CBD do?
There’s a lot of scientific explanation of the way CBD interacts with the brain, but if you were to ask someone how it helps them, the response is, It just makes me feel better. You don’t feel anything except…better! One woman came in and bought the gummies, called the next day, and said she threw out all of her antidepressants and wanted to order a case of the CBD gummies. Everything weighing on her was gone. She was a different person. It’s not that drastic for everybody, and I don’t recommend stopping a prescription medication without your doctor’s approval, but it’s one woman’s story and a beautiful testimony.
What makes your business different from others?
The passion I have for what I do comes out in almost every conversation I have. I think what makes me different is the way I interact with my clients. My ability to know and feel what’s going on in someone’s body, and my ability to address it and educate people about it. For example, there’s this spot right under the armpit that a lot of therapists won’t go near. But if you’ve got shoulder issues, I’m going there. It may hurt a bit, but you’ll be able to move your arm after. I communicate with my clients. I tell them to breathe. I try to be a person of love and peace, and try to let that come through with my clients.
How much do you charge per session?
I do $99 per hour, $125 for 90 minutes, and $49 for a half-hour. For me, it’s more important having more opportunities to help people than to make an extra 20 bucks.
How can people stay updated?
Follow the Hands of Hope Facebook page for specials, cancellations, quotes of the day, and other information. I’m planning to do a chair massage fundraiser for a mission trip to Panama in February. All proceeds will be donated to villages there. I like to use this business as a way to give back to this community as well as other communities.
Hands of Hope Massage Therapy and Bodywork is located at 15 Merchants Court, Unit 21, in Vineyard Haven. To book a session with Gina William, call 774-310-5958 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or your business are interested in being featured in the next Meet Your Merchant, email email@example.com.