A Hippie Rubdown
Our senses were provided by our Maker to allow us to perceive, interact with, and understand our surroundings—our world. One of the most vital is the sensation of touch, especially when concerning contact with others of our own species. Human touch holds a power that is healing and therapeutic, both mentally and physically. It forms a meaningful connection in a detached world almost devoid of true interaction. It’s the unspoken communication that can be more meaningful than words.
Laura Underwood-Wattier understands how essential simple person-to-person contact is—she is the massage therapist at The Salon Rubicon in downtown Houma, and she’s had an incredible journey finally getting here. But to understand where someone’s going, you have to understand where she’s been.
Growing up in rural Oregon, Laura had a less-than- (what we would consider) traditional up-bringing. But she didn’t realize it was any different from anyone else’s.
“Most of the time I backpacked and camped out in the mountains, rode motorcycles, set traps to see what I could catch,” Laura says.
She spent a lot of her summers splashing in Oregon’s McKenzie River and exploring the surrounding mountains from early morning until dark. Most meals came from what her family could grow or produce, goat’s milk and bread included.
This clean way of living stretched into Laura’s mother’s work as the manager of a naturopathic clinic. Often, Laura went with her mother to work and helped out. The presiding doctor and therapists there had great influence on her—she learned about natural alternatives to the chemicals typically so heavily relied on in Western medicine. Now, the only medicine Laura takes is aspirin, because it’s natural.
“I was always surrounded by people like that who thought outside the box of traditional medicine, who kind of upheld more Eastern medicines and herbal medicines—naturally helping your body heal from things is so much more effective instead of putting a band-aid of some kind of weird medicine on it when your body can work around it or heal itself,” Laura says. “Our DNA is geared to work with natural elements and not chemicals.”
What she says makes sense—synthetics can’t make up for what we already have available in nature.
Sure, most people “up there” are considered hippies, bohemian perhaps, but it seems like they understand a way of living that, as a society, we have forgotten. Laura hasn’t. She carries her “earthy” mother’s spirit with her. Her mother was the one who first told her to become a massage therapist, but it wasn’t such a direct path—Laura’s life has been an adventure, after all.
POWER OF TOUCH
When she wasn’t busy splashing or exploring or helping her mother, Laura spent summers assisting at a nursing home.
“When I was a teenager, I went into a nursing home and did volunteer work for like three years, and one of the things I would do was rub the old woman’s hands or the man’s hands because they ached all the time,” Laura says. “And it just made their attitude so much better because people are so afraid to touch them.”
The massaging didn’t start when she was a teenager, though; it goes back much further. This gift seems to be ingrained in her, as much a part of Laura as her persevering spirit. There’s a power to her touch.
“I did it when I was a kid. I was always massaging my mom—I massaged my mom up until last December when she died. All she wanted was me to come and massage her … I’ve always massaged; I’ve always been hands-on, always trying to heal them,” Laura says. “I just love it. I feel like I can make a difference that way.”
But the easy days of childhood can’t last forever. We all must grow up, at least a little, and make our own way in the world. Laura chose to make sacrifices for others—people she didn’t even know—when she became a medic firefighter, knowingly using a simple touch to help those who needed it most. While in this position she saw things people wouldn’t dare dream of, she also learned a great deal about the human body.
Never veering far from medical interests, Laura’s next move was to a company called SonoSite, which made the first portable sonogram. This job required her to travel across the country, something she hadn’t done very much of before.
“That’s when I fell in love with the South,” Laura says.
Maybe she was drawn in by how undeniably friendly we are—who can resist true Southern charm? Or maybe it was the slow, easy pace we take down here. Or maybe it was the “fantastic” weather … though we tend to complain. But we also don’t have blizzards.
So, in one way or another, the South lured Laura in. And her next move was when the real adventure began. Friends and family thought she was crazy at first, but now even her father is fond of Cajun music, and Laura herself has adapted quite well. A man from Oregon who Laura knew was living in Louisiana, and she decided to make the initial move that would eventually lead her to where she is today. That man became Laura’s husband, and all seemed right in the world. Then Katrina happened.
Just like so many others, Laura’s world was shaken down to the very bare bones. She lost everything, including her home and husband. Laura decided to stay in Louisiana and build a new life.
But this is a story of personal triumph and hope, so it doesn’t just end there.
A ROOTSY RENAISSANCE
Laura’s renaissance came in the form of a few different positions, including working with the EKG department at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center, as well as animal control. She considered medical school and completed many of the prerequisites. But med school was not in Laura’s cards.
“I decided I didn’t want to push chemicals on people,” Laura says.
She stayed much closer to her roots and utilized her talents for a more natural form of healing. A much more hands-on and natural approach was necessary.
“We forget as a society that we need touch, but people associate that in so many wrong ways that we’ve forgotten. People don’t hug each other like they used to; everybody’s too busy,” Laura says. “Failure to thrive—you see it in a nursing home every day.”
So without any formal training, but with nearly a lifetime of experience, it was time for Laura to become licensed massage therapist—she had to go to school. She already knew a lot of what she was taught, already knew the techniques necessary to make her three sons and other family line up for a little relaxation. Of course, she completed her classes with honors and passed her state boards and licenses with flying colors.
“And I taught while I was in school—it was kind of interesting. But because of my background, I had a really good knowledge of anatomy and physiology,” Laura says.
After completing her coursework, Laura found a home for her passions at The Salon Rubicon. The venue allows her to give her clients a serene space to relax, to feel better, emotionally and physically. With the understanding that some people just need someone to care, Laura’s massage therapy extends into soul therapy.
“I don’t do it for the money,” Laura says. “I do it for my soul … it’s so effective at helping people through the healing process, whether it’s mental or physical. They’ve actually found that it cuts the rate of absenteeism in the workplace if you get regular bodywork.”
Laura understands that the mind, body and spirit are all one and are all parts of a whole. When these three work in synergy, we can function properly. In her massages, Laura incorporates essential oils that bring natural healing and therapeutic properties to the table. These oils help to relieve stress and relax clients. Without forgetting her roots, Laura also incorporates hot rocks at the end of her massages. These rocks come from the river she grew up along in Oregon.
JUST RELAX … AND SMILE
Aside from the holistic aspect, Laura’s medical background helps her to better understand the needs of her clients. This way, her clients’ bodywork can coincide with other professionals’ therapies; and though she cannot diagnose, Laura usually has a pretty good idea of what’s going on inside of her clients. She’s worked with people suffering from everything from fibromyalgia to rheumatism to post-traumatic stress, and given them some form of relief, whether physical or emotional.
“I think because I’ve seen things medically that most therapists will never see … I think that medical background allows me to understand a lot more about what’s going on with my clients and the treatment options,” Laura says. “Also, when I have to work with another type of therapist, like a physical therapist or physician, I speak their language, which helps a lot.”
She believes that everything she’s seen and experienced in her life has led her to becoming the best massage therapist that she can be. Traumatic events are learning experiences that enable Laura to put herself in other people’s shoes. She is so dedicated to her work that she takes it home with her—takes it to bed even. Laura sleeps on two massage tables; they are apparently quite comfortable.
Yes, Laura has seen a lot in her time, and taken on many roles—like currently transitioning into the matriarchal role of her family. Since her mother’s passing, she is now the one her family seeks out for advice and help. Yes, Laura’s taken care of the bookend days of different lives, but she knows that there is always hope. “I’ve never seen anyone die with a frown—they relax and smile.”