…happiness is something you create. NO matter what you do, it might not make you happy. Happiness is something that you work on, it does not come from winning (although it might help).
Beret Loncar is a licensed massage therapist and IAYT certified yoga therapist. She is the owner of the Manhattan-based clinic, Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage Therapy, which specializes in massage therapy for medical problems. She runs wellness programs for sports, medical, intra-oral massage, lymphatic massage, and post-mastectomy care. She lives in Harlem NY, with her human and dog family.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I am a mother of 2 children and 2 dogs :). I am not sure how that happened but here I am! I have been an athlete my whole life and was riding the show jumping circuit as a young adult with my trainer who rode for the Irish Olympic team. It was a huge sacrifice for my mom who was a single parent to get me involved in riding, which is both expensive and time-consuming. I now run, am a yoga therapist, I cycle to work…and have dabbled in most athletic things I have had access to. I originally had a degree in design which has been valuable as all of the businesses I have opened have been heavy on the ‘feel’ part of the business. When I was in my early 20’s, I was working on Broadway doing costumes for theater, and I met a young man I liked and moved to Canada where I stayed to study massage therapy. Canada has that nifty universal health care, and as part of that massage is a full medical profession.
I am now a massage therapist and yoga therapist who specializes in orthopedic injury and pain management. It would be easy to say that is who I am, in fact years ago that would have been where I stopped. We often carry our identities with our titles. It can actually be quite hard to know yourself based on who you think you are. I went through a massive life change a number of years ago that caused me to challenge this way of thinking. In the process of that change (a divorce), I essentially gave up my home, my job, a country, all my friends, and my title, as a Canadian health care provider when I moved home to the United States after years of living in Ontario. It was ‘disarming’ to say the least, to be walking around not knowing who I was at 30.
I think that happens to a lot of us actually, but not everyone is given the ability to see it…weirdly enough I was lucky to have this life meltdown. It made me really focus on who I wanted to be outside of the material things that define me. That is how my current business was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
After the birth of my first child, I had some odd health problems. One of them was a raspy voice that would not go away. After a check-up where nothing was found, I was sent off to the ENT, who saw the issue right away using a pediatric scope to look down my nose and throat. My left vocal cord was paralyzed. I went from being raspy to having almost no voice at all in a few weeks. My throat spasmed terribly, as well as my jaw. It was very uncomfortable. After CT scans and a barrage of tests, they decided it was a virus, and as we are all learning, viruses can do some really odd things to the body that we do not normally talk about.
One of the programs we offer at my studio is TMD intraoral massage. This is marketed to people with jaw pain, but it covers a whole host of other areas, like working with singers, and people like me…who have had some sort of throat dysfunction that leads to contracted muscles. I received treatment at my studio for pain, as well as went to vocal rehab to try to regain function. It has been 2 years and it is much better. I just never thought that I would end up being treated for something like that. Jaw pain is not unusual but ending up in my own program with paralysis is just a crazy fluke! It is very humbling to be in the patient’s position. I think it is a good reality check. We sometimes lose the patient’s perspective over time, as we settle into being a professional and it was both humbling and a growth opportunity for me.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have made a LOT of mistakes; I feel like if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not winning. In our first year of opening, we hired someone who made a career out of lawsuits. I did not know that was a thing that anyone would do. It became really apparent that he was searching for a reason to sue when he left. He had sued some of his previous employers. This was just poor luck on our part. I let it go on far too long and felt trapped by the situation, so I did nothing…. for a long time. It made me so uncomfortable as I was always walking on eggshells. Finally, it reached a point where I had to make a decision, as it was affecting everyone as he could just bully me. We let him go and it was stressful, but that’s it. We had been good employers, so he tried but failed to find anything to go after us over. I had to have a long talk with myself about how I needed to confront being uncomfortable to be more comfortable. I had spent a year swallowing this thing and it would have been much better to confront it. People managing is hard. It is a skill, and it can be uncomfortable, but you have to push past that. I now joke that part of my role is writing checks and having uncomfortable conversations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I do not even have to think about this. Vesna Baric. She was the first woman I worked for right out of therapist school at a clinic called ‘Natural Pain Therapy’ doing rehab for automotive injury. She had 3 boys, one after the other, and was just passionate and tough as nails. She made me as a massage therapist and as a business owner. I really did not know how to do ‘it’ until I saw her. I had all these anxieties, and she was just like ‘get over it and get moving’. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and given 6 months to live in my third year there. I remember her telling me that she needed to figure out what to tell her sons who were very young, and it just guts me. Vesna did breast cancer in her own way. She kicked the prognosis’s butt and lived her BEST life for about 10 more years. And when I say best, I mean best — she did everything and went everywhere. It still brings tears to my eyes. She was, and is, an amazing person and she got me where I needed to go. She could handle anything. I now run a post-mastectomy massage program, and it is a little bit of her.
Ok, perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I hope I am changing things, that is the goal anyway. Massage therapy can be perceived as a job you end up in. At least here in the United States. I was deeply impacted by being a full medical professional in Canada. It gave me a sense of pride to be a medical professional. When I moved back to the states, I wanted to bring that here even if it was not the standard of practice. We try to lead by example. There is a lot of unwellness in the wellness industry. Many things that sound science-y, but really do not add up. I have worked to change that, at least in my corner. We may not be the biggest, but I have watched the businesses around me in NYC change based on what we are doing. I lift up my employees, give them a place to grow, show them a new way of working, and I hope they go into the world with the same kind of ethos.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Try to be present. We have a lot of coping mechanisms to get through the day. Phones, cameras, little things we do that protect us from being totally there in the moment and feeling all the feels…. it’s ok to have them but try to be present when you can. I love cameras, but I was at this huge light festival and my camera broke. I put it down and realized I was living, being the lense. It was a sign that I needed to be there not experiencing a photograph of the thing I was there for.
2. Breathe. Breathing can totally be a form of time travel. I am not kidding on this, ever notice when you really stressed time either speeds up or slowwwwws way down? When you are stressed your breathing changes and affects your perceptions of the passage of time. You control your breathing; you can control your responses to things. Boom, time can move faster or slower based on how you breathe…..you can literally make time. I have a very severe learning disability. If someone had taught me this earlier, I would have thrived much sooner. I had a lot of panic in timed-testing environments, I did not know that if I controlled myself, I could control the environment.
3. Build a habit. To build a habit, it is better to do a little of something every day, than a lot of something infrequently. This is something I see a lot. I do it myself. We want to be the best so we will say “I am going to run a marathon.” I am not saying you should not. Do put big goals out there. However, as far as achievements go, I would rather see you go for a 10 minute run, 5 days a week, rather than go 1 hour, one time a week. This is really important in big life changes such as recovery and things like giving birth. Have big goals but break them down so you have small wins and do not walk away.
4.Get uncomfortable in a controlled way. I practice a lot of yoga and meditation. Even if you’re not into the spiritual aspect, which I am not, the tools are useful. Most of these things are about putting you in an uncomfortable position mentally or physically and trying to manage your response to that discomfort. You’re literally practicing being uncomfortable. If we went about life that way, many of us would be a lot happier. Instead, we try to avoid discomfort, but it does not have to be awful, you can control when and how to practice your discomfort. Try a stand-up class, public speaking, or simply make a new friend…..don’t stagnate. Practice change. As a business owner, I am very good at being uncomfortable.
5. Hack your brain for pain management. This is not absolute, i.e., if you need help or pain meds you should seek professional help, but frequently we can control some aspects of our pain by controlling the context. The brain is always observing the environment, so we can send it messages that it should turn down the alarm system. Keeping soft eyes, providing a non-stressful environment, moving in sleepy relaxed ways, can help send the message back to the brain, that is generating the pain, “hey, there is something here, but it is not so scary.” generates the feeling. Pain dominates many people’s lives. It is really important to give them a sense of control, and by working with the context which is what our nervous system is taking into account when it generates the feeling.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Self-care of course! We need to make taking care of ourselves ok. Taking time to take care of yourself is not selfish. I always say to my patients, it does not matter what you do, yoga, acupuncture, massage…..just be honest about the need to take the time. They are usually surprised to hear me send them to something that I do not financially benefit from. Even when they are doing something that does not align with my science values, I am happy for them. It is like ‘good for you, you found something that works to make you feel good, you’re doing better than most of us…..and what I am going to poo poo that?’ Get help if you need it, take care of yourself.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- That the bar keeps moving. If you’re goal-oriented, the tendency is to keep the bar moving. That’s fine, but you do not have to define yourself by that. You do not have to keep pushing to a new level if you do not want to.
- That happiness is something you create. NO matter what you do, it might not make you happy. Happiness is something that you work on, it does not come from winning (although it might help).
- That work-life balance is hard. When you love what you do things can get blurry. That can be confusing and you can forget to take care of yourself.
- People managing is hard. People are complicated. It is hard to navigate and manage relationships.
- It is ok to say goodbye. Many phases of your business and relationships will end. It is ok. I have watched some of my oldest friends and colleagues move on, it is painful and can be sad…it is natural though. Just say goodbye!
I actually have one more, 6. How to speak up. Ugh, I was still stuck on this when I opened and I had a lot of ideas but no way to get them out!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health. The world is hard right now. I feel like our bubble has burst. Specifically, massage catches a lot of mental health issues, it may not be what we are advertising, but patients are self-selecting to manage anxiety, to find safe places for touch when they have a history of abuse, and to control pain. Pain is intricately tied to our mental health and our medical system is not good at treating it. We need to get better.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
We can be followed on Instagram and Fb at @bodymechanicsNYC.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!