Lessons From Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is often regarded as a luxury experience. This is both understandable and unfortunate. It isn’t cheap. Depending on where you live and what kind of therapist you’re seeing, an hour-long massage can range anywhere from $55 to $120 (or more even. If you’re being charged more than $120 an hour, the massage table better be a cloud floating in a beautiful late spring sky and the therapist better be some Greek god of natural healing. That’s just outrageous. I’m looking at you, New York City.). 

What’s really a shame about the pricing is that massage therapy can be and is so much more than just spending an hour-plus lying on a table while someone pampers you into deep relaxation. There are so many amazing physical and emotional benefits to massage. It can be used to reduce pain and stress in patients suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. It can help speed recovery time for people suffering from injuries. It can reduce depression and anxiety. It can help people with body image issues gain a better sense of their own bodies and a greater attachment to reality of their physical selves. It can help abuse victims reestablish a healthy and supportive connection to human touch. Perhaps most importantly, it can help everyone relieve the aches and pains of everyday life, reduce stress and improve postural issues that stem from common work and activity conditions. 

Alas, massage therapy remains out of reach for many people. So I offer the following benefit, free of charge: a lesson learned from practicing massage therapy that can be applied to any situation to improve your peace of mind and happiness. 

I am the sort of person who has an unassailable need to constantly strive for something better. I’m middle class American, it’s a pretty common condition. I can’t seem to make up my mind about what I should be doing with my life, what direction my interests and abilities should take me. This is probably why I start a new and different blog each year. My desires change and I want to try something different, something new, something better. I want to write, but I can never stick to one story. Ideas keep coming and I abandon old ones, promising to return to them, but never do. In a society that–especially in the wake of a recession and growing unemployment–so fully links life to work, I can’t help but feel like I’m an embarrassing waste of talent or intelligence. While friends are in grad school, or preparing to head back to grad school, or working jobs that are the early stepping stones to a life in the career of their choice, I’m not doing much of anything. Even with massage therapy, despite the 600 hours of coursework required to get a license and despite the required national and state exams, I feel like a bit of a failure in comparison to others. I don’t know if this will be my life-fulfilling career. And I always feel a little sheepish when I tell people that I’m getting ready to start my own massage therapy business, because it is so often regarded as glorified back rubbing. I had to learn a ton of anatomy and physiology and know all sorts of stuff about injuries and pathologies, but it’s hard to fit that into a response to “and what do you do?” Besides, why should I feel like I have to defend my choices? 

What I have learned, though, from studying massage this past year, is that there is something very valuable and very fulfilling about letting go of all the ifs and the maybes and the search for the “better” and just allowing yourself to be present in the moment. To provide a high quality and truly beneficial massage, a therapist must learn how to be fully present. You have to be present for your client. You need to tune into the rhythms of your client’s body. You have to be able to pick up on minute reactions to different types of touch and pressure. You have to connect with the tissue, sense it’s tone and temperature, it’s reaction to different manipulations. You have to be connected to your client’s breath. Are they breathing fully with deeper pressures? Is the breathing relaxed, labored? You have to hold the space around your clients and be present to ensure their safety and comfort.

But you also have to be fully present for yourself as well. Though you must find a way to connect with the client on your table, you also have to maintain a full connection to yourself. You need to focus on your own breathing, so that you are not holding your breath during certain movements or manipulations, which can lead to injury and fatigue. You have to be present for yourself so that you are protected in the therapy space. It is important to avoid taking on negative energy from your clients. It is draining and depressing when that happens. You have to present for your own comfort, so that you can move about easily and without pain or stress. Most importantly, you have to be present for yourself, in that moment, so that your mind doesn’t wander and the connection to your client doesn’t break. 

It’s a worthwhile lesson because it really opens your eyes to the pleasures of your own life and your own experiences. Rather than always looking forward, trying to seek out something different or better than what you have now, try just being present for everything you do. Reading, cooking, exercising, cuddling up with someone else while watching tv. By connecting more fully to all the small moments of your life, you experience more joy in each day and can take greater pride in all the little things you do. And it’s all those little things that make life worth living.

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3 Comments

  1. January 12 2010 at 3:19 pm

    […] 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm · Filed under Uncategorized I posted this over on my other blog. Just some thoughts about what I’ve learned from studying massage […]

  2. rhonda said,

    January 12 2010 at 10:05 pm

    This was really heartfelt and beautiful. I can’t imagine that you won’t be an extremely successful massage therapist, whether this is what you choose to do for the rest of your life or not. Remember, it’s not the career that defines us, but how we interact with the world, and what we have to give. You obviously have so much to give.

  3. January 15 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Oh I wish I lived near you! I’d come to you once a week if I could 🙂 I was totally focusing on my breath during my bday massage. Because I realized I tend to hold it when the knots are being worked out. Thanks for this great post! xo


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