The Art of Massage
The art of a healing massage is finding the precise point between pleasure and pain, then working there as continuously as possible throughout the session. Too light pressure can be comforting, but for most it feels like a waste of time (and money). Too much pressure will only cause the musculature to tense. It can also harm – you might succeed in releasing knots, but at the expense of two days of suffering to follow?
Each individual experiences pleasure and pain differently. Most people experience some degree of “pleasurable pain” when a massage therapist hits the spot. This is a bit like rubbing a bruise to rid oneself of pain. The difference is that the therapist has to intuit the correct pressure to remain below the threshold of the client. Some clients will give verbal feedback. Most won’t. I make a point of mentioning at the beginning of the first session that their job is to inform me of anything that is undesirable or painful. Still, most would rather put up than speak up. So, what to do? The first sign that you are applying too much pressure is when the muscles in the area being treated tense and strain beneath your fingers. If the breathing becomes irregular, you are also provoking discomfort. They may even slightly move the body away, or shift positions. When massaging the feet, watch the face for signs of discomfort. Remember, none of these signals will be overt. You must watch for them.
Women generally have a significantly higher pain threshold than men. They are also less likely to indicate to the therapist when the touch is too forceful. There is a deep psychological work to be done in which some women connect with their suffering for the first time. It’s as if they had carried around this physical pain for so long, lying to themselves about its origin or meaning, and they suddenly become aware of it. This is common around the hip flexors and the gluteals. The chest and abdomen are unending reservoirs of long-held suffering that on some bodies cannot even be stroked let alone palpated or pressed. Respect your clients’ bodies and work gradually into these areas over time. If you feel that in the first massage the hips and abdomen absolutely need to be touched, do it through the towel, rocking and stretching rather than pushing.
But I digress…
And what of pleasure? The longer I work in this field, the more I come to value the simple act of relaxation. Simple, I say. Not so, actually. It took me over twelve years of regular yoga practice to learn to relax. Remember: muscles don’t stretch, they contract and relax. Tendons are stretchy. So, one can be flexible due to lax tendons while having a highly tonic (tense) musculature. The solution is finding a way to help clients relax. I find that if I myself am grounded and well, I can induce a moment of stillness and relaxation at about the 30-40 minute mark of the massage. Cease chatting, focus your mind and rub rhythmically and comfortably deep over an area. The shoulders and neck are wonderful. The sacrum loves to be stroked. Feet are made for holding, as are skulls and napes. Choose your zone, then stay there, gently allowing the client to sink into deep calm. Even if this state lasts only 10 minutes, its a glimpse of something more, a deeper and more conscious kind of relaxation. It is a gift that a therapist can give to their client.
(PS: It goes without saying that proper training and attention to contraindications is essential…AUM)