When I learned massage on my first professional training in 1990 I certainly wasn’t taught what I know now about its value and transformational qualities. Even if I had been it would probably have sounded like Russian to me at the time. Working as a massage therapist for the last six years has been a very enlightening and personal journey for me and I can share with you my viewpoint as to what massage and bodywork are about.
There are many different levels at which massage can take place, and with each of my clients, I aim to negotiate and review that contract. Just what is it you want from coming to see me? How will you know if we have been successful? What specific changes, if any, would you like to make?
I am really clear that I am not the fixer or the healer, and that my role is to be a facilitator, someone to explore with, and someone to be supported by. I cannot make anyone relax but more importantly, I can help them notice where in their bodies they may be holding tension. By increasing my awareness of where I hold tension in my own body I can then begin to notice more and more quickly than I am doing so and relax that area.
However, I believe that just as we developed intricate belief systems and patterns as forms of protection, we do the same on a body level. In fact, it is the body that manifests for us much of our subconscious and unexpressed feelings, and beliefs. These cannot be dropped overnight, and with each client, we undertake a process of unraveling their story and feelings held in their body as tension.
From my [email protected] experience, I know that I was not safe to express fears and anxieties as a child. I know that I didn’t stop those feelings as a child but learned how to deal with them, for me that was putting a lid on them and storing them in my stomach and lower back area. I didn’t know that before I started receiving massage and it has been like a slow piecing together of a jigsaw.
When someone is ready to release the held emotions in the body, they will do so. I cannot make that happen. My approach is on allowing the body to release and to heal us and when the person feels safe and ready. As with any form of therapy I am also working with many layers of protection and defense, many of which may be hiding considerable amounts of pain and anger. So the journey home is always taken at the client’s pace, building up safety and trust along the way.
On a very simple level massage is about the positive affirmation of who we are, our essence. And this is done physically which may bypass long-held mental beliefs such as “I am not lovable”. A positive message is communicated through the touch which can reach into the subconscious and thus be part of increasing someone’s sense of well-being and self-confidence.
One thing that I do know is that I may be consciously aware of some to the changes that occur during a massage, that I either give or receive, but also that much may be happening that neither the client nor myself are aware of the body has a natural desire and commitment to self-heal. And I also know from my own experience, and my clients an equally strong desire to “work it out” in my mind as to what this means or why that happens.
For many, being “in the head” is a safer place than “in the body” where the whole range of feelings resides. Through massage we may travel that road home to the body and our feelings, taking it one step at a time, however big it doesn’t matter. I have every respect for anybody’s history and where they are in their life journey, and I applaud the courage I witness of people who are willing to take those steps towards feelings and realizing the limitations they have been living with physically and mentally.
Working with the body can be powerful and life-changing because of its potential I treat myself and my clients, with great respect. I fulfill this commitment by not only having regular individual and peer-group supervision but also being in ongoing weekly therapy. Massage as yet does not have the same professional requirements as psychotherapy, but with The British Massage Therapy Council on the case, I hope it will not be too long before having supervision and therapy are a requirement to running a practice.
As massage can bring light to many issues previously hidden I sometimes work with clients who are also in counseling or psychotherapy. The two can go very well together. On the one hand, massage can be very supportive and affirming to someone who is working through painful or traumatic experiences and on the other, massage can produce many awarenesses that can then be taken to therapy to be understood on a deeper level if necessary, though much can change through awareness alone. For example, issues that may arise are Why do I exhaust myself physically looking after others … ?”
“Why do I find it so scary to say when I am experiencing the pressure of the massage too much, or too little … ?”
Our bodies never lie. My job is to help someone listen and to hear their truth.
At present, the world of therapy appears split between the head and the body. I find this very interesting as, to me, it reflects a very common split within the individual, between what we think and what we feel. I experienced this split myself very markedly when I did my advanced massage training and realized that I didn’t comprehend that there was a difference between thoughts and feelings. I thought I just had to reflect on the journey of many of my clients. The journey home to feeling and safe expression those feelings.
However, the therapy arena is appearing to undergo changes too, by combining the mind and body processes and recognizing that they are not two separate identities and that one affects the other. The body speaks your mind. I am currently on a very exciting three-year body psychotherapy training where the body is used as the main resource of awareness and self-discovery.
‘This work is based on Reich’s work of body armoring, developmental issues, and character types. The process is one of exploring and transforming physical, emotional, and psychological “blocks “or patterns of holding. To me, this is not another new-age fandangled therapy coming out soon, but an integrated approach to personal transformation. In my own experience of this body-focused work, I have uncovered patterns of behavior and feelings that I had no idea about, and that was ‘by following and exploring some tiny movements I was making with my body.
And can massage be relaxing? All that I have written so far may indicate that massage is a pure process and awareness orientated. Again, what is received or revealed from the massage will depend upon the original contract made, but massage can still be relaxing to receive, it can be fun. My advanced massage training was based on the elements. Earth, fire, air, and water. A process of change can be initiated by working elementally to awaken underutilized aspects of the individual. For example, Earth is still, grounded, self-accepting. Fire … spontaneity, movement, expression. Air … lightness, expansiveness. Water going with the flow, ease.
So when working with the body, the work may represent the elements; still, lively, light, or flowing, thus trying to help the clients simulate that element within themselves so they feel more balanced and whole. I find this work very exciting, and really enjoy the uniqueness of each session and of each client on their journey. It is from this training that I began to use the term body-work, which is broader than massage and may include techniques that are different from standard massage, and unique to that client on that day.
I have written from my experience and that of my clients. The following is from one client about her experience of coming to receive massage/bodywork from me. I leave you with her words
“Massage is time for me; time to get in touch with my body and how it feels, time to grow in awareness as to what messages my body is telling me; time to realize that I too am important and have needs. I thought massage was an indulgence; it’s now a necessity as I journey along the road to self-awareness and self-understanding.” Read about Contact-in-Relationship by clicking here.