by Tanisia Smith, BA, LMT, NCBTMB, MBLEX
Redbook magazine made a lot of people angry yesterday.
In a move that surely they are cognizant is a PR disaster, the magazine printed an article that failed to separate sex work and massage. In all fairness, the article was a first-person account submitted by someone who claimed to be a consumer of massage for the sexual benefits that it afforded, which she claimed were improving her marriage.
The article, since redacted, has been quite the conversation piece in massage circles--understandably so, for those of us who are members of a profession that has created specifically focused training that includes both the traditional didactic and therapeutic application of hands-on treatments.
People have no idea how hard we work to be part of this profession. For instance, let's talk about how arduous massage school is.
I teach at a massage school. I would say that at least a third of the 600-hour (soon to be 750-hour) curriculum is focused on learning anatomy and physiology. Students learn bones, muscles, body systems, indications and contraindications, and pathological conditions, in addition to ethics and business basics, such as marketing and promotion. (And much, much more.)
Sure, you may know some things about the human body--but can you say that you have spent two hundred or more hours studying its structure(s) and functions? Massage therapists can.
Our macroculture has this belief that massage equals "rubdown", which is often considered a prelude to sex. Hey, if that is how you are experiencing massage in your private life, more power to you. But therapeutic massage, as applied by an individual who has been duly trained and licensed by an accredited institution, is a completely different matter. A good therapist must ask questions, understand a client's health history, and tailor the treatment to avoid exacerbating any conditions that might be detrimental to the client's health or well-being. That is--AND SHOULD BE--miles away from the kind of hands-on treatment that untrained people share with each other in their homes.
I think we have to consider Redbook's willingness to print the article as a sad reminder that many people are ready to dismiss the therapeutic qualities of massage, just because it feels good. People don't understand that massage is therapy.
We also need to consider that healthy touch--which is something that we need a lot more of in US culture--has boundaries. Massage therapists are professionals who have undergone a great deal of training in order to offer specialized touch in a therapeutic application. We are thinking about muscles and bones; about illnesses and injuries; about the traumas that the bodies on our tables have survived.
And although we are human, and some among us may behave inappropriately sometimes--let's not use that as a way to return to demonizing the entire profession. The majority of us are dedicated professionals who believe in the power of this touch-based therapy in order to shift pathological, posturally-based, idiopathic and trauma-based conditions.
Ultimately, we are talking about humans. Humans, such as the woman who wrote the article, need touch. Physiologically speaking, we are wired in such a manner that we die without it. (Babies can die, or fail to thrive, or suffer other long-term effects, without enough touch. Adults suffer without touch as well. Sadly, I think it's really the same thing.)
Massage therapists are trained to understand that sometimes the need to receive touch is the sole reason that people come to our tables. But we also spend a lot of time talking about how to keep appropriate and professional boundaries in the therapeutic relationship. Behaving in any other way is a violation of the client, of the relationship, and of the profession--no matter what the client has asked for.
I am grateful that Redbook's Editor-in-Chief chose to remove the article from the website. But I am also grateful that we have had this opportunity to take the measure of our nation's thoughts about massage: what it is, what it is for, and how it can be used.
And of course, I would like to thank the massage trade professions, such as AMTA and ABMP, for organizing so quickly to address the issue.
We still have a lot of talking to do about massage, and its place as a therapeutic treatment. I'm glad that we had an opportunity to continue that dialogue, regardless of the reason.
There are tens of thousands of massage therapists in our nation. If you have questions about who we are and what we can do to help improve your health, your movement, or your peace of mind, you can approach our trade institutions and industry leaders (for example, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork)...or just ask a massage therapist.
We are professional, licensed providers of therapeutic touch. We work hard to earn our credential(s). Respect that. Research shows that our work can help to ease a number of medical conditions. That's powerful.
Just remember: Our work may be touch-based, but that doesn't make us any less professional. As professionals, part of our work is creating boundaries, so that you receive your treatment in a safe space. Honoring those boundaries means that we can ease more pain, and you can return to your regularly-scheduled life sooner, rather than later.
We're everywhere. And we're ready to help.
I have recently had occasion to spend a bit of time on trains. Because of this, I now completely understand why our forbears were so in love with them.
Traveling by train is a much more immediate mode of travel than flying. The verdant abundance of the newly-wakened earth was nearly pressing itself against the outside of the windows. I saw hidden lakes and trees and bodies of water that I'm sure I would have missed if I had driven, and that would have been reduced to dots and glossy near-circles from the distance provided by flying. It was a beautiful way to be reminded that, for each one of us, our well-being is ultimately tied to the cycles and the secret doings of the earth.
Of all the things I learned, I was surprised to note that the bridges were among my favorite things. Those moments when the train slowed, and I could feel it moving ponderously forward, as a large creature attempting to perform a delicate act, in the style of Indiana Jones on a ledge that would crumble after four steps had been taken on its surface.
The bridges were my favorite because it became clear what the train's movement was, as it moved in the space that attached one place to another place. And that shift created a greater understanding of the automatic movement of the train overall.
Thomas Myers, in his brilliant Anatomy Trains series, creates a study of the body, and the role of connective tissue in attaching one part to the next in a manner so seamless that all of the parts are attached to, and can communicate with, all of the other parts.
I am awed by the brilliant machine of the body; its elegant complexity presented as seeming simplicity. Our body's "bridges", places where the purpose shifts, or a new movement becomes possible, are laden with meaning. Certainly, there is a lot to learn about the tissue of the body itself.
But in addition to that, our inner work lies in considering how and where our forward motion changes because we are moving to a new area: whether that is a new area conceptually (e.g., we are exploring a new concept or experience, or focusing on the expression thereof in our lives) or physically (e.g., we are relocating).
We are the same organism all of the time. How do we change ourselves when we are approaching something that looks like a bridge? Do we slow down? Try to make ourselves smaller? Try to look bigger, in case the bridge (or change) itself represents a threat? Or do we, mindfully, joyfully, find a way to keep dancing our dance as we move on to this new thing?
Here's to dancing your dance, no matter what lies ahead.
I'm choosing a question from my list of frequently asked questions. This time, I'll focus on: "Do I have to take off my clothes to have a massage?"The short answer is NO. You never have to remove all of your clothing in order to receive a massage. Your comfort is the most important thing. If you are feeling uncomfortable, then you will be distracted and tense. This really won't help. In fact, I would say that tensing up your muscles is the OPPOSITE of what we want to do with massage. There are a great many kinds of hands-on treatments that will end with you feeling the same kind of peaceful bliss that you experience when you present yourself, bare as you were born, to the therapist. Let's look at a few of these options:Compression. Compression entails a therapeutic method of applying force so that the soft-tissue structures (muscles,fascia, vessels,etc.) are pressed towards the bone. That sounds terribly technical. Here is a real-life example: your trunk is being compressed when your favorite aunt wraps her arms around you and gives you a squeeze.
Rocking. Rocking applies a rhythmic movement to the client's resting body. The speed of the rocking can be varied in order to provide varying therapeutic results. Slower rocking has a sedative effect, while faster rocking is likely to provide feelings of wakefulness, or to otherwise promote awareness.
Rocking is one way to move the sinus wave (remember that from high school?) into the client's body. By moving this energy, we are asking the structures inside the body to relax. Think about what happens in
the event of an earthquake--the ground is rippling, and the buildings respond by moving, swaying and ultimately losing their structural integrity. The outcome depends on the amount of force applied.
Movement. Movement sessions can assess range of motion, identify restrictions, and apply treatment. These may be hybrid sessions, including some visual assessment and some work on the table.
Stretching. Stretching sessions apply force to extant soft tissue structures. These may or may not include myofascial release, which is a specific type of treatment intended to address connective tissue. The connective tissue provides integrity to our human structure, creating pathways, containment and division--among other things. More on this another time.
Lymphatic drainage. Lymphatic drainage addresses the lymph, which is a fluid product of the body's immunity defense system. This very gentle treatment is well-tolerated by people who enjoy light pressure.
Energywork. This is a subtle manipulation of the energy body. It can feel energizing or soothing, as though someone is rocking you in their arms; or as though someone is adding energy to your personal "tank".
Some feel textured--that is, you might feel physical sensations such as breezes, droplets on the skin, and shifting of physical symptoms.
Given that all of these options (and many, many more) can provide for a session that meets your treatment goals--how can you benefit by removing your clothing?
Well, having the benefit of visual contact with the skin will allow your therapist to provide a visual assessment. Physical contact will convey information regarding the forces that are being brought to bear against your body. Understanding which forces, and how they may be causing challenges, can convey information about how to reverse their effects. That means relief is possible.
And of course, some of the most delightful aspects of a good massage are related to the pleasant physical effects caused by gliding across the skin. The more skin that is exposed, the more positive touch you could potentially receive. Everyone wins.
Let's clarify something here: unclothed is not the same as uncovered. An ethical therapist is mindful about your modesty, and uses appropriate covering to support you. This is called draping.
Your comfort is the most important factor. Talk to your therapist, and let them know if you would like to make a change. Remember: the therapist is there in support of your wellness. That means she--or he--will do their level best to provide a service that is physically and emotionally comfortable for you.
If you want or need something new--just ask!
As we get settled in the New Year, let us pause to be grateful for waiting.
Waiting is a normal, healthy part of our lives. Understanding that doesn't make it any more desirable. When we put a casserole in the oven, there is a significant period between the time we start to smell its bubbling goodness and the time we can sit down and enjoy it.
But the work we must do with our bodies requires more than waiting. Our work includes:
* Acquiring the vision to see what structural or functional changes may contribute to the experience we are having. That is, the ability to look at our bodies and determine whether our pain originates in the way we are made (structure), or in the way we are using our bodies. We have to be willing to consider that the things we are asking our bodies to do, or the ways in which we are asking our bodies to do them, are the most likely culprits of our physical discomfort. (But the good news is, that means that, most of the time, if we change the activities, then we can shift the pain.)
* Creating the perspective to separate our consciousness from our stories about our bodies. We tell ourselves stories all the time: stories about who we are, what we look like, what we are capable of...these things we tell ourselves are out of sync with the truth of our bodies today. If we are still telling ourselves stories about what we are, what dimensions we take up; and the overall meaning of those things--then, well, it can be a real challenge to see who we are. Some thoughts are loud, no matter the volume at which we whisper them.
* Creating the willingness to change. If we want to change our habits, then the secret does not lie in making sweeping comments and overarching resolutions;actually, in that case, our work is to make our promises--and our consciousness--smaller. In order to make a change, we need to bring our undivided consciousness into the present. We have to be willing to spend more time being in our bodies, being present in our daily routine, in order to create something different--even if that difference is just a new consciousness.
* Being willing to stay where we are. Change is good. But sometimes, we just have to leave ourselves alone. Maybe now is not the time to make a shift. It could be that now is a time to go deeper in exploring the contents of your consciousness. (Which is, by the way, also making a change.)
* Finding more reasons to dance. It is high time to bring more joy into your life. Are you willing to create a delightful interruption to your daily experience, if you know that the results will mean more happiness? Ask yourself the question, and really listen to the answer.
The waiting that we choose to take up as a significant part of our own process gives us lots of gifts. It shows us where our impatience is; where we are wanting the process to become something other than the revelatory procedure that it is. Waiting--that is, experiencing a span of time in which we are either not getting the thing that we want, or getting something that we do not want--shows us--or can show us--why we have selected the process that we are experiencing to begin with.
Spiritually speaking, waiting can be a dynamic catalyst for change. Waiting can reveal to us the places where we are afraid to sit with ourselves; where we are choosing to fill our space with noise in many different ways, instead of allowing a truth to be revealed to us in the stillness.
These are just a handful of the reasons why waiting can be wonderful. We are assuming that waiting is not the same thing as denying yourself--but, rather, creating an opportunity to include more to celebrate later. It is worth meditating on the matter.
Tanisia Smith is a grateful massage therapist and writer. She chose massage as a healing medium that recognizes the power of touch, values the revelation of assessment, and honors the power of habit. She believes that being stuck is not a requirement.