Friday, June 29, 2012

The "other side" of massage therapy

No, I don't mean the "happy ending" other side of massage therapy.  I mean the "E-word."  Energy.  I don't often talk too much about the energetic component of massage and bodywork.  Not because I don't believe it's there.  Not because I want to deny it.  Not because I am afraid it will scare potential clients off.  I don't really talk about it a lot because I prefer to focus on the components that have some evidence to support it (even if it's merely empirical observation, and not a completely scientific study).  Then, even if I can't educate a client on what IS happening, I can at least share the widely shared hypothesis of the physiological effects of the technique (though in some cases there are multiple widely shared hypotheses).

But last week, I had an experience with a client that made me think about the energetic aspect of massage and body work.  It is a widely accepted "fact" that emotional memories can be bound up in muscles.  (Here,

I can point to the physiology of neuropeptides, which are the amino acids that the brain creates and processes as a portion of building and recalling memories.  Since neuropeptides are biochemicals, they are just as prone to getting caught up in tight muscles that aren't allowing adequate flow of insterstitial fluid.  When the muscle is released, and the fluids can flush old waste from the tissue, the neuropeptide is reintroduced to the system and the brain may again process that emotional memory.)  But sometimes the emotions that clients process on the table aren't old memories bound up in the muscles.  Sometimes they are emotions in the present.

Call it what you want - personality, vibe, energy, chi, prana, yin and yang, emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, nonsense - there is some indescribable, intangible power to some people's presence and to your own presence and state of mind.  Sometimes people come to receive a massage for the nurturing provided by the therapist, and sometimes even for the "energy" of that person.  The client who got me thinking of this is a client who is dealing with some highly emotional challenges and changes in her life.  She is very stressed and pursuing massage as a way to relieve her stress and help her unwind enough to tackle life with a little more mental focus.

In our consultation, it became clear that despite her muscular tension and physical complaints, I identified her stress as the primary issue needing to be addressed and we agreed that the session should focus on helping her relax some.  I talked her through a breathing exercise and meditation involving visualizing letting all her muscles relax, one area at a time.  It's been my experience that this can often help my clients achieve a fair amount of muscular release all on its own.  Then I invited her to feel free to express whatever she needed to, in order to give her another tool for releasing her stress.

As we got through the session, she was noticeably more relaxed in her breathing pattern, tone of voice and muscle tone.  She seemed energized and ready to tackle life head-on as she stepped out of the room.  I facilitated her own process of rebalancing her own energy.  I offered her nurturing and understanding and gave her permission to be herself.  I don't take too much credit for the relief she experienced in that treatment.  At least, not in terms of my hands-on work.  It was a relaxation massage - nothing too technical or deep.  It was partly my "energy" that allowed her to relax, and that allowed her to balance her own "energy."

The meditation and visualization technique was a bridge between the "energetic" and the physical components of the massage, though, and that's something she can do on her own at any time.  And it's something you can do, too.  So sometimes you should take the time to breathe and visualize your muscles getting the opportunity to relax and do no work.  Do this on a regular basis to help keep your stress levels lower.  And when your stress levels are lower, your health will benefit (since they say that anywhere from 75%-95% of illness is stress related).

Whether you prefer to call it an energy balancing technique, a visualization, a meditation, or just a relaxation technique, the benefits will remain, so take the time to breathe!