In my mind massage is an art. The Oxford dictionary defines art as “ability in skilful execution”. A great massage could be defined therefore as the skilful execution and fusion of creativity, knowledge, technique and intuition.
All the above take time and practice to develop in any therapist. However all the practice in the world won’t make a master of someone if they lack the motivation and dedication to excel. These qualities are what sets apart the massage artist from a regular masseuse. In this way as a massage therapist practices, learns and dedicates themselves to their work they become more of an artist. Each time the therapist steps up to the table the analogy could be made that they are the artist and the body of the client is the canvas. As they gain understanding through the melding together the many skills they have studied, they will start to see the development of their own individual style. If you were to have the experience of ten different massages from ten different therapists you would notice that each massage is completely different. What makes each experience different is the therapist. Just as each person has a different personality so too do massage therapists have their own individual style. This is made up of their own system of beliefs and unique understanding of the world. It informs everything from the confidence of their touch, the comfort during their work and the ease of their client interactions.
Each therapist brings their own set of life experiences to their work. This assists them to be able to interpret the clients’ body and create the healing space for the client accordingly. As a massage therapist my understanding comes from a sense of rhythm, movement and flow, coupled with the intention to be creative and open to allowing the massage to develop, with both conscious and unconscious thought processes taking place. During the course of a treatment the conscious mind of both the practitioner and the client interact with each other. They talk, exchange information, express needs and expectations. What they also bring with them is their unconscious process, both from personal and collective human experience. It is the awareness of these deeper elements that both parties bring to the treatment room that changes a static therapeutic encounter into a deep and dynamic creative experience.
There is no right way of doing a massage. The massage therapist needs to develop their particular personal style which allows them to enjoy the work they do as well as create an environment in which the client is completely satisfied with their treatment. The art of massage is in tailoring the work to the needs of the individual client. To be optimally effective the massage practitioner needs to tune into the client to know what needs to be done from both the physical and energetic perspective.
In order to create this for ourselves and our clients the massage therapist needs to be able to integrate the two things that make them who they are, namely the mind and the body. The mind part of the therapist needs information to be supplied, information such as which types of techniques would be appropriate to use with this particular client. The body of the therapist needs awareness of its physical state in order that the body can be utilised with the most efficiency while at the same time allowing the therapist freedom of movement throughout the treatment. If one of these is compromised the massage will invariably be lacking, and both the therapist and the client will feel this. It will be nothing more than a ‘rub’ which often leaves the client feeling bruised and sore and the therapist grumpy with sore wrists, discomfort in their bodies and resentment towards their work.
The client also has an important role to play in the creation of the massage. If the client comes to the massage with a closed mind and uptight attitude about what they expect it will be a less than pleasant experience for both parties. If the client is willing to be a participant in the massage rather than a casual observer they will benefit greatly. What I mean by participant is someone who approaches the massage with a clear sense of what they hope to gain by having the experience. If they have particular physical complaints they will most probably be hoping to have those addressed. However if they are willing to open their minds a little further they may be able to gain a sense of not only physical but also mental relief from the massage. The quiet time can allow them time to release the cares that they carry around with them in their everyday lives. It can offer them the space for a mental daydream or a deeper place where their breathing becomes the focus. Deep breathing releases stress and allow the muscles to relax. More oxygenated blood is delivered to the muscles and the heart rate slows down. Breathing deeply with full conscious awareness permits them to enter into the massage without tension and allows the client to fully experience the art of massage.
There are many layers to explore within the bodywork field for both the therapist and the client. As therapists we need to be passionate about what we do because if we are realising our passions we will be creative and artistic in our dealings with the bodies of our clients. As a client we need to be open to receiving and in doing so allow ourselves, both in mind and body to truly experience the magic of massage therapy.