For many people in the Western world, massage therapy is simply a tool that can be used to alleviate the pain of sore muscles or to heal from injury. These massages are done in a clinical way, with the end goal of physical health in mind. And don’t get me wrong, massage is great for all of those reasons. But it can be so much more.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had clients say “Oh the massages I’m used to getting don’t feel good! But they get the job done!” or “Don’t be afraid to hurt me! No pain no gain, right?”. People often equate level of pain to efficacy when it comes to massage therapy. They take pride in their high pain tolerance and think that if it isnt uncomfortable it must not be doing anything.
I generally approach my massage practice a little differently. Massage should be nourishing for mind, body and spirit. In my experience, the body possesses incredible abilities to heal itself. I’m simply there to coax it in the right direction, to allow the body and mind to settle into one another. This mind/body connection is crucial to our overall health and wellbeing. (Of course, there can be a certain level of discomfort when working on tight muscles. I love the feeling of release that comes from someone massaging away a stubborn knot. That “pain” can be satisfying, but it shouldn’t leave you wincing or bracing yourself against the pressure.)
Why I Practice Nourishing Massage
The body doesn’t need to be fought with for results...
Your body is in a constant state of trying to reach homeostasis, or balance. Like everything in the natural world, you function as a result of harmony between millions of cells. They are single-minded, each assigned to a specific task. There is a beautiful give and take, as there is with all things in the Universe (after all, we’re simply made of energy as are all things that exist).
Because of this, the body is incredibly good at figuring out what it needs to heal. However, we as a society have forgotten how to listen to our body’s cues. We push ourselves through sickness and pain and exhaustion in an effort to “succeed” and “accomplish”. This only leads to more sickness, pain and exhaustion.
By approaching massage in a more balanced way, we are able to remind ourselves of our body’s signals. We can connect fully with those troubled tissues to see if they are in need of a gentle manipulation in the right direction, or if they need a change in lifestyle or daily habits. Normally it’s a combination of the two.
It’s not your muscle’s fault it’s sore...
So don’t punish it! Most of the muscle soreness I encounter is due to poor posture. Second on the list is repetitive strain. After that is soreness following an injury like a sprain or a fracture. All of those things occurred because of forces outside of the body. Your muscles didn’t just give up on you one day. You’ve just been mis-treating them. And while an aggressive massage might make you feel better short-term, it’s going to do nothing for you in the long haul if you don’t change the way you treat your body.
This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the job for most massage therapist, no matter what type of massage they perform. People will come in for massage only once they are already in pain. And then they’ll expect that massage to solve their problems. Sorry, but that’s not how it works!
Nourishing massage can still be deeply satisfying!
There’s nothing that says this type of massage can’t go deep. It’s all the intention of the practitioner. I find it much more beneficial to slowly manipulate the tissue until the body “let’s go” and gives me permission to go a little deeper. I always do this with slow movements, allowing the nervous system to relax. Most of the time this nervous system response is enough on its own to relax the muscles. Sometimes it simply reveals the next layer of muscles that require a bit of love. Pressing hard on a tight muscle, grinding into it until it “gives”, is not the way I like to operate. But I’ve had many clients who have come to expect that from a deep massage. I can tell you that nearly all of those clients feel better after a nourishing massage than they do with something more aggressive.
Your mind contributes SO MUCH to the state of your body.
Everyone seems to be hyper-focused on this fast-paced lifestyle that’s sprung up over the last several decades. Stress levels are higher than ever. And it is making people physically unwell. Like, severely unwell. Of course stress is inevitable to some degree. But the chronic stress occurring these days is out of control.
Massage is a fantastic tool for deep and total relaxation. Many people think of a light, fluffy rub when they think of relaxation massage. What I’m talking about is a glorious, deep, intuitive massage. One where the giver and receiver are both benefiting from the vibrations in the room. There is nothing more satisfying to me as feeling someone’s body finally relax after they came in with a million things on their mind. Massaging someone’s hand and having them tighten their fingers unintentionally because they are drifting off. There is something really divine about being able to facilitate that, and to connect with someone in such a full way without speaking. This physical connection has been proven to heal the body and mind in ways that can’t be fully explained. This is the spirituality of massage to me.
Some will leave this type of massage feeling refreshed and renewed. Their body and mind are in harmony. Others will leave exhausted and wanting a nap (a sure sign that they finally notice their body’s need to slow down and rest).
There is often so much disconnect between our bodies and our minds. Our bodies are begging us for a chance to slow down and be nourished.
Something I’ve discovered in my years as a massage therapist is that you won’t connect with every therapist you try, just like I won’t connect with every client I see. People who are so stuck on the need for aggressive, active massages might not like the type of work I do! And that’s okay! I just ask that if you’re one of those people, give nourishing massage a try. Keep an open mind. It might just change your life!
Disclaimer: as far as I know, I’m the only person to call it “nourishing massage”. So don’t expect your massage therapist to have any sweet clue what you mean if you request it. Instead, I would ask for a deep relaxation massage. I usually ask them to start with a medium pressure, and then I’ll let them know if I want more. As always, communication with your therapist is everything.
Edited much later to add:
On a more humorous note, I need to mention the sheer volume of clients and friends and coworkers who read the original blog and told me that their ideal massage was the one I described as "aggressive"! It really made me laugh, and also proves my point that you can't please everyone. Mind you, some of those people I imagine could benefit from a more nourishing massage. Others, though, definitely not! Cheers guys, thanks for reading!