Monday, May 28, 2007

Massage as Treatment

Such a lovely woman. I'm abashed, as I work; altogether too pretty a young woman for me to be laying my hands upon. I've not felt exactly this way before. I'm missing my stride. Distracted by a beauty that doesn't quite add up.

She wanted me to do the trigger-points in her rhomboids, but I wander over her body, lingering at the feet, knowing that this sort of soothing massage is not what she asked for, though I'm convinced it's what she needs. Her unhappiness doesn't live in her upper back or neck. It lives here, in her feet and her ankles. But I don't think she knows that.

Who knows whether I'm right. Possibly she just seems so young and vulnerable that I'm reluctant to hurt her.

I don't like telling a bodyworker where to work on me. It's not as if there's some treasure-hunt going on, as if they need to find the only bit of my body that needs work. It all needs work. I want people working on me to read my body for the first time, and come up with their own interpretation. "Follow your hands," I say. I can work my own rhomboids, if need be. I don't want my own take on my body. I already have that. I want theirs.

I grow daily less satisfied with the treatment model of massage. Soft tissue manipulation helps with some problems, sure. Occasionally it helps spectacularly. But really what will relieve the tension in your neck and shoulders is not a monthly, a weekly, or even a daily massage. What will relieve it is changing the way you work, the way you move, the way you rest. What massage can do is bring your attention to your body, in a loving context. Fixing it is up to you.

People forget. They hold so much tension so long they can't even feel it as tension. They restrict their own motion for so long that they forget some of the ways in which their bodies can move. Our job is not to fix that. Our job to draw their attention to it, so they can fix it.

The other day, in class, I was practicing an intake interview with Andrea. Her traps, scalenes, and levator scap were stiff, especially on the left. "Show me," I said. "Here, this is your desk. Sit at it and show me how you work." She sat in the chair, and to my astonishment, torqued herself halfway around, craned her head to the left, looking up at an imaginary monitor, and stretched her hands down to the right to an imaginary keyboard. It made my neck ache just to look at it.

I had to laugh. She looked a little shamefaced. "I know, I should get them to fix it."

And this is someone who's spent the last six months studying muscles and body mechanics. But I do it myself. It's taken me weeks to realize that there's a very simple explanation for my shoulder trouble. It began when I started my new job, working at a keyboard with no elbow support. Have I fixed it? No. Is my shoulder getting better, with twice-weekly excellent massage? No. And it's not going to, unless I get a chair with arms.

I'm not quite sure where this leaves me as a bodyworker who's going to have to be peddling his services in a few months. People want to believe you can fix their bodies in a pleasant, soothing sixty minutes, and they'll pay you good money for that. But I don't think I can market myself that way. Massage is good for people, in a number of ways. I can rattle off the benefits of improved blood circulation and lymph drainage, the increased seratonin levels and lowered blood pressure, with the best of them. But an hour's exercise is probably better for you than an hour's massage, frankly, for all of those things. The sort of massage I want to practice -- the 90-minute, leave-your-conceptual-mind-behind kind -- is really, as a medical intervention, a pretty poor bargain.

I love massage. When I was a rich programmer, and could afford it, I got it regularly, sometimes as often as once a week. I never questioned whether it was worthwhile, anymore than I question whether eating or sleeping is worthwhile. What I find difficult to understand is how people live without it.

Well, that's fine for someone on the receiving end. You don't need to know any more than that. But for someone on the giving end, understanding it is more urgent. I have some thinking and reading and asking to do.

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