Sunday, August 01, 2010


Adam was God's drum. He thumped him into life,
made him ring and shiver, word made flesh
and flesh made word made flesh, skin singing
on a shuddering frame of ribs: and ever since
when thunder rolls above you can feel His hands
thud on the marrow, His rain beat on the earth.

Tapotement, from French tapoter, to tap or to drum, is the technical term for the use of percussion in massage. It's used extensively in several massage traditions, including Tui Na, the Chinese precursor of Shiatsu, and "Swedish" massage. (By the way, remind me to write about that odd "Swedish" misnomer, sometime.) Tapotement was not much favored at my massage school, nor, as far as I can tell, is it much valued or taught in the profession these days, but I adore it, both as giver and receiver.

A client recently asked me, "why does that feel so good?" The textbook answer is that striking the muscle causes it involuntarily to contract, and then to relax, and perhaps it does: but it doesn't at all feel like that's what's happening. It feels like you're being turned into a great musical instrument, into something that resonates to a higher music.

It requires a skill which most people could acquire, but few do: I fortunately already had it, as player of hand-drums. It boils down to not letting your dominant hand take over, and the easiest way to practice it is to practice drumming in triplets, or waltz rhythm -- ONE two three ONE two three, so that your hands alternate carrying the stress and relinquishing it.

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