I have taught hundreds of students massage over the last 26 years and many testify to the transformational experiences they had in the groups. Especially my 7 day residential groups. So, I decided to write this article by way of a celebration of Massage and to share some insights and musings.
It is now more than 30 years since 1977 when I received my first massage and decided to train in biodynamic Reichian psychotherapy with the late Gerda Boyesen in London.
My first massage really did change my life. It was one of those before and after experiences! I was never the same again. I wanted to understand and learn about myself through a journey of therapeutic bodywork, and massage was an integral part of that process. During the four year training everyone received and gave at least one full body massage per week. Receiving the massage was equally as important as practicing it. So by receiving at least one full body massage each week, much of my skill as a massage therapist was learnt lying down with my eyes shut experiencing the effects on my body, the feelings, as in sensation and emotion, and graciously accepting and receiving the treatments. Consequently, now, when teaching and watching students perform massage strokes I know intuitively, at a distance how what they are doing feels and if it is performed correctly. Seeing is feeling!
As the current president of The Irish Massage Therapists Association I am very aware of the fact that there are so many different types of massage on offer these days, it is like a supermarket out there. How does one choose a training? How does one choose a teacher? There are so many techniques on offer and so many people pay lip service to the words ‘body-mind’, “energy “, and’ holistic’ with, in my opinion, little depth of understanding of what those words really mean. I sometimes wonder where it is all going!
What I do know is that massage has become very commercially orientated, spas and therapy rooms are springing up like mushrooms all over the country and I observe much quantity and often, little quality. I am part of the early generations of the massage movement, and at that time, in London, we were into the subtler, deeper aspects of massage and into “feeling, sharing, loving”. Those great hippie qualities! Loving what we did was more important than selling what we did!
For me, massage is a form of therapy, applied and received, which whilst pleasurable and relaxing can also be healing at the deepest levels of your being. It’s a bit like that ad for Heineken beer. It reaches the places that other therapies can’t! I’m not talking about mechanical methods such as deep tissue massage or sports massage. I’m talking here about massage where the giver has really learnt how to be centred and then performs conscious yet intuitive movements with their hands on another’s body, following the contours, the tensions, the breathing, deeply tuning into what is under their hands… the energy of the other… not necessarily as a mechanism to be put right but as an energy that with the appropriate input and support will self-regulate, balance and heal, at the level where it most needs .
If you have never cried receiving a massage, I don’t believe that you have really ‘let go’ and or have been truly touched! If you have never cried at the sacredness of what you are doing, whilst giving a massage, you have never been truly moved by the magic of the moment! The acts of both giving and receiving massage can teach you a great deal about yourself not simply at the level of your physical being but also at the emotional level of responses, responsibilities, patterns, ingrained habits and finally at the heart level of love and compassion. Both giving and receiving can challenge habitual modes of behaviour and operation and can open us up to deeper levels of feeling, experience, emotional release and communication. Both giving and receiving can be prayerful experiences. Each and every body is a unique manifestation of The miraculous, perfection in the now. Every body responds to love. When I say, ‘ love’ I mean open heartedness and love in action through the movements of loving hands. Loving hands can truly touch the soul.
Long ago, a colleague said to me “The massage you perform and teach is quite different from regular body massage…” I knew what she meant but nevertheless enquired, “Why so different?” She immediately said “It’s because of the inner work, and the deep understanding and feeling for massage, and being present with your heart…”.That’s right! It’s so much to do with the attitude with which the task is approached.
To give a mechanical massage is easy, you concentrate and just follow the technique. To give a massage from the heart is to do with the feeling you bring to what you are doing. You feel the strokes from the outside in and from the inside out! Having first learnt a technique, you forget the technique, you move from concentration to awareness letting your hands follow the promptings of the heart. and slowly you will fall into a different place altogether. You fall in love with what you are doing. You become very mindful of what you are doing. You fall into prayer and the body becomes an object of veneration and worship. Yehudi Menuhin, the famous violinist and yoga master, after his first massage from me, said to me “Judith, that massage was like a beautiful symphony, it flowed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quick… I never knew that massage could be like that, it was like making love only without sex”. That is the secret. Make it an expression of love. Make it flow from your heart, down your arms to the heart of the other…When that flow is really flowing there is no sense of other. just the oneness of the moment. just the energy of the massage, Just the energy.
Often, in massage workshops at a certain point, I may say to the group, “The next assignment is to make love to your partner!” Generally, this suggestion is met with surprise and nervous laughter! Then I explain that I want is for them to approach their partner very meditatively, whilst being centred, with an open heart, to love and value every part of the body they are working on in a non sexual way as if it is the most precious thing they have ever touched. No judgements, no prejudices… only love, nothing else. It’s enough, more than enough. The most and the least one can work with!
We have within us all we ever need to know. Your body is your now vehicle for physical, emotional and spiritual expression. Your very body is your greatest teacher. You can learn to be your own greatest servant. You can simultaneously both serve and teach yourself. Through your own body you can become both student and teacher, witness and participant in your own evolution. If you can learn to cast aside prejudice and simply listen, your body will communicate to you all that you wish to know. If you listen consciously to your body, it will speak to you. It is through your body that the world communicates to you, and massage, both receiving and giving can become meditation in action.
Massage can be used in so many different ways as a body-mind therapy. One can use receiving massage as an opportunity to learn so much about oneself. For example as an assertiveness exercise. Saying what you truly want and don’t want and trusting you will be heard. Massage can strengthen and rebuild boundaries. Massage can move you forward when stuck and it can harmonise you when over stimulated or traumatised. It can dissolve and resolve deep tensions or body armour defences and open and release breathing and emotions. Massage can help deepen intimacy and relationships, can help integrate and bring the body truly alive. It can help you get in touch with your body in new ways and helps you to accept you body and befriend it. Massage allows you to reflect on your relationship to ‘receiving’ from others. Is it harder to receive than to give? Can you surrender? We can all learn all these things from being the recipient and so much more besides….
As the massage giver one can also learn so much. Massage can teach you about the subtle levels of giving and all the attendant issues that “giving” can stimulate. For example, is your giving balanced by your ability to receive? How do you use giving as a control and a defence? Are you a compulsive giver? Do you let others give to you? If not, why not? What does it trigger? Does it trigger self-esteem issues? The possible questions are myriad and can take you into a deeper understanding of motive and action. Massage can teach acceptance and judgement. Massage can teach grounded-ness and trust. You learn about responsibility, your ability to stay present and mindful, your flexibility and ability to support emotionally and physically. All the above and more can be learnt using massage as the teacher.
We can all learn about the languages of the body. These are touch, sensation, feeling and movement. By learning the art of massage, one can become an eloquent communicator with the physical form. You can learn to speak and listen with your hands and eyes. You can learn to recognise and release the roots of the deepest tensions; you can encourage a body to let go of all that limits the currents of its vitality. You can learn how to encourage a body to follow its bliss.
Most people are searching these days for answers to their deepest questions, searching for meaning, looking for healing. Searching outside themselves, journeying long and far, doing this or that in the hope of resolving inner turmoil and oftentimes we need to stop, take a breath, go inside and allow the body to rest, to just be and divulge its secrets.
Massage, can take you on a profound inner journey of discovery as both giver and receiver. The whole experience becomes full of new meaning and the body becomes a laboratory where magical things happen. your responses can take you deep inside yourself into hitherto unknown un-chartered places, oft-times into the realms of buried treasure troves full of feelings, fleeting memories, hints of obscured events, nuggets of dreams, images surfacing and, diamonds of relief when the tensions dissolve and are released by streaming pearls of tears. The darkness that you have been holding on to in the way of bodily stress and strains spontaneously transforms into light and colour within and around the body. Deep healing occurs. The breathing softens and deepens. Peace prevails, prayers have been answered. A sense of deep gratitude and beautiful vital energy streaming sensations flood the body. The body and soul can rest in love.
During my 7 day residential massage courses great attention is paid not only to the physical aspects of massage but also to the psychological and emotional implications of massage and touch. You will learn and experience how tensions and stresses manifest unconsciously within the physical body and you will learn effective ways of working with them. The first 2 days are spent building up trust between participants, listening to each other and listening to oneself. In preparation there is much meditation and reflection. By the time we start to work ‘hands on’ much ground-work has already been done so that the practical comes easy and great inner depth for both giver and receiver is possible. The learning becomes grounded in love and is therefore effortless. During the group the energy can get very concentrated and intense, people shed a lot of old baggage, they may cry, they may get angry. They roar, they laugh and they learn a lot about themselves. Like a strong river the momentum keeps it moving on, no time to stop and indulge, no time for self pity. There are massage skills to learn. The energy keeps flowing. Every day we massage and we dance this great healing flow. Bodies love to dance! We are deeply nourished inside and out and, incidentally, the food on my courses is always great!