Massage Therapy, as officially defined by the NYS Office of Professions, is “…engaging in applying a scientific system of activity to the muscular structure of the human body by means of stroking, kneading, tapping and vibrating with the hands or vibrators for the purpose of improving muscle tone and circulation.” I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion that Massage Therapy is much more than this; more than the sum of it’s parts. It is therapeutic touch, as in, healthy kindly-intentioned touch. It is not just inherently therapeutic on the physical level, it is also bonding, community building and often poignantly meaningful to people. I recently had a client on my table, feeling and listening to his massage intently with closed eyes, sigh deeply and say “peace be with you” to me. That is not the kind of feed back you hear when you are doing clinical massage. That feedback is not just because I made his muscles feel better; it is because the mind, the body and the spirit cannot be divided and I was affecting all three. It is nurturing, healing and beneficial to both the massage artist and the massage recipient on a level that is more challenging to explain in clinical terms. It is a licensed art. It is a human art.
We may go to school for it, study anatomy & physiology, neurology, pathology and endangerment sites etc. (which is why it’s safer to go to a licensed practitioner), but that is not where we learn empathy and compassionate touch which make people feel something priceless: acknowledgement. Massage Therapy and Bodywork is a human art, and partly, an intuitive art, as in some people have great hands and some people don’t. Some people feel connected on another level to their massage therapist and some people don’t. Every massage session is a unique expression of that human art and everyone benefits from therapeutic healthy touch between consulting adults. It is sacred in a way, a sacred contract between the massage receiver and the massage giver and when you decide to go and receive a massage, truly receive, I feel it is a sacred contract between you and yourself as well. Massage Therapy and bodywork is poignantly restorative, nourishing, relaxing and supportive and seems to me to do much more than its clinical definition.
Modern American Massage Therapy is in fact “a scientific system of activity to the muscular structure of the human body” that has clinical applications, such as in Medical and Sports Massage, but it also has its roots in basic human touch providing solutions for very different needs. Robert Noah Calvert, author of A Brief History of Massage and founder of Massage Magazine, stated to the Associated Massage & Bodywork Professionals (ABMP) that “Massage (only) began to emerge as an independent and widely used therapeutic modality in the 1950s and 1960s, fully coming into its own in the 1980s and 1990s.” before that it had been developing from its role as basic human touch as part of primitive grooming since prehistoric time and “an integral part of the primate social system.”
Historically it has also been an ancient sacred healing art in many cultures, from “the shaman rubbing evil spirits out of the body, (to) the deaconess applying her hands to inspire the healing power of the Holy Spirit*”. Shiatsu massage, with its roots in Five Element Theory and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine – the ancient Chinese conceptual and philosophical approach to understanding our world, our place in it, ourselves, our bodies and how to heal them) easily presents an example of a massage modality of nurturing touch which takes into account the mind, body, energy and spirit while assessing and treating the client.
In my opinion, touch therapies, like Swedish Massage Therapy and Shiatsu, are among the most fundamental, universal and essential sacred art forms of expression, communication, humanity and healing; along with art, music and dance. I am often asked if I’m a dancer and whether I still dance and I say yes, because I feel I am dancing with the person on the table. I feel that every session is a duet between myself and the receiver. The best massages I have given feel like artfully choreographed dances of manual therapy techniques and maneuvers that change with both body’s needs, literally, in real time, as I listen with my hands. Often in a treatment I will feel like I am doing contact Improvisation (a choreography tool often used to warm dancers up and get them practiced at working together), playing a musical instrument (my hands will wrap around a foot and my fingers will move like I am feeling the strings and playing violin or guitar), or it will feel like I am leading the person through the “Sticky Hands” exercise in Thai Chi (an exercise that focuses on increasing the sensitivity to your training partner). At the core of these three examples is communication. The body talks to me and I listen, my body talks to their and it listens. This is partly why I chose my tagline to be Informative Bodywork.
Again, to credit Robert Noah Calvert: “Finally, and perhaps most important, is that the history, study and practice of massage are not all about technique. Their past, unraveling their entanglement with other human activities, clearly reveals the application of caring human touch is an inherently innate behavior for giving and receiving love, which all humankind wants and needs. The real purpose of giving massage is to foster more depth of feeling for one another in order to bring out the love that often lies buried beneath the pain of everyday suffering.”
*A Brief History of Massage, By Robert Noah Calvert http://www.massagetherapy.com/media/experiencehistory.php