February 20, 2018

Just Relaxation Massage

I took a three day Shiatsu workshop, a couple weeks ago -- great fun, I learned lots. (And forgive me: no, I still don't believe in energetic meridians. More about that anon, maybe.) I ate lunch with some other participants, the first day, and when asked about my practice, I said, "Oh, I do in-home massage. I've been doing it ten years, now. I love it." And then the demon of self-deprecation got hold of me, as he will, and I added, "Just relaxation massage."

That's the way we massage therapists often talk about it, among ourselves. Just relaxation massage. The lowest common denominator. Swedish; spa massage; fluff n buff. The stuff anyone can do.

But I've resolved to stop talking that way. The thing we call "relaxation" isn't trivial, and it isn't easy to do well. In fact I think it's the most important part of massage, and probably the active ingredient in most of our successful "treatments." It's what I personally get massage for. But it's hard to talk about clearly. It's an experience that does not lend itself to words.

I wrote recently to one of my own massage therapists: Thanks so much! That was a transcendent massage. Changed the quality of the sunlight coming through the leaves.

It didn't fix me. No particular issues were addressed. I'm still the same sorry messed up mortal I was before: working at a desk all day will still make my neck stiff, and dealing with obnoxious people will still annoy me, and I will still want to eat more than I should at the end of a long day.

So what's it for? What's the point?

The point is going to another place, where the quality of the sunlight is different, where everything is clear and luminous and spacious, and nothing needs to be done. We don't stay there. And an hour afterwards maybe it won't make any obvious difference in our lives. But really forgetting that other place is there -- that would be a catastrophe: that would set us up to be dislocated and uprooted in hundred different ways. We need to go back periodically, to be reminded: it's still there.


  1. I've recently decided that, beyond the pleasurableness of massage, it's key value lies in the presence of the massage therapist and the intentional quality of helpful touch.

    How often in daily life are we touched selflessly—without the pleasure or the needs of the toucher being at least partially involved? How often in life is our physicality put front and center in a non-sexual way, in a way that doesn't involve measuring or judging or self-improvement? Basically, never.

    I had a conversation with someone with whom I'd just offered intercessory prayer, involving the laying on of hands. "It's the touch," she said. "The words are good and helpful, but just being touched that way, it's unexpected and wonderful."

  2. Yes. For most of us, our touch vocabulary consists of about five words. It can be so much richer.

  3. "In fact I think it's the most important part of massage, and probably the active ingredient in most of our successful "treatments.""

    Yes. And also the benefits of focused, safe, "simply" nurturing and healing-intended touch thing.

    As you know, I'm severely allergic to woo, and: I can vouch that this changing-the-light and touch-benefit is sometimes life-saving. And always powerful, when the practitioner & the recipient both open up to it fully/go all in.

    Also, for me: sleep. It can enable sleep of a quality that isn't possible otherwise, I have found when in dire bodily trouble.

    Shiatsu, for some reason other than meridians for me, is the language my body most readily speaks. Not necessarily the knees & elbows & jungle-gym approach (although that was fun for me when I was not of fragile-spine), but the engaged, more participatory approach many shiatsu practitioners take. Massage-in-movement. Maybe it just makes me more invested, more engaged in good outcomes - or maybe the moving-with allows for greater access to more muscle and nerve bundles, or both, I'm not sure. But all the more sure I have to get to Portland soon for some Dale medicine.

  4. Yes, I love the deliberation and economy of shiatsu (and I would love to work on a mat, rather than a table!) And the concept (in Zen shiatsu) of a "mother hand" and a "child hand" has long been really useful to me. One hand stays with the obstructed place, just listening there, while the other hand finds the corresponding emptiness and works with it. You don't need to believe in it all, any more than you need to believe in Greek gods to read Aeschylus.

  5. Blisssss. These days I only get massages for pleasure-- and somehow I never manage to schedule enough of them. To me they're harder to do well, as they require a deep sensitivity to the experience of the client. So I am all about 'relaxation massage.'

    I also never put too much stock in energetic meridians until I experienced a violent spontaneous kundalini activation in 2014; it made me acutely aware of and sensitive to energy in the subtle and causal bodies. It was an remains a little humbling.

  6. Wow. Not something I know about, first-hand. Fortunately the universe keeps giving us experiences that confound us :-)