April 4, 2019


Viewed in one light, I said, massage is a business, selling a personal service, as a hairdresser does. When I think of it in this light, I always think of John Wayne calling peremptorily for his rubdown:

That's a long time ago, and a lot of water under the cultural bridge, but it still illustrates a lot the massage that actually happens in the world. We like to talk about massage as medical treatment or as cosmic connection, but much of it is just "where's my rubdown?"

There's a directness and lack of pretension to it. I have a few clients who think of it this way, and I like working with them. I relax them, soften things up, work out the kinks a bit, and I'm on my way. I have a client who just had his 95th birthday, who listens to Glen Miller during the session -- the music of his youth, as I might listen to Crosby Stills & Nash -- and at the end he'll say, "that felt good!" and we're done. In chatty mood, we might discuss single-payer insurance (I'm fur it, he's agin it) or rent control (we both take a dim view of it.) I'm not expected to fix anything or deliver any insight.

I have younger clients who treat it the same way. One professional woman who works at her laptop the whole time I'm setting up, hops on to the table for her 90 minute massage, hops back off, and is back at work again before I'm all packed up. We exchange a few pleasant words about her last business trip, maybe, but my job is to deliver the rubdown. It's an uncomplicated, straightforward service relationship. If massage was my first career, rather than my third, it might rankle a bit -- being the help -- but I'm long past all that. I don't mind being a servant, as long as I'm treated well. It's comfortable. Soothing.

The text for my ethics class in massage school, made much of the the care massage therapists must take with the power imbalance of the therapeutic relationship: we were the experts, the authorities, and our timid clients would believe anything we said and follow any instructions we gave. Well, yeah, sometimes. Sometimes not.

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