There is a neck hold I teach sometimes in Oncology Massage workshops. It requires you to gently slide both hands under the client’s neck while they lie face up in the table. Once your hands are in place, you maintain a relaxed, gentle hold, encouraging your client to relax their neck. It is surprisingly effective. All the therapist has to do is sit still, gently holding and patiently waiting.
The hardest part about this technique is actually getting into position. Ideally, the therapist can get their hands into position without moving the client’s head around, especially if they are working with someone in active treatment. I tell my students to think of synchronized swimming, where what you see is all grace and calm and softness, while there is absolute flailing chaos underneath the surface. At this point, I demonstrate getting into position. I pull the most ridiculous face I can, while my hands move with grace, calm and softness. Everyone laughs. Almost everyone understands.
What we do is a lot like synchronized swimming. Everything on or near our clients’ bodies should bring only comfort, while beyond the boundary of our clients’ space, we may be frantically wondering where we put the lotion bottle, realizing we forgot the bolster, or just letting any invasive thought from the world outside the massage room pass through so we can be present in the space again. Grace, calm and softness in the air, flailing chaos underneath.
We ask too much of ourselves when we try to imagine that everything we do in our massage room is done as a beautiful, never-seen dance. The place where we hold the peace and the power of massage is the space around our client. Beyond that, there is work to support that space. It started on our first day of massage school, struggling through anatomy, physiology and technique. It continues every time we take continuing education, working hard to integrate new knowledge into that which is known and comfortable. It is there every day, as we work to shield our clients from the little human mishaps that happen in every life. (Like the countless number of times I have completed a massage with my glasses slid all the way down my nose because I couldn’t get them properly pushed up.)
We owe it to ourselves to embrace and learn to love the chaos, because the chaos makes the peace work. We owe it to ourselves to thank the work and the chaos for making the dance possible.