Thoughts on the profession

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It is New Year’s Eve. I took on an extra couple of massages at a local business today. I probably should not have done it, but I am getting ready to travel so I thought it might be a good idea to make a little extra money.

Holiday massage clients are generally not the clients I work best with. Infrequent consumers of massage. Out-of-town-travelers. Lovers of all things “deep tissue.” My clients today were the deep tissue kind.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the whole question of the effectiveness of deep tissue. Not in this post, anyway. The more interesting thing to me, on this eve of the new year, is how I reacted.

It wasn’t pretty.

Photo by Kat Jayne on

The first client assured me I could “dig around in there” and that he didn’t like the “fluff and rub” kind of massages. True, the spot he pointed to on his neck felt noticeably different than the opposite side of his neck. As I worked into his tissue, I had an almost shaking wave of anger.

This is not my client. This is not my work.

I worked the entire session while breathing through this anger and holding it away from the space I tried to hold for the client.

The second person came in and told me almost right away that she liked a “firm” pressure. As the session went on, it became clear from her feedback that what she meant was wrenchingly deep. And again I felt this wave of anger. And again I spent the session breathing through it, holding it away from the client.

I’ve written in this blog before about how I am not a deep tissue therapist. I have no desire to be a deep tissue therapist. But, since I work sometimes at someone’s else’s business, there is always the chance that I will be assigned a client who wants to “feel the massage” — meaning they want to be sore when they get up off the table.

This has always troubled me. It always felt like this kind of work was not my style, and often was not even effective in the long run. (If someone gets a punishingly deep massage every week for the same pattern of tension, is the massage really working?)

I used to be able to do the work with just a mild sense that I was not at my best, then move on. As I lean into my plans for 2019, I am finding that this is becoming impossible. This next year is forming into a year of clarity, of integrity, of letting go that which does not serve. It started last month with the end of a friendship. It is continuing, apparently, with this visceral reaction to work that feels wrong to me.

It is New Year’s Eve. My new year starts in a few days, when I take a very long plane ride to another country and spend about two weeks all the way outside my comfort zone. I’ll be there when this blog gets published.

In a different country, without the constraints of the familiar, I plan to examine what I mean by working with integrity. Today, two clients gave me a very big clue. I thank them and honor them for that.

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