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.

Massage Tales, Modalities, Thoughts on the profession

When I’m Not Your Therapist

It happened again.  That moment with a new client where I realized with utter clarity that I am not the right massage therapist for this human.  The moment I knew:  about ten minutes into the massage, when the client said, “You can press harder.  I’m used to lots of pressure.”

I said, “Okay,” and thought, “I am not your therapist.”  Because this client wanted deep tissue, or this thing we often mistakenly call deep tissue.  And I am not a deep tissue therapist.

Don’t misunderstand me — I can (and do) work specifically, effectively, and therapeutically.  What I don’t do particularly well (and don’t care to) is to press REALLY HARD into someone’s tissues.  If that is the kind of bodywork your body wants, then I am definitely not your therapist.

I have a number of theories and twice as many opinions about deep tissue massage and when or whether it is actually necessary or effective.  I am pretty well convinced that the most profound effects come from work that is more gentle, based in finesse and knowledge and listening to the body of the person on the table.  I am also convinced that when a client is able to really be present, to drop fully and completely into their body, it is not necessary to be super aggressive.

There is an excellent (and I hope not cancelled) podcast called Change Agent.  On one of the episodes, the hosts explored the steps necessary to persuade someone to change their mind about something.  It came as no surprise to me that none of those steps involved shouting or force of any kind.  They talked about listening, seeking to understand.  About becoming vulnerable and sharing your own true and relevant experience.

This strikes me to be true for massage as well.  Massage is a conversation.  It is my nervous system (and knowledge and training), speaking to your nervous system (and wisdom and lived experience.)  It is the same with hands as it is with words — shouting is not conversation, it is argument.  Shouting is imposing my (or your) will, and that is just about the last thing I want to do as your massage therapist.

That being said, I am also aware that my particular touch may not feel right for everyone.  Our nervous systems speak different languages, and that’s okay.  I am happy to refer you (or anyone) to a therapist who is fluent in the language of you.

Because the other thing I a fully convinced of (and will write about later): scarcity is a dangerous myth.  Keeping a tight and jealous hold on my domain does not increase my prosperity, it does the opposite.  I am not in business to keep anyone from getting the best massage for their body.  Sometimes, that massage comes from me, and when it doesn’t, I will do what I can to help you find the person you need.