BodyWORKS: So, You Want a Massage?
|by Gregory Myers|
Massage is one of the countrys fastest growing professions, and over the past few years has enjoyed an incredible surge of attention. Yet, when I explain to individuals that I am a Massage Therapist, they often respond with quizzical looks. So, heres an introduction to massage, lets call it Massage 101.
Most states now license or certify massage practitioners. Here in the state of Delaware, we have a two-tiered system. Practitioners with 100 hours of training may become "Certified Massage Technicians." A CMT basically performs massage solely for relaxation purposes (what other purposes are there for massage? Well, well get to those later!). They are not allowed to use the term "therapeutic" in any advertisement. "Licensed Massage Therapist" is the designation for those who have received a minimum of 500 hours of training and have successfully passed the "National Certification Exam." With this more comprehensive training, LMTs are equipped to more successfully deal with clients possessing a variety of issues involving pain and health challenges. Both of these credentials require continuing education in order for the practitioner to be recertified or re-licensed.
The commonly used terms of "masseuse" and "masseur" are rather antiquated, and most practitioners prefer NOT to be called by them. I am often referred to as a masseuse, and I politely mention that I prefer to be referred as a massage therapistand I add, a masseuse refers to a woman practitioner while a masseur refers to a male practitioner. Truth be it known, I actually prefer the term "bodyworker," because I use a variety of techniques, some of which fall out of the scope of the publics general perception of what is construed as "massage," but well talk about that more next issue!
What does massage do? Well, lets look at three basic benefits, then we can view some specifics. Firstrelaxation: Relaxation is probably the number one reason most individuals go to a massage therapist. If youve never had a massage before, you simply dont know what youre missing! During a massage clients will sometimes fall asleepyes, they even snore!and at other times, they will fall into a deep state of altered consciousness, similar to that of meditation. It is here in this altered state that the bodys inner healer takes over, muscular tension is released, and often times, the client will find answers to emotional and even spiritual questions. And think about it, what could be more relaxing than having another person gently kneading all those weary muscles!?
Secondly we have empowerment. One of the tenets of holistic wellness is the issue of empowerment. Often times when confronted by health challenges, we find ourselves in front of a health care professional and we lose (or actually give up) our own sense of power over our own bodies. We simply give in to whatever advice this practitioner tells us our body needs and follow through on that advice. In receiving massage its important to let the practitioner know what it is that YOU want to get out of the session. I will often ask my clients what their goal is for the session. First time clients will usually then make a funny face and say, "Goal? I need to have a goal? I just want to relax." See there, they answered the question! But sometimes theyll say, "well I really want this tension in my shoulders to go away." Or perhaps theyll respond, "I want to feel more grounded and balanced." In each of these cases, I now know what my client wants to receive from the session, and Ill usually offer some ideas as to how we may go about that.
Finally, we have our third effect: Self-awareness. One of the most common responses I receive during a session is a client saying, "WOW! I didnt realize I was so sore there!" Great! Now this client has just brought something new to their consciousnessthey have become more in tune with their own body. In increasing your awareness of the body, you will become better able to manage your own stress. A good massage therapist will offer some ideas as to how you might relieve those tense areas in between your massage sessions, providing some self-massage techniques, visualizations, or perhaps some stretching. Isnt it nice to feel you are in control again? Additionally, during a session I might have the client move muscles in an area Im working. This allows the client to reconnect at a neuromuscular level to their body, and to understand how movement is one of the best aids to relieving muscular tension.
Now, there are the benefits, but how does massage do all that? Basically, massage has two ways of effecting change: mechanically or reflexively. The mechanical effects of massage would include such things as improved venous blood return, improved lymphatic flow, and the stretching of connective tissue and muscular fibers. The reflexive responses involve those responses mediated by the autonomic nervous system or ANS. Now, before you say WHAT IS THAT!? its really quite simple. The ANS is that branch of the nervous system which controls our basic life functions such as heart and respiration rate, the digestive system, and our excretory systemall the functions we take for granted. Through massage and its relaxation response, we restore balance to the ANS, with amazing positive, healthful benefits, including an improved immune system response!
Next time: Energy work: The esoteric forms of bodywork explained in simple language!
Gregory Myers, LMT is a dancer, choreographer and bodyworker. He has a private practice in Rehoboth Beach and is a faculty member of the Baltimore School of Massage.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 8, July 2, 1999