Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bodywork? Is It Any Different from ‘Massage’? – A Choice of Words That Defines What We Do

At present, much of our work at Aithein is spa focused.  Usually, people visit spas to receive massages, and a variety of other kinds of spa treatments.  Most everybody working in the industry, as well as most young women and men who aspire to become spa therapists in India and South Asia may not have even heard the word, let alone can associate any content with the term ‘bodywork’.  Why then, do we use it?

We use it, in order to broaden horizons, to include other forms of physical therapy in our presentations, and to provide a shift in focus.  We use it because we want to make it a point that ours is a professional therapeutic approach, covering the full spectrum of manipulative and movement therapies.  The word ‘massage’ would be too narrow to cover all of these, whereas the term ‘physiotherapy’ has too medical and clinical a ring to it, to evoke the rich, even limitless inner landscape of healing and emotional balance that good bodywork can facilitate. 

In 1987, Deane Juhan wrote a handbook for bodywork that became a classic in the field, which by now also is required reading in many certification programs in massage or bodywork schools in the US. In the introductory matter to his 500 page whopper of a text he explains, why he uses the term bodywork, rather than ‘massage’ or ‘physiotherapy’, “Throughout the book I will use the term ‘bodywork’ to refer generally to a wide variety of manipulative therapies… The word ‘massage’ covers a number of styles – Swedish, Esalen, Sports Massage and so on; but it does not include many approaches, such as Trager, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Craniosacral Manipulation, Zero-Balancing, Reichean, and Neo-Reichean work, to name but a few, which are quite different from ‘massage’ in any of its guises. And the term ‘massage’, alas, still seems to be tainted in many quarters by its common associations with touchy-feely parlors… The term ‘physical therapy’, or ‘physiotherapy’ avoids these associations, but it is also too narrow in the scope of its normal usage. It refers to an official medical discipline,… prescribed only by physicians, and applied through fixed procedures… In particular ‘physiotherapy’, typically eliminates a good deal of the intuitive element, which seems to be such an important of other approaches, and which in fact many physical therapists have confessed to me that they wish they could use more freely in their clinical practice.  So I have settled upon the term bodywork because it seems to include fewer of the elements I wish to avoid and exclude few of the elements which I wish to consider.”

This describes almost all of it, except for the one meaning that all practicing bodyworkers/massage therapists also know, and only too well from everyday experience: for the serious professional practitioner bodywork is hard work, no matter how rewarding it also may be.

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