Monday, June 27, 2011

Gagori’s Success Story on the Difference of Being a Skilled Bodyworker Rather Than a Half-Skilled or Unskilled Masseuse

This year in late September, early October, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary as a bodymind therapist, as it was during these same months in 2001 that I participated for the first time in a workshop on the subject.  It has been a rewarding journey ever since, which, although in some respects it evolved as straight as an arrow, also had its share of twists and turns.  Especially the beginning was difficult.  Lack of trust in my abilities was the main challenge, lack of self-confidence.  In an article on bodywork in the leading Indian New Age magazine, I was later quoted describing the difficult beginnings with these words. 

When I started out with my practice as an independent bodymind therapist in Pune, because of certain aspects of the work I still couldn’t think of myself as anything but a masseuse.  As this is not a very respected position in Indian society my success was limited and my clients few.  However, after I had given a few demonstrations of my skills at several orthopedic physicians’ practices and as a result received referrals from them, it finally began to sink in that I am indeed a therapist, not a masseuse, and have extremely valuable services to offer. The techniques that I learned have actually saved people from having to undergo orthopedic surgery.  This changed the picture totally.”

What happened?  What changed not my outlook but my entire path from near failure to success?  Not employment.  I was self-employed.  Not the backing of a larger organization.  I was on my own.  It was my skills, and skills alone.  Skills are important.

They started to outshine, even fully transcend my hesitation when some time after the completion of my first 300-hour course a client came to see me with a neck problem.  He had pulled a nerve, and his physician had suggested an operation to cut the nerve.  However, he wasn’t quite sure if he really wanted the matter taken care of in that way.  He would have preferred a less drastic approach.  Hence, through another contact he was introduced to me.

After only 6 deep tissue/orthopedic muscle-sculpting treatments the patient regained full mobility.  He again could move his neck and arm freely. 

Out of gratitude and proud of his own stubbornness of having avoided minor surgery, he in turn introduced me to the orthopedic physician who had wanted to operate on him.  The physician was impressed, yet not overly so.  When we met, he said that he wanted to throw another challenge my way in order to test me further, so to speak.  As a matter of fact, he sent his wife for treatment with me whom he was unable to assist himself.

The physician’s wife suffered from chronic neck pain, yet no bone deformity or malfunction of the vertebrae was discovered.  The pain was so bad that she had to wear a neck collar, especially while traveling in a car, due to the numerous potholes on Indian roads that make the head jolt. 

She needed more treatments than the first orthopedic client.  As I recall, it took fifteen to twenty sessions before her neck and shoulder muscles were freed of all the tensions stored in them, which had caused the pain (rather than an invisible structural defect).

Once his wife was completely off her protective neck collar, the physician sent all of those of his client’s my way that he himself could not assist.  We also became friends.  The moral of this story is also very simple and straightforward: Without solid knowledge of anatomy and proper therapeutic skills, I would not have been in a position to help these clients.  Without helping them I would not have been able to establish myself as a respected free-lance bodyworker.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Self-Care for the Bodyworker – While Giving a Treatment and by Correct Scheduling

You maintain your car, scooter, or motorcycle by turning it in for servicing, on a regular basis.  You make sure that your house or your apartment is in good repair and looks neat and clean.  You keep up your own appearance in terms of the way you dress and, if you are woman, wear make-up.  In short, you try your best to give a good impression, presenting an ego-image of success.  But what about your own body, your own mind, your inner life, what do you do for them?  In other words, what care are you taking regarding the aspects of your own life that are not in plain sight and, and being somewhat irrelevant for your outer ego-image, not always obvious to others, especially when you are in the business of working with others?  What kind of care are you taking for yourself when you are a physical therapist performing x-amount of massages per day and week?  The question is, what are you doing for yourself, bodyworker – beyond earning a fee or making a regular salary?

These are important issues.  The way you respond to them and finally deal with them will determine your long-term success as a therapist, as giving the wrong answers infers that sooner or later you will be unable to fulfill the demands your profession makes on you, specifically on your body.  If you do not take care of yourself properly two things will happen: First, you will be less effective in your work.  Your massages will not be as good and as pleasant for the client as they will be, if you do the right thing.  Second, you will injure yourself.  And in some cases the damage that you cause to yourself, will be permanent.   

Naturally here, in this post, we cannot answer these questions in all their ramifications in one big sweep, as there are to many facets, too many factors involved.  But we can at least make a start.  For example, we can talk about the physical aspects of self-care.  There are three aspects to good self-care, connected to the treatment itself, which are going to be in our spotlight – as they should be in yours:

  1. Before the treatment starts
  2. During the treatment
  3. After the treatment, by appropriate resting periods & correct scheduling

About self-care through exercise and by keeping your energy up, we will write another time.

In a way, these considerations regarding point 1-3 are self-evident for anyone who thinks logically.  They are simply this – before you start a treatment, make sure:
  • That your nails are clipped short so that they cannot be seen when the hands are held with the palm toward your face
  • That you have taken off all jewelry from the hand and wrist, like rings or bracelets, as their presence will inevitably distract you and the client, or might even cause minor injuries, like scratches
  • That you have washed your hands with a disinfectant soap
  • That your hands are warm and dry
  • That you energize and relax your hands and allow your wrists to become more flexible for a few moments, before you meet the client (there are several exercises for this) and proceed with the treatment

During the treatment, there are, again, several points that you absolutely would want to observe, for the sake of your own health, as well as for the sake of the client’s comfort; these two aspects, if not one and the same are at least closely interconnected, even if they don’t appear to be – your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your client. You may actually have been falsely taught that you need to look out for and serve the client first, sometimes disregarding your own body.  But how could this work?  It cannot.  The treatment first moves your body and you move your body with it; then it extends outward to and touches the client.  So, if any flaw, mistake, stress of even injury occurs at your end, it will inevitably occur for the client, although in a different manner.  To prevent this from happening you would want to:

  • Maintain proper posture throughout the treatment.  Martial arts stances are very effective when giving massage (see post: 

    'T’ai Chi Movements as a Useful Tool for Bodywork', May 28, 2011).  They help take the strain off your back, as you move from your body’s center of gravity and use the strength of your legs, instead of muscle power from the shoulders and arms.  You simply have more leverage (which is why massage should be taught together with a practical introduction to the basic Tai Chi movements and breathing).

  • Adjust to the correct height depending on how tall or small you are.  Should the table be set too high or low, such will cause poor body mechanics and put undue stress on you.
  • As much as you can, minimize the strain on fingers (especially thumbs) and wrists.  Whenever possible use your elbow instead.
  • Give yourself a break whenever possible even in the course of a treatment.  For example, you may sit on a chair or stool while treating the head, the hands and the feet.  A hydraulic massage table is best for this, as you can move it up and down without a fuss.  Your body will thank you for these measures.  They minimize the strain and help preserve the energy that you may need for the next client, or for the next day.
  • In the course of a treatment use stressful and less stressful techniques intermittently.

After the massage is before the massage, because if you are a professional, inevitably there will be another session coming up soon.  So, what do you need to do after you have just completed working on the body of a client?

  • Immediately after the treatment, your hands may feel hot and full of energy.  In order to neutralize this let cold water run over your hands after you washed them.  Then dry them well and keep them warm.
  • You also need to have a break.  Give yourself 15-20 minutes before you go and see the next client.  Depending on your inclination you may want to socialize for a while and talk to someone. Or if you are the more introspective type you may prefer to stay by yourself; rest to regain the strength that you have just lost.  In the first case, make sure that in the last five minutes before you meet your next client, you again consciously relax the entire body, especially the hands and wrists.
  • After you have served three clients in a row, with short breaks in between, you definitely would want to take a 30- to 60-minute for a more complete recharge of your batteries.  The appointments should be scheduled accordingly.

Of course, there is much more to the issue of the bodyworker’s self-care.  We will explore them later.  But it was important to address the obvious aspects first.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Aspects of Deep Tissue Bodywork Part II – Fascia: Structure, Function & Mobility

In the previous post, we underscored the importance of a clear understanding of muscle anatomy and function for a deep tissue therapist.  You would want such understanding then also to include the connective tissue, which permeates the entire physical structure from the level of the different muscles and muscle groups to the level of the cell.

The connective tissue is the binding, containing and shape-giving fibrous tissue of the body.  It provides the skin its tensile strength and adheres it firmly to the underlying structures.  The fibrous mesh of connective tissue not only divides various organs and tissues into separate compartments but also binds them together to form complex systems.  Various systems then are connected to each other to form the organism as a whole.  Connective tissue including the fascia is an all-pervasive primary material of the body, responsible for harmonious and controlled movement of all the body parts.

In relation to orthopedic muscle sculpting, the part of connective tissue, which is of relevance here, is the superficial and deep fascial layer.

Fascia develops from mesoderm (one of the three dermal layers in an embryo), the layer, which also forms muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, cartilage and tendons. Of all of them, the fascia is the least differentiated structure. The superficial layer of the fascia lies just below the skin along the entire surface area of the body. This layer is important for organizing the body and maintaining the skin’s tone. Being one continuous sheath, chronic tension and scarring which reduce the flexibility of the fascia at any point, will be reflected in changes all through the structure much like a balloon if pinched in one place, the shortening is reflected in changes throughout the surface.

The deep layer of fascia is dense, tough, bluish-white fibrous tissue devoid of fat. This layer of fascia surrounds the muscle bundles, each muscle as well as each muscle fiber. The fascial coverings of each of them are continuous with those surrounding the neighboring muscle fibers. The fascial sheaths at the ends of these muscle bundles collect together and form the tendons, which in turn get attached to the bones. This network of connective tissue fascia extends, as fibrous support, up to the cellular level and in fact according to recent research up to the level of cell nuclei.

Through this extensive network of connective tissue, everything in our bodies is connected to everything else. Minor tension in any portion of the network will affect the distribution of the tension throughout the network. Long lines of the fascia work together. For example, shortening in a long muscle in the thigh will pull in long lines down the fascial sheets and affect muscular alignment below the knee and into the foot. The deep fascia, as a result of this chronic tension then thickens and loses its flexibility. If the reason of chronic tension is skeletal mal-alignment, the fascia can harden like a bone in order to provide support much like a splint. Thus fascia possesses a unique ability to mould itself according to the body’s way of handling gravity. This very special gel-like quality of the fascia is called Thixotropy. It becomes more fluid and flexible when it is stirred up like while doing physical activity or aerobic exercise, or stretches; and it gets solidified and contracts when sits without being disturbed as in a case of paralysis or mal-aligned posture leading to stiffness and inflexibility.

It is this property of fascia, which makes it accessible to orthopedic muscle sculpting. When a body part loses some degree of movement and vitality through trauma or disease, it might not be possible to keep the connective tissue warm and resilient through vigor and activity. In such cases, deep tissue manipulation by a skilled therapist can provide a pleasant and extremely effective means of re-introducing freer movements and flow of energy through the connective tissue framework. Deep tissue manipulation of deep fascia can literally raise the level of mechanical activity in a weak limb thus raising the metabolic rate and restoring the fluidity of the fascia.

Nothing chemical or structural needs to be added or subtracted from the body. By means of skillful manipulative pressure and stretching, the temperature and energy levels of the body part can be raised slightly. This warmth promotes a more fluid, gel-like, ground substance, in which nutrients and cellular wastes can conduct exchanges efficiently. The fluidity decreases the pain and increases the range of movement in stiff and painful parts of the body.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Aspects of Deep Tissue Bodywork Part I – Muscle: Anatomy, Function, Fatigue & Release

There are soothing and pampering, or ‘feel-good’ forms of bodywork with secondary therapeutic effects – and there are treatment modalities where the therapeutic effect is of primary concern.  Deep tissue sessions definitely fall into the latter category. 

Sometimes the literature also refers to them as orthopedic muscle sculpting a term, which in itself highlights the two important factors involved in these treatments: precision and structure.  The therapist takes on the role of a sculptor who with precision aims to help the client’s muscles regain their ideal shape (irrespective of size) and placement, by tracing them with deep strokes and pinpointing tense spots.  This process, when applied skillfully, and, again, with precision, can be so effective that it will have an orthopedic effect: In other words, it can restore the correct function of the skeletal system, its articulations and associated structures.  For the one receiving a series of such treatments, this is a deeply healing experience and most often in terms of the actual result, surpasses the effects of the prescriptions from an orthopedic physician, or the ministrations of mechanically oriented physiotherapist.

So, in case you are a therapist, you may ask yourself, what do I need to do in order to achieve such results?  What do I need to know?  What skills would I want to have at my command?  You require three things: Knowledge, experience and sensitivity, or awareness.  Knowledge is the basis, in this case sound anatomical knowledge of muscles, fascia, bone, nervous system, emotions – and their interplay.  Experience refers to technical precision in terms of strokes and point holding, learned from the ground up and refined over time.  Whereas the sensitivity required, is of a two-fold nature: you need to be aware enough to listen to and pick up on the signals given by the client’s body in reaction as the treatment progresses and by your own body, in order to not to tire and in order to let the treatment unfold naturally, like water flowing over rocks in a steady pace.

Yet again: knowledge is the basis.  Which is why the first two posts in this multi-part series on deep tissue treatments are dedicated to deepen the understanding of the anatomy, function as well as frequent malfunction of especially muscles and connective tissue, or fascia.  As a therapist you would not only want to know where and how each muscle is attached to one bone and inserted into another.  You also would want to understand how muscles work, what gives them energy,how they tire, as well as you would want to understand the results of muscle fatigue and its impact on fascia and bone structure.  Such knowledge will greatly help you in your practice, because it makes you get a grasp the physiological and psychological effects of your treatment.  On its foundation you are in a position to fine-tune your treatments, thus giving them greater precision for even better results.

A healthily sustained and exercised body is mostly muscle.  It is this most obvious bulk that we feel with various strokes, pressures and stretches during a deep tissue session.  And these muscles have more than only a motor function in the sense that they allow the body to move.  In them memories are stored, good and bad, including physiological and psychological traumas like accidents and moments of defeat, extreme inner pain and helplessness.  Most of the ailments associated with habitual posture, everyday stresses and emotional holdings are represented in the muscles as aches, stiffness, soreness, tension, spasms, cramps, tiredness etc.

For example, for more than 80% of the cases of low backache and cervical spondylosis (a very common diagnosis here in India), no radiological or biochemical abnormality is found. Such cases are also usually reluctant to effective cure with conventional medicine.  Although analgesics and muscle relaxants can provide temporary relief in a few cases, the effect usually lasts only as long as the drug is ingested on a regular basis.  If one searches for the cause outside the usually assumed culprits, that is bones and ligaments, the search would inevitably lead one to discover that the so called “unknown cause” for the pain and discomfort in back and neck can be found in the chronic muscle spasms in these very areas.

Muscles are by far the most metabolically active organ in the body.  They burn a tremendous amount of energy.  The working muscle’s need for replenished ATP (Adeno-Tri-Phosphate) is in fact so great that during any given day, the body will produce ATP in an amount equal to its weight.  As the cells’ main fuel produced in the mitochondria, Adeno-Tri-Phosphate or ATP is crucial to three separate phases of the contractile process inside the muscle cells.  Which is one of the reasons why, if you weigh 65 Kgs, your body will need to produce 65 Kgs of ATP every day for you to stay alive.  This need for ATP is fulfilled by aerobic glycolysis and Kreb’s cycle i.e. by burning of glucose in the presence of oxygen to produce ATP, as well as CO2 and H2O along with it. The whole ATP-production process thus needs a constant supply of sufficient amount of oxygen, the requirement of which is especially high during high levels of work in the muscle cells. 

Now you may ask, why go into all this science mumbo-jumbo?  Because roughly and very unscientifically speaking, deep tissue treatments increase the oxygen flow in the muscles, thus helping the body to produce more ATP.  Which, in turn, is why after a good deep tissue treatment a client feels more alive, more completely embodied.

When the work by the muscle cells exceeds the energy input and oxygen supply, muscle cells shift partly to anaerobic glycolysis, producing large amounts of lactic acid and other toxic metabolites as waste.  It is probably the irritation of the muscle tissues and nerve fibers that produces the typical soreness in muscles, which have exerted beyond their aerobic capabilities.

Within the general parameters of normal human activities, this is a natural phenomenon. When the lactic acid levels reach a certain threshold, normally the brain sends a signal to stop any further exertion. Once the workload on the muscles is decreased, accumulated lactic acid and other wastes are slowly washed away through blood stream and a fresh supply of oxygen is restored.

However, in today’s fast paced life, no one has the time to pause for a moment and listen to one’s own body’s needs.  There is not sufficient time for rest and relaxation.  Increasing responsibilities, the competitive spirit, the ‘always-in-a-hurry’ attitude all take their toll on the body.  The constant abuse gets stored in the body as chronic tension in muscles and fascia, especially around the knees and ankles, in the shoulders and in the neck, as well as in the lower back.  The continuous state of tension in these areas leads to an increasing build-up of lactic acid in the muscle cells.  Lactic acid over time gets crystallized forming “knots” in the muscles.  These knots keep on growing in size pulling muscle fibers and fascia along the long lines of tension.  Both crystals of lactic acid and muscle pull irritate the adjacent nerve fibers leading to backache, cervical spondylosis, arthritic pain of the knee join, and so forth.

The fact that in most such cases, no abnormality is found radiologically, in itself serves as proof that hardened muscles, not bones and ligaments, are a major cause most musculoskeletal problems.

Only a skillful manipulation of the soft tissues (muscles and fascia), by a knowledgeable therapist can, through deep tissue treatments, help release crystallized lactic acid and restore suppleness in the muscles.  Drugs cannot solve the problem.  Because drugs do not help the body produce the ATP the body needs.  Only gentle exercise and ample amount of moving the body, as well as deep tissue treatments on hardened muscles can achieve that. 

In other words, deep tissue treatments work because they fulfill a physiological need and correspond to the body’s own logic.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Potential Effects of Bodywork/Massage on the Bodymind-Continuum – According to Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques

Gagori says that when she learned bodywork in the context of the 4-modul Taosomatics program, Frances Tappan’s book on healing massage techniques had been required reading.  We quote from it today to give a brief overview of the benefits of bodywork on the different and interacting system of the bodymind.  This is a general overview taking all possible techniques into account, without differentiating between the specific impacts of the different techniques.

“The literature will often refer in general to the “effects” of massage, but it must be noted that different techniques of soft tissue manipulation and joint movement have different effects.  For example, a light sliding effleurage usually has a relaxing effect.  Tapotement has a stimulating effect if received for a short time and may have a sedating effect if received for a longer period of time.  Practitioners choose specific techniques to obtain specific effects and need to know what those are for effective application.”

Body System/
Mental & Emotional Aspect

Integumentary System, Pertaining to the Skin

Stimulate sensory receptors in skin
Increase superficial circulation
Remove dead skin
Add moisture with oil or lotion
Increase sebaceous gland excretions

Connective Tissue/ Fascia

Improve pliability of fascia
Separate tissues

Circulatory System

Increase local circulation
Enhance venous return
Reduce blood pressure and heart rate with regular relaxation massage

Muscular System

“Milk” metabolic wastes into venous & lymph flow
Relax muscles in general & specifically with specific intention
Relieve myofascial trigger points

Skeletal System

Increased joint mobility & flexibility

Nervous System

Stimulates parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation)
Reduces pain (neural gating mechanism)
Increases body awareness

Endocrine System

Release of endorphins (also involves nervous system)

Immune System

Increases lymphatic flow
Improves immune function via stress reduction

Digestive System

Movement of contents of the large intestines
Better digestion with relaxation


Increased mental clarity


Reduced anxiety
General feeling of wellbeing
Release of unexpressed emotions

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bodywork Training on Paradise Island - Memories of Mauritius

Hi, this is Choyin, speaking… while I am actually writing.  I contribute a lot of the posts to this blog, and so far it has been a pleasure for me, albeit mostly serious stuff.  I hear you, really, I do.  No one can stand too much of that.  Too much of a good thing always turns into a bad thing.  Seriousness can become ridiculous, and quickly.  So today, we take off instead: to a Paradise island, or down memory lane.  Which will depend on how you look at it, or I look at it, because it is my story – about a trip quite a few years ago that was mostly dedicated to teaching bodywork and Tibetan yoga with my then partner Paula Horan in Mauritius. 

Now again, teaching is likewise a serious topic, and so is Tibetan yoga.  Mostly, these two are taken much too seriously and in the wrong way, especially in India, or worldwide by those who consider themselves “teachers”.  Too bad for this country that so far there seem to have been only “Three Idiots” rebelling against it. How about 30 Million?  Or 300 Million?  Then teaching and yoga might become what they by nature are:  easy, relaxing, spontaneous, lightly & mildly enlightening.  You know the stuff they call ‘fun’.  Not my favorite word because it IS over-used, and sooo shallow; saying nothing really, other than that I pretend to myself that I am not bored.  But then, yeah, life can be fun – and so can teaching; especially on a Paradise island.

There were three courses, a 2-weeker privately organized, a 4-day introduction into Siddha Marama massage for the staff at the Mauritius Hilton in Wolmar, and of course, a 5-day NadiPrana or Tibetan yoga retreat, plus all the other stuff that Paula used to do and still does, like Reiki.  As a matter of fact, the courses came in reverse order, the NadiPrana retreat first. 

It does not really matter where you do such a retreat.  Paradise Island or not: you turn inward.  You become silent.  Not in order to transform into a deaf, dumb or mute (no speaking allowed during the retreat), but in order to hear, and see, and smell, and taste and touch even better, more fully.  Silently focusing on what is happening through letting your body and breath move you will inevitably imbue you with immeasurable fullness.  During the retreat you don’t venture out further than the porch from your room, or the dining area and the practice hall.  But on that porch you can have it all: the evening clouds and the sunsets much more vivid than in a 3-D movie, because here everything is unfathomably ‘real’.  It involves the concert of all the senses, not just the eyes.  You can also re-discover all the things you don’t usually look at because you take them for granted, like the dessert pudding on your plate, or the deep red of your cranberry tea.  And then you breathe.  Sure, you always do that.  Otherwise you’d drop dead.  But do you feel it?  Do you very once in a while in the day or at night feel your breath?  Breath is flowing in and out, so nice and easy, no big deal.  But in the ‘no-big-dealness’, every once in a while comes a great revelation… which then also quickly disappears, thank God.  We don’t want to have anything too great hanging over our heads and block our vision, do we?  To sum it up, the NadiPrana retreat on Mauritius was outwardly uneventful.  And that is a good thing.  Two of the bodyworkers who would later join the 2-week program, also took part.  They said they could not believe how different it felt to touch after that.  How rich and immediate, no thoughts or ego in-between.  Way to go, for a good massage: rich and immediate.

At the Hilton, they were looking at us guardedly, at first.  Who are these two people who want to teach us?  One American and one German, but living in India?  All the split-personality stuff briefly came up that goes on in the three ring circus of the corporate world, actually anywhere in the world where ambition comes into play:  the “I-am-already-in-and-I-belong” superiority feeling, versus the nagging undercurrent of doubt: “Am I really good enough?”; “Could he or she bring my weak points out for all to see?”  The best approach to deal with that is, not to deal with that: to ignore it and get on with the program.  Anyway, these were genuinely beautiful people, one of them very well trained with a degree from a physiotherapy school in London, the others in-house trained only.  We enjoyed their curiosity and their willingness to drop the guard every session a little more, all of them.  Their most meaningful discovery, however, was not in the new techniques that we introduced to them, their greatest discovery was, to experience and feel how much the stance or posture that the therapist takes during the treatment, changes the quality of experience for therapist and client alike.  Four days is not a long time.  Not much can be achieved.  But, to really understand posture, is indeed a big achievement – not only for a massage therapist – but also for the human being whose job happens to be that of a massage therapist.  And for those who are curious about the results of the endeavor: yes, they all were able to deliver well-paced, naturally flowing and invigorating siddha marma treatments after four 10-hour days of training.

The last event was the 2-week training in basic bodywork (Swedish, Easlen & Deep Tissue), and it unfolded the same as all the other bodywork intensives that we taught together over the years: exciting and challenging.  What else if not intensity can be the order of the day, when you bring a dozen people from different corners of the earth together, lock them in one place (except for the swimming breaks in the afternoon) for 15 days and ask them to work together from 6:00 Am to 10:00 PM? 

One thing was different though, the get-together in the evening after the closing session.  Mauritians love plenty of good and varied food.  They are generous and they know how to throw a party.  They are a very lovely people, most of them of either African or Indian origin.  And they speak French, or Creole among themselves (English more for business).  Can you imagine how much the liveliness inherent in speaking French or Creole would loosen up the usually more rigid facial structures of people from India?  Just plain wonderful to see.  And refreshing to be with. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Elements That Need to Come Together for a Satisfying Hands-On Bodywork Session

This is going to be written from the client’s point of view. The reason being that client feedback is often the most insightful tool for the therapist to evaluate his or her performance.  However, the client also needs to be educated in the sense that he can differentiate between a bad and a good treatment.  In other words, the client needs to be comfortable and at ease with his or her body.  He does not need to be able to name all the muscles touched in the treatment, but he needs to be able to really feel and appreciate the strokes, plus his body’s as well as the mind’s reaction, down to the more subtle emotional and energy ripples that are being triggered.  I have received my share of bad massages, but fortunately in the majority of cases: excellent and highly satisfying treatments.  So what makes the difference between a bad and a good massage?

To address one important issue up-front: It is not the price tag.  The most expensive treatments in the most expensive spas can turn out to be highly disappointing.  A non-committed, only partially trained therapist doing his or her job as a routine, or even a committed and well-trained one being forced to deliver one massage too many on his or her shift, these two factors are most often the reason for lack of quality in the treatments given at a 5-star spa.  Now, I am not saying that all treatments at all high-end spas lack in therapeutic authenticity.  But some clearly do.   Interiors and ambiance cannot compensate for such lack.  Interiors may be pleasing to the eye.  Expensive fragrances and high quality aromatic oils may help the client’s mind to settle in the present moment, open and ready to receive what is about to happen.  But then it comes down to the ‘show-me-the-money’ part, which in this case translates into: “Show me what you can do, prove it in the touch and the natural flow of the treatment.” 

For the sake of easier readability, let us break down the ‘touch-and-natural flow-mystery’ into the components that make up this natural flow, and the sense of appropriateness in the touch.  Mainly, there are eight aspects or elements:

  1. Clarity of Intention: When being treated I need to have the sense that the therapist is going about his or her work with a clearly defined purpose.  He or she needs to exude confidence.  Which also shows in posture and body language, as well as in the choice of words and tone of voice in the way he or she introduces him- or herself, and explains the treatment to be given.  Smiles, especially when perfunctory, are not as important as good posture and a sense of dignity that the therapist may exude.  Usually a therapist’s good posture and sense of dignity translate into his or her ability to achieve the goals that he or she is working to achieve through the treatment.  Smiles, although nice to look at, have no power.  However, true and heartfelt smiles are a wonderful gift.  We all love and welcome them.
  2. Appropriateness and Correctness of Technique: Not all techniques are appropriate for all clients, at all times. Furthermore, within a given technique a range of variations is possible with respect to my present physical and emotional state as a client.  I expect the therapist to make a quick gut-level decision of what is appropriate and then execute it correctly, in the sense that it corresponds to my body’s and mind’s present state as much as it fulfills the requirements of the treatment protocol. However, with the clarity of intention on the part of the therapist discussed above, appropriateness and correctness of technique very often just fall into place.  Sounds too complicated?  Well, it isn’t.  “Different folks need different strokes”, as the saying goes. Or the same strokes delivered differently.  When you are clear, you automatically do the right thing.
  3. Sensitivity and Quality of Touch: Most of the different strokes can be delivered at different depths.  They can go so deep as to touch the bone.  Or they can be delivered lightly, so lightly as a matter of fact that they just touch the aura, without any actual contact with the body.  I want the therapist to have the sense how deep he can go or how light he needs to keep everything, with any particular stroke.
  4. Responsiveness to Client’s Needs:  Sometimes, in the course of a treatment I have the feeling, that the back of my legs; or the muscles along the spine; or the chest, need more attention than other areas.  I am happy when the therapist can read these needs.  Sometimes I wish to communicate by talking or even bantering a bit during a massage.  Sometimes I want to remain silent.  I am content when the therapist can discern the respective signals.  And so forth.  We are all sending out unspoken messages all the time.  A good therapist needs to pick up on them and act accordingly.
  5. Ability to Focus Energy and Concentrate on Intention:  In short, I want my therapist to be aware and alert with all the stretches and moves that he or she is applying.  He or she needs to ‘be here now’, not daydreaming, not thinking of other things, and just going through the motions, without dedication or spirit.  I perceive lack of awareness on the part of the therapist as an insult to me, as a client and as a human being.  A therapist’s lack of awareness closes me energetically and emotionally.  It totally defies the purpose of any bodywork treatment.  Therefore, the therapist needs to focus his or her energy in a relaxed manner and concentrate on what he or she is doing in the moment.
  6. Timing and Flow of Work:  All treatment protocols comprise a number of segments.  In most cases, the body parts that need to be treated define these different segments: Face, anterior arms and legs, chest belly, neck, shoulders, posterior arms and legs, back and buttocks.  The sequence varies depending on the treatment style or on the therapist’s intuition.  Timing and flow of work simply means that treating one part flows naturally into treating the next so that the treatment feels like a organic whole.  Also: that there is no rush at the end to squeeze in a few more strokes because the book says so.  
  7. Ability to Utilize Anatomical Knowledge: Nothing is as disappointing as being treated by someone who does not know much of anything about the human body, for example has no clue as to where a muscle is attached or begins and where it is inserted into the bone.  Treatments conducted without any or with insufficient knowledge of anatomy necessarily lack precision.  They are painful to endure.  Unfortunately, at least in India, there are still therapists working even in expensive spas who lack anatomical precision.  When you encounter someone like that, ask for your money back.
  8. Use of Efficient Posture and Breathing: Bodywork is hard work.  It can even be backbreaking work.  Many therapists have injured themselves while unskillfully treating others.  Only awareness of posture and breathing can prevent these injuries from happening.  Likewise, from the vantage of the client, a therapist who lacks awareness of posture and breathing cannot deliver a good treatment.  His or her movements will lack both elegance and strength.  Without coordination with the breath, movements cannot have elegance.  Without good posture there is no strength in the movements because they do not originate in the therapist’s center of gravity.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gagori Mitra-Gupta on Her Experience with the Tibetan Yoga of NadiPrana and Its Impact on Her Work as a Therapist

When I wrote this short piece to be published in LifePositive the Indian magazine for holistic living several years ago, I could not anticipate that whatever I was about to commit to paper would be proven even more true many times over in the years to come than it had been back then.  As a matter of fact, the practice of the Tibetan yoga of NadiPrana has kept and continues to keep me at peace with myself and relaxed in the face of mounting challenges and growing work-related stress.  I would not want to miss this aspect from my life - ever again. 

"I t was my teacher Choyin Dorje who initiated me into NadiPrana in the course of my introduction to my chosen profession as a bodyworker or bodymind therapist. (Even today, I do not like the word massage therapist because it has a false ring to it, as it gives rise to misleading associations.)  For me, working with Tibetan yoga has been a voyage of unending self-discovery.  From the correction of a bad posture and relief from backache, to greater self-esteem and a sense of peace and groundedness even in the unavoidable turbulences of my everyday life – the journey of NadiPrana keeps unfolding…  It is so encompassing, it even teaches me to have compassion with my moments of despair and self-pity and all the other things I have been conditioned not to like about myself.  Although I often still take myself far too seriously, in the years that have passed since this first encounter with the practices, I have been able to see the humor in certain situations instead of the “tragedy”.  For all of us, this is a big step."  

"The proof in the pudding is always in the eating – the proof of a spiritual path is always in walking the talk.  It all comes down to the ability, “to let come whatever comes and to let go whatever goes”.   The energy flow stimulated by the NadiPrana exercises has helped me to experience freedom from grasping, at least occasionally.  This also supports me in my other work with my clients as a bodymind therapist and orthopedic muscle specialist.  If I feel essentially free from my own load imagined or real, I am in a much better position to help my clients shed their physical or psychological burden."

"NadiPrana is an emerging yoga of healing.  It has roots and links with the glorious past of Siddha practice in ancient India, which later was transmitted into Tibet where it flourished in mountain hermitages for centuries.  It also encompasses elements of energy circulation and other practices from Chinese Taoist yoga.  Because in its present form the system is a modern day creation, it is taught in public mainly from the bodymind therapy approach of energy balancing, integration of resisted emotions and feelings, relaxation and overall stress release.  In all areas of life it provides for clarity and a sense of ease and greater vitality." 

"NadiPrana does not teach us to suppress the senses, but instead fine-tunes the senses to the degree that they open up and bypass their purported limits.  Freedom is always inherent in them, once we are able to notice.  It is not the senses that have us fettered to painful illusions, it is the tight grasp the mind keeps on them, which causes us to identify and suffer."  

"NadiPrana’s main aim is to quickly inspire and engender in the practitioner a direct experience of the vibrant reality of the different sheaths of the energy body.  Its purpose is to gently melt the grasping mind, which permeates the physical structure.  NadiPrana skillfully reaches this goal and will take a slightly different route for each and every individual who engages in its practice.  In NadiPrana several seeming opposites reveal themselves not to be opposites.  For example, we may discover that when we let go of our ego through feeling whatever arises in the moment.  Also our sense of personal sovereignty unexpectedly increases, although the sense of an aggressively defensive ego has actually dissolved.  We may also come to realize that we can enjoy every aspect of our lives, and yet remain free from bondage."