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.

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