Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2020

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but then you abruptly lift your hands to get ready for the next stroke, rather than completing the stroke all the way into the sacrum. Instead, do the opposite. Think of the end of the stroke as the most important part. Try elongating each stroke for just a couple seconds longer, and you'll give the client that delicious sustained contact they need. Your sustained attention to the end of the stroke will help to sink their own attention into that stroke, into your contact, into their body. Holding and Allowing Nearly every massage stroke consists of pressing your hand (or thumb, or elbow) down into the client's body, but there is another option. Place your hand underneath the client, and let their body sink into your hand. This technique is particularly useful for demanding clients. You are not digging down into their tissue, and therefore you don't risk activating their fight-or-flight response. Instead, you are simply creating a platform for that particular part of their body, holding that part of the body ever so slightly off the table, and allowing that part to soften in its own time, in its own way. Clients often have their longest, largest, most satisfying exhales of the whole session when I use the holding and allowing technique. For people who are often unaware of their own bodies, who have a hard time feeling the specifics of their tissues, this technique is particularly remarkable. You are challenging their proprioception—their sense of where that particular body part is in space—and thus confusing their built-in sense of their body as rigid and fixed. That moment of confusion can become a moment of proprioceptive insight, as that part of the body realizes that it doesn't have to maintain that unconscious pattern of holding. Of course, the client doesn't say any of this aloud. Rather, this is an internal, largely unconscious, process, all in the space of a few exhalations. It is one of the best examples I have found of "letting go"—an idea that we as therapists often invoke, and often push our clients to do, with mixed results. Here, instead, you are creating the literal position for that letting go by elevating that body part ever so slightly on your fingertips and then allowing the client's musculature to let go of their habitual, held position and sink a bit further into your fingertips. See "3 Places to Hold and Allow" on page 76 for ways to use this beautifully simple and surprisingly effective technique. Conclusion Using these tips and techniques, you have the chance to act with compassion rather than frustration, with empathy rather than antagonism. We can forge a new cycle, in which our engaged touch enables the client to become more engaged with their own body. As you contact your client with ease rather than effort, you model a healthier possibility for their own autonomic nervous system—and encourage the decrease in sympathetic nervous system firing and the increase in parasympathetic firing. By enabling your clients to feel more of your touch, you enable them to be more at home and more at ease in their own bodies. But it is also possible that you will make all of these changes—that you will become a wellspring of empathy and offer an abundance of mindful techniques and strategies—and your client will still ask for more pressure. It is possible that you will do everything "right" and your client will still be disappointed. Making peace with this reality is just as important as all the tips and techniques. Because this reality, though disappointing, is essential to our growth as therapists. We will only be truly satisfied therapists—and, I believe, our most effective possible selves—when we accept that we cannot help everybody. Not only can we not help everyone, I believe we cannot fix anyone. We can only facilitate their own ability to heal and accompany that person on their own path toward health and satisfaction. We can perhaps remove a few obstacles on that path. But we cannot carry them through the woods of life. It is hard to accept the limits of our work. After all, we massage therapists have just as much ego as anyone else. It is easy to believe we have the answer. But such is a false and dangerous hope. Because if we continue to believe we can "fix" everyone, there is no way out of that cycle of overwork and frustration. This is an impossible and counterproductive burden. Instead of a fixer, think of yourself as a facilitator. Feel the relief that comes from that shift in perception. The best we can do is listen with attention to our clients, and work with them mindfully. You won't be the answer for every client. But once you accept that, I believe your work will get easier, more satisfying, and more effective. When you accept that some clients will be disappointed, you allow yourself to truly be with each and every client. You allow yourself to do your best work—mindful, attentive, engaged—with every client, and you allow yourself the joy (and occasional frustration) of seeing what emerges. Notes 1. David Lauterstein, "Life in the Bones," Massage & Bodywork, September/October 2019, page 79. 2. Louis Cozolino, "The Triune Brain: Three Brains Attempting to Work as One," Psychotherapy Networker, December 12, 2013, www. psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/48/the- triune-brain-three-brains-attempting-to-work-as. 3. Matthew MacKinnon, "The Science of Slow Deep Breathing: Learn About the Powerful Health Benefits of Slow Deep Breathing," Psychology Today. David M. Lobenstine has been a massage therapist, teacher, and writer for more than a decade. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and Vassar College. He has worked in a variety of settings—from luxury spas to the US Open Tennis Tournament to a hospice to now, exclusively, his own private practice. He teaches in person and online. His aim, with his clients and in his teaching and writing, is to enhance self-awareness, so therapists can do what they love with efficiency and ease. Find him at davidlobenstine@gmail. com and www.bodybrainbreath.com. N e w ! A B M P P o c k e t P a t h o l o g y a t w w w. a b m p . c o m / a b m p - p o c k e t - p a t h o l o g y - a p p . 77

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