Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2016

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BUT IN THAT DEVOTION IS OUR DOWNFALL. When we are too focused on all that muscle and fascia lying on our table, and too determined to fix it, we lose sight of a more delicate aspect of who we are. I don't mean the ineffable spirit or soul of our clients. I mean something far more humble—an essential ingredient of every moment, for every one of us, an essential aspect of life that is both surprisingly palpable and surprisingly ignored: our breath. We all know breathing is important: we tell someone to "take a deep breath" when they are upset; we talk about how we're going to start meditating; we always intend to go to yoga more often than we do. But even as we recognize the value of breathing, we often miss the great opportunity of our profession: every time we begin a session, the breath is waiting for us. I believe attending to the breath—both your own and your clients'—will make you a more effective and more satisfied therapist. And though they likely won't be able to articulate exactly why, your clients will find their sessions more beneficial. The breath, quite simply, is the great connector—and often the missing link—in our work. Working with the breath as you massage is useful for many reasons, but the simplest is this: finding your body's own natural breath—full, slow, effortless—offers many of the same benefits as a great massage. Finding that breath while you receive a massage—and while you are giving a massage— only makes the work that much more wonderful. A full breath is a visceral—and continual— manifestation of what we want to give the client (and, I believe, what we too often try to force onto our clients): that state of effortless relaxation, those delicious moments where you can feel tightness and tension releasing. When we are aware of the client's breath, we can more effectively engage the client's physical body; but perhaps more important, we can engage his or her autonomic nervous system. In particular, the breath that is full and easy deactivates the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response so many of us are unknowingly stuck in) and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest state that is key for our health and healing). What is good for the client is good for us, as well. When we work with an awareness of our clients' breath, we can't help but be more aware of our own breath, and our own nervous system reaps the same benefits. By contrast, when we remain oblivious to the breath, we limit what we are able to do with our clients, and we remain vulnerable to burnout. Let's change that. Noticing the Breath The other day, a new client emerged from my treatment room and said, "That was great! I never breathe during a massage." Her remark was more incisive than she realized, revealing her disconnection from, and obliviousness to, what is happening every minute inside of her own body. After a decade of massaging and teaching, I think the same is true of most of us therapists. We are so eager to do a good job, so eager to help and to heal, that all too often we "never breathe" while we work. As a result, we miss out on a profound therapeutic tool and we diminish our career longevity. Assessing the Breath Like the best things in life, using the breath in your sessions—what I call "massaging with the breath"—is quite simple, but grows in complexity and satisfaction the more you practice. Working with the breath means simply noticing how the client is (and is not) breathing, and then using all of the great techniques you already know—plus a few adjustments and a few verbal suggestions—to guide him or her toward a more effortless breath. The most fundamental shift we must make is to let the client's body guide our work. We often believe we have to work hard in order to make a difference, and thus we often try to force the client's body to change in the way we think is best. Attending to the breath reveals that trying to fix a client is counterproductive; our clients grow more, in beautiful and unexpected ways, when we 76 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a y / j u n e 2 0 1 6

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