The Dao of Massage

People ask me all the time what kind of massage I do. It’s a deceptively simple question – naming off a few massage styles might suffice, but I feel that such a basic answer wouldn’t actually explain much.

I’m trained in certain styles, and I’m knowledgeable enough about others to utilize them regularly. But then there are some that I know next to nothing about in the way of specifics; just the underlying concept is enough to influence my technique. Each different style blends into the other and it’s impossible to tease out any one of them without destroying the subtlety.

But more to the point: the layperson, the typical massage client, doesn’t care about individual modalities. They don’t care if you use myofascial release, Reiki or craniosacral massage; they just want to know if you can get the job done.

You can say, I am a deep tissue massage therapist. But that can’t be all you do. I had a client who initially wanted (and needed) for me to use my elbows, dig as hard as I could into his back and shoulders. After a few sessions, though, we had to step back and take a new approach: his muscles were looser and could no longer tolerate (and would no longer benefit from) the pressure I had been using previously. I needed to adjust my massage technique to meet new demands.

How best to explain it? I think Bruce Lee does a pretty good job to illustrate the philosophy in this 1971 interview:

“you see, actually I do not teach Karate, because I do not believe in styles anymore… I do not believe there is such thing as like Chinese way of fighting or Japanese way of fighting, or whatever way of fighting because… unless a human being has 3 arms and 4 legs, we will have a different form of fighting… so styles tend to not only separate man because they have their own doctrines, and the doctrines became the gospel truth, that you cannot change, you know?  but if you do not have style, if you just say here I am, as a human being, how can I express myself?  totally and completely… That way, you won’t create a style, because style is a crystallization, as opposed to a process of continuing growth…” [emphasis mine]

Sure, Bruce Lee is talking about martial arts, but the concept holds true for massage as well. The most important thing is the ability to flow seamlessly between one style and another, to incorporate techniques from a variety of sources and create a unique, personal massage style.

Technically speaking, this type of massage is known as “integrative massage”. But calling it that gives the image of an established style you can find in a textbook. In fact, no two “integrated” massages are the same. Each therapist brings a different background of knowledge and experience to the massage. Likewise, every client (and even the same client over multiple sessions) brings different needs and goals to the session. The best massage style needs to reflect this continual changing and shifting of skills and priorities.

And with that in mind, I’ll leave you with another Bruce Lee quote:

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash! Be water, my friend.

Massage as water. Something to meditate on, no?

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