Massage as Conversation

What is touch?

Not a hard question: touch is one of those five senses we’ve all learned about. But it’s different than the others: unlike the remaining four, this one is more than just a sense – it’s also an interaction. When humans touch, it’s never a passive thing. You can see someone without being seen; hear someone without personally being heard. But you can’t touch without also being felt.

But let’s put aside semantics for now. On a larger scale, this means that every touch involves two active players. Touch – and more to the point, massage – is made up of one initial action and an infinite series of reactions. I touch the muscle; the muscle reacts; my hands respond to that reaction. And so on.

Let’s say I’m massaging a client’s back. I touch the muscles parallel to the spine; they’re tight, taut like a rope. I press a little harder with my fingertips, but the muscles resist. That conversation is going nowhere. So I start a new one: I move my hands gently over the back, warming up the skin and gliding, slowly sinking into the muscles. This time, they don’t push back so much. So I keep the conversation going, gauging the muscle’s response before I respond in turn. If I apply too much pressure, the muscles tighten again and the conversation stops. If I apply too little, I might as well not be listening at all.

The conversation is touch-based, sure, but there’s also an audible component – the client’s conscious reaction. One of the biggest tells is breathing. Sudden slow, deep breaths usually mean I’ve found a troublesome muscle. Other reactions, such as flinching or even saying something (such as “ooh, that’s the spot” or “what the heck is that?”) are even more direct. These reactions help let me know that I’m on the right track, and that I’m having a useful conversation with a muscle in need.

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