Massage as Art

“I feel like I’m a lump of clay, and you’re the artist.”

A client said that to me last month, and it’s a nice image to have in mind when I work.

When massage is used in a research, it adheres to a strict routine. Two stroke up the arm, two strokes down the arm; 1/2 tsp of lotion rubbed onto the shoulder; 10 seconds of compression on the hamstrings (for example). Massage is stripped down like this because it needs to be controllable, uniform across every single massage performed in the study. Without this specificity, researchers wouldn’t be able to draw any general conclusions.

It’s great, for the sake of research, that massage can be so scientific and precise, but massage outside of the laboratory isn’t like this at all. Even if a massage therapist has the same goal, the same amount of time – the same client! – for two different treatments, the end result (the massage that gets created) will always be different.

You can turn every lump of clay into a bowl, but no matter what, every bowl will be unique.

Research is wonderful, practical, and I’m glad it’s there. It gives the profession credibility in the healthcare world. But at the same time, you don’t have to read the research in order to know how effective massage can be.

Massage is an art because it’s impossible to define completely. You can look at it from a million different angles and always discover something new. That’s why I come up with metaphors in order to describe massage, or at least pin down parts of it at a time. Massage is like dance; massage is a conversation; massage is its own language. Sometimes the essence of an art can only be captured through comparisons.

Massage is an art because when I talk about the essence of massage, whatever lies beneath the basic, tactile motions, people don’t immediately look at me like I’m crazy. There is something there, some mixture of muscle interaction and social interaction, emotional and physical, internal and external. Massage makes people feel good only the way an art can.

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