Monday, April 21, 2014

Massage: Being "Too Helpful"

There are a few things that make my job more difficult during a massage. Many times clients will hold their arms up where they think I want the limb positioned. Sometimes they will pick up each finger in secession as I massage each one. They anticipate where I will work next. When I adjust their head or move their hair, they pick their heads up from the table. Some clients will hold their heads rigid while I work their neck and don't allow their heads to move with the natural flow of the massage. Instead of allowing their head to roll to the side, they will tense against the work I am doing. When I undrape their leg, they move it closer to the edge of the table.
Many of these motions are unnecessary. In the six years I have been doing massage, I've gotten very good at picking up limp body parts and positioning heads or limbs where necessary. The general rule in my massage is "If I need you to move, I'll tell you or I'll do it myself". I can pick your head up and adjust your hair. I am able to pick up each of your fingers on my own. Your leg is fine where it is. Your only job is to enjoy the massage. And I will never tell you to "just relax" because the first thing you do is tense.
Many of my clients aren't aware they're being too helpful during a massage. They don't know that instead of just allowing my massage to flow as I pick up each relaxed finger, I have to look down at their hand instead. I'm no longer intuitively following the flow of their body and where their muscles need focus. Instead I am focused on how high they're lifting their finger, which finger they're lifting, how much tension they're holding and if that tension is from their help or if it's instead from muscle tightness. I move from the fingers to the wrist and then into the forearm. As I friction up the forearm, their elbow goes rigid. They hold their arm up from the table.
I gently shake their arm and wait for them to allow me to do my job. I move into kneading or circular friction depending on the client. I've stopped picking up arms like many of my coworkers do. I allow them to lie on the table. Too many people would unintentionally straighten their arms and shove me away from the table. Sometimes I can completely let go of someone's arm and they'll hold it in the air. I call this the "ET phone home".
The worst part for me is when clients won't allow their bodies move to the rhythm of the massage. I do quite a lot of muscle stripping during neck massage. I begin at the point of the shoulder and move toward the head in one long, deep stroke. A client's head should slowly turn away as I work and then very gently roll back toward me. This motion should just happen. There is no effort involved on the client's part. It happens with the stroke of my massage. If I am putting my body weight into the base of their skull to try and force the head to turn and I can actively feel the client pressing back against me, that signals two things: they are not relaxed or the pressure is too much.
Unless your therapist specifically asks you to do so, do not:
  1. hold your arm up for them. We are all quite capable of lifting and holding your arm. You do not need to hold it up for us. I promise.
  2. lift each finger to meet them. We follow a groove. Many times I am not even looking at your hand as I'm working, I'm focused on how the muscle feels. I don't see with my eyes as much as I see with my fingers.
  3. lift your head. Your head is not heavy. You do not have to pick it up or move your hair for me. I will do that for you. When I do a lift or stretch, you don't have to move your head. Many times I am testing the motion of the muscle.
  4. fight against the massage. If you're fighting against the motion I'm making, you aren't doing yourself any favors. It actively works against what I'm trying to accomplish with my work. I can't get in as deep and you won't feel lasting benefits from the massage.
  5. move your leg closer to the edge of the table. If you are not in a good position for me to work, I will move you or ask you to move for me. Many times when you move, it puts your leg so close to the edge I can't stand close enough to the table while still working.
  6. lift your legs so we can adjust the bolster. I've been kicked in the face twice and almost kicked another three. Not to mention I don't know where the bolster needs to be when your legs are bent at a ninety degree angle. Leave them on the table so I can place the bolster at the curve of your ankle where it belongs.
In addition to distracting me from the work I'm doing, some of these motions will affect my body mechanics. Poor body mechanics lead to wear and tear on the therapist's body. We want to do this job for a long time. If you want to be helpful to us, let us do what we love to do while you get the massage you need.