Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A massage

Oil and candle

I'm always slightly on edge, like an actor waiting in the wings, prior to giving a massage and I think this is good. It keeps me focussed. This one, an evening session, has the advantage of familiarity; the client, P, an accountant in her 50s, has been coming to see me for several years and has almost become a friend. As she undresses she tells me how she is - basically well, but stressed and tense from the workday.

She lies on her front on the couch, covered from the neck downwards with towels. The room is lit by the subdued glow from a reading lamp in the corner, supplemented by several candles. I start the music: a CD of a solo harpist, just loud enough to be comfortably audible. Placing my hands lightly on her head, I shut my eyes momentarily and take a deep breath. I remove the towel covering her back and place it on the radiator, then pour a little oil into my palms; the heady, familiar scent of sandalwood, geranium and orange flower wafts upwards.

My hands slowly travel the length of P's spine, one on each side of the vertebral ridge, spreading the oil onto the skin. These large, circular effleurage strokes loop round the lower back, over to the sides of the body, up along the ribcage and back to the shoulders. More oil is needed - skin can be thirstier in cold weather. Throughout the session I shall be looking for any reactions, tensions, changes in facial expression. If it all comes together, a massage can become a communion, a meditation in movement and connection and touch, smooth and flowing.

The notes from the harp seem to float in the air, and the candles flicker. Then, a hitch - the CD player jams and whirrs. No more music. Damn. This was not meant to happen. Rather than switching on the light and attempting to fix the problem, I make a quick decision to carry on in silence. Background music is generally an ally, helping with the letting go process, but a successful session does not depend on it.

P carries a good deal of tension in her neck and upper back, particularly in the area between the shoulder blades, so I spend some time here kneading and using firm pressure on the tight muscles and knots. Then I work my way down to the the lower back. Placing one hand on top of the other on the sacrum, I circle them very gently in a small clockwise movement, gradually enlarging the stroke to sweep out across the right, then the left hip and buttock. As I massage each area of the body I remove the towel, replacing it once I have finished, then uncovering the next section. I move to P's legs: the calves, thighs and feet.

She rolls over onto her back at my request. We take a minute to rearrange the towels, and I slip a small pillow under the knees and another beneath her head. I work on her neck and shoulders, lifting the head and turning it to the right, then the left, supporting it with one hand and using the other to massage. The arms follow, one at a time, working upwards from the hand to the shoulder, then back again down to the fingertips. It seems to be easier to let go of tension in the supine position, and after a while P's stomach rumbles once or twice - generally a good indication of relaxation.

I lift the towel off her chest and abdomen, and standing behind her head reach forward to the left side of her body at the waist and pull alternate hands smoothly one at a time to the centre of her stomach then up between the breasts to the shoulders. I then do the same thing again from the right side. The tension lines in her face have smoothed out, her eyes are closed and her breathing is slow and regular

By the final ten minutes of the session P is covered in warm towels, and is almost asleep. The room is very still. I sweep my hands several times over her covered body from the crown of the head to the hands, and then repeat the movement, this time finishing at the toes. After the last sweep I hold her feet for a few minutes to bring her awareness back to her connection with the ground. I pour her a glass of water and slip out of the room to wash my hands, allowing some privacy while she returns from wherever she has been during this last hour or so.

As I dry my hands I look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I never for a moment thought I would be able to do this kind of work and it sometimes almost frightens me that seemingly I can.


Blogger Mary said...

I have changed P's initial and occupation for anonymity reasons.

9:25 am  
Blogger Jean said...

Je ne suis pas masseur professionnel, mais j'ai un peu étudié divers massages traditionnels , mon épouse ayant toute sa vie souffert du dos et des articulations .Les massages journaliers en cas de crise la guerissent rapidement .

En lisant votre écrit , j'ai reconnu ce que je ressens .
Une chose m'a souvent étonné : c'est l'intuition , pure intuition sans aucun signe concret , qui permet de savoir avec une compléte certitude , que la douleur ou la cause de la douleur se trouve à un endroit précis . Notre inconscient a des moyens de communication avec l'inconscient du massé ?

9:37 am  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Wow= that is such a great post! I hadn't really thought of massage as therapeutic for the masseur/masseuse. Thanks for sharing that.

3:32 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

This is such a wonderful chance to journey through the process from the viewpoint of the massage therapist.

My experience is that the therapist's ability to be there, to be very present, has as much to do with the success of the massage as the physical aspects.

I think you more than "seemingly" can do this. This is a really beautiful entry and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your work.

3:56 pm  
Blogger Dave said...

What a beautiful way to describe the energy and the feelings you get in giving tha massage. I am an energy therapist and this is the same type of feelings and charge I receive when I give a Reiki or Therapeutic touch session. The treatment is a wonderful to enhance health in the client and the practitoner. Thank you for your insight and words.

4:41 pm  
Blogger Endment said...

Great post - I almost feel relaxed after reading it!

5:38 pm  
Blogger Jessie said...

Mmmm, lucky P. Lucky, lucky P. [sigh]

9:24 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

Wow, P is one lucky person. I felt relaxed just reading about it. very good post.

10:18 pm  
Blogger justin said...

Mmmm ... I'm feeling very relaxed after reading your blog. Sounds lovely.

11:56 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

Very interesting post, Mary. Thanks for sharing with us your massage's work.

And thanks Mary for the nice words about my tapestries and crochets. You are very welcome!

12:16 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you all for your comments. I enjoyed writing this for myself, but your feedback has added the experience!

10:06 am  
Blogger leslee said...

Yes, I got a vicarious restful massage just by reading this. Interesting to read the massage therapist's point of view. I've had many massages over the years. It's such an in-the-moment experience.

11:44 pm  
Blogger Lulu said...

You described this so vividly that I almost felt as though I were the one being massaged! As a former massage therapist, I could very much identify with your post and in particular to the awe one feels after a job well done. It is an honor to be able to help people in such a profound way, isn't it?

12:35 am  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I wish you were closer!

6:24 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Leslee: Hi, and welcome back! - and thanks for your comments here and below. An in-the-moment experience indeed, certainly for me.

Lulu: You are right. It is an honour...Welcome - nice to have another massage therapist drop by.

Patry: wouldn't that be nice ;-)

3:25 pm  
Blogger said...

Wonderful post. I hope P wasn't aware of your journalistic intention during the massage!

Jean's comments about the efficacy of massage "en cas de crise" made me wonder ... have you ever done urgent massage, and can you find the calmness in the urgency?

Peace, Jarrett

10:47 pm  
Blogger Dale said...


12:28 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Thanks very much for your comment. One of the reasons I blog under a different name is to be able to do posts like this .... and 'P' is actually very well camouflaged here :-).

I haven't massed anyone in bad physical pain - for some reason I tend to see people who need to relax tense muscles and generally unwind.

I have though once or twice massaged someone in some emotional pain. Once they were on the couch and the treatment had started, I was able to relax and trust the process and some calm was achieved for them ... but yes it was more challenging for me to stay present inwardly.

Dale: Thank you.

7:19 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

2nd paragraph , 3rd word in above comment is "massaged" of course ... it's been a long day :-)

7:27 pm  
Blogger MB said...

Uhhhmmmmm. I need a massage!

11:48 pm  
Blogger Wenda said...

Ah Mary, I think I just heard my own tummy rumble. I've never had a word massage before and this one was great. Thanks.

3:15 am  
Blogger Mary said...

MB: Ah, if only you were closer!

Wenda: Thank you ...:-)

9:41 pm  

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