Each time I receive a massage I learn more about what works well and not so well. Last week I got a session where there were two things missing and these are surprisingly common.

The Resurrection of Petrissage – Deep in Space

If you want to have an effect that is deep then, in some respects, petrissage is your best tool! Too often therapists emphasize repeated deep effleurages that feel like soft tissue mashing.

Petrissage done well needs to have the whole hand surround and nestle into the muscle three-dimensionally. Then one simultaneously squeezes and lifts the whole muscle away from the bone.

  • This effect – of easily restoring “breathing room” between bone and muscle – feels fantastic and is a way to deeply relieve tension quickly.
  • It can be used to warm up the area with just three petrissages, preceding deeper work.
  • When you don’t have the time or need to address a certain body part in detail, a few brief well-done petrissages can create the feeling that the part has been worked on without taking much time – adding a completeness to the session that I often find missing.

The Resurrection of History – Deep in Time

You can not do a good session if you don’t know where the person is coming from. Too often what is called a history is just the person filling out a checklist of past diseases, contraindications, and current complaints. That isn’t a history. “Taking a history,” means getting to know the person, not just their past and current problems. Even though it is challenging to connect quickly and even though many employment contexts discourage taking extra time to talk with the client, taking a history is an essential part of our work and our integrity as therapists. If we do not have much time to get to know the person, we just have to learn how to do it more quickly (or get a different job!).

Observe the person and ask yourself what you notice about them. Throughout the session, don’t just focus on the motor activity of doing the massage. Focus also on the sensory aspect in doing massage – what are you learning from your palpation? – and on the mental aspect – using your mind and attention to more accurately understand and connect with them.

  • If you have a chance, watch them walk from the waiting room to your treatment room, notice what stands out about their posture and movement.
  • When they sit for the pre-session interview, how do they sit, breathe, what do you pick up from the way they speak – the volume, the rhythm, the tone of voice, the words they choose?
  • When you are doing the bodywork how do they respond? What more does this tell you about them?
  • Taking a history doesn’t end with the interview – that’s just the beginning! What modifications of your session plan evolve as you learn more about them during the session through palpation and possibly through further conversation? Not surprisingly, as we do our work with responsiveness and gain their trust, often clients tell us or non-verbally reveal essential things about their history part way into the session. (“Oh yea I forgot to tell you I broke both tibias when I was 8.” Or “I’ve been under tremendous stress lately from the changes in my job.” Or you notice they stop breathing whenever you add pressure.)

Sometimes therapists don’t really care or they’ve been poorly educated. Some may not try to get to know the person – not only through lack of time, but also through lack of faith in their ability to understand where someone is coming from or a lack of skill in knowing how to connect or how to learn about the person and not just their symptoms. This is no excuse. Understanding does take time. Even after years we are still getting to know the person. But this nonetheless is still a commitment and skill every therapist needs to cultivate.

It is the job of a compassionate health professional to get to know the client. Ultimately it is a joy for both therapist and client – to interact with this person deeply in their space and to learn about their bodymind nature that has evolved through their life-time, so that, throughout the whole interaction and at the end of the session, they feel truly well met, relieved of their tension, with remarkably renewed vitality in body, mind and spirit.