The Serrated Edge! Massage and the Shoulder Girdle’s Deepest Secret…

You can lift your arm parallel to the ground – but no higher!!!

 “What!?” you may say and then show me that you can raise your arm over your head.

But you’re not lifting your arm!

Wait a minute!  What are you doing?

Here’s what happens.  Your shoulder blade tilts its lower edge up and to the side – it slides forward and up the ribcage.  So from 90 degrees on up, your arm and shoulder blade don’t change their relationship – it’s your whole shoulder girdle whose outer edge goes up and sideways and so you’re able to reach over your head.  This is called protraction of the shoulder girdle.

 Who done it?


This mysterious muscle starts at the inside front of the shoulder blade, so it begins its life running between your shoulder blade and ribcage.  Then its fibers continue to the side of the ribcage and – here’s where it gets its name meaning “notched” or “saw-like” – the serratus anterior has 8-9 slips of muscle attaching to each of the upper 8 or 9 ribs.

So when a knowledgeable therapist frees the side of the ribs, “melting” into serratus anterior, it will facilitate a smoother excursion of the whole shoulder girdle.

Another benefit:

Chronic tension in serratus anterior will restrict movement in the side of the ribcage. Therefore, close attention paid to the serrated fibers of this muscle will give the person’s breathing a whole new dimension for enhanced movement and amplified energy.

For you anatomically adventuresome, get this:

When people are “round shouldered”, that may be due to chronic shortening of the serratus anterior which pulls the shoulders forward, yet pulls the ribs back!  The chronically tightened serratus, like hands with fingers coming from the back and going to the sides of the ribs, will pull the ribs back, jamming them up against the vertebrae.

So melting into the serratus will also free the costo-vertebral joints in turn allowing for freer movement of your thoracic vertebrae!

Next time you explore the ribcage, gently work on and between the ribs along the side of the body (it can be ticklish!).  Coax the breath to help relax things from inside out; gently encourage freer movement of the ribs; and visualize the joints in the back between the ribs and the vertebrae having more freedom as we breath and move about.

It will add a whole new dimension to your bodywork and to their ribcage!

3-D Massage – Disease, Disposition & Destiny

In my last blog piece, I outlined three realms of massage/bodywork – wellness, orthopedic, and holistic.  We can also look at three purposes for massage and bodywork.  These relate to the “3 D’s” – Disease, Disposition and Destiny.


People come to us with dis-ease.  It may be a physical disease – an injury or physiological issue – which massage may help.  Certainly we have come a long way in learning how massage can relieve or even assist the cure of disease, injury and tension patterns.  These theories and techniques form the basis for much current massage education.


After years of addressing dis-ease, a therapist sooner or later notices clients often persist in choosing lifestyles and behaviors that reproduce their problems.  This is more a matter of disposition.

The psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich, used the term character structure for disposition and recognized as “character armor” chronic tensions held in the body for psychological reasons.  Due to early conditioning, we are all perfectly adapted to circumstances which no longer exist!


A skilled therapist, educated and sensitive to the specific patterns of muscular tension associated with dispositional character armor, can systematically work the most important areas and with a spirit that optimally facilitates the individual client’s safely letting go of long-held but no longer functional bodymind habits.

Whereas the origin, the presenting complaint, of the client is often physical or psychological, the destination, the goal, of any therapy ultimately has to be the abundant presence of health, not just the absence of disease.

Thus, lastly, we encounter destiny.  Often when I’m working I feel an almost overwhelming sense of what a miracle this person is.  What would this client be fully realized and fulfilled?  What would the blossoming of this individual’s body, mind and spirit look like?

Massage and bodywork nourish destiny through what early massage history called “nutritive acts.” Clients have their own natural “driving forces” that propel them forward from within.  We nourish these driving forces through compassionate touch.

Michelangelo said,Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Similarly, each client has their essence inside of them and it is one task of the therapist to assist the client in self-discovery.

*                    *                     *

Each massage therapist has these three opportunities: to help relieve disease; to assist in letting go of dispositional challenges; and, in some lucky moments, to be a midwife to the shining forth of destiny.

Massage as Poetry in Motion

Tim Sullivan is a yoga teacher and massage therapist in training. You can find him at and

You would struggle to find a massage therapist who doesn’t find it necessary to have some sort of relationship with the energetic body. It is difficult to deny that underlying the complex systems of circulation, respiration, and movement lie far more complex systems of energetic anatomy. Whether you’d call it chakras or meridians, these systems are often tangible not only to us, but more importantly, to our clients.

There are many different ways of connecting with these energetic systems, and often, mystic poetry can transform our inner experience in a heartbeat.

“O friend, understand : the body
is like the ocean
rich with hidden treasures.
Open your innermost chamber and light its lamp.”

With words like these from the 15th century poet Mirabai, your mind has the potential to go from extraneous details right into the interior of your own body. Whatever tension you as the therapist brings to the table needs to be softened as the journey of the massage begins. By simply coming back to this line, I often feel myself receptive to enter into a session.

And why not treat each massage as a journey? We, as therapists, are not simply moving through mechanical action, but rather, an intimate dance with the client’s energetic systems. In Patajali’s yoga sutras, one of the oldest yogic texts, the author says that each asana, or pose, requires sthira, or steadiness, and sukha, happiness or inner joy. While steadiness comes from a cultivated practice of grounding, sukha can be less tangible. As therapists, how do we cultivate our own sukha and more than that, how do we transmit sukha from our hands to the client?

Sometimes, a line such as Rumi’s,

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there,”

can transform us into our more intuitive selves. We move beyond our attachments and judgments. At times, poetry can serve as the silver bullet that takes away fatigue before our fourth consecutive massage, or gives us inspiration to devote our energies to each and every client.

Encourage yourself to take poetry off the shelf and place it next to the massage table or next to your bed and allow yourself to find inspiration in these mystics with spontaneity. When you need that little thunderbolt of inspiration, pick up some Rumi and find yourself “fierce like a lion, tender like the evening star.” This becomes the art of living with sukha.

Your exploration into poetry doesn’t have to be from bygone eras, take the words of contemporary American poet Mary Oliver,

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Bring the artful dance of sukha with you into your next session, and see if the poetry comes out through your touch.

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