Think back to when you were first dreaming of a career in massage. Perhaps you were contemplating getting a massage certificate, or eagerly flipping through pamphlets from massage schools in NYC or Oregon, dreaming of your future. One question that you may have asked yourself during this process—and a question massage therapists may ask throughout their career—is what constitutes the ideal massage? Is it the perfect shiatsu technique, or being up-to-date on the latest trends? The ideal massage is not merely about a certain technique; it is rather grounded in how you show up in the space when giving a massage.
The mindfulness of the massage therapist is perhaps the most crucial aspect to a perfect massage. A great session will have balance: You are present and aware of yourself and what you are bringing into the room; You stay aware of the client’s comfort and needs, developing a sense of their physical and emotional state in the room; You maintain an awareness of the immediate environment around you both. There are specific techniques that may help you develop your ability to maintain this balance and become centered and grounded before a massage session. Below are some tips for becoming grounded:
Mindfulness is recognizing what is occurring as it occurs. It is neutral alertness and awareness of the present moment. Inevitably, the human mind flits in and out of mindful consciousness; it takes practice and dedication to build the focus of a meditation master.
While delivering a massage, when you find your mind starting to wander–to personal worries, or the sound of a bus going by outside—bring your awareness back into your hands. Notice the speed and detail of your massage. Notice the skin beneath your hands—feel the muscle tissue, bones, blood and cells all working together to keep the body alive. Notice the feeling of the oil between the skin surfaces. Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “When we are capable of stopping, we begin to see and, if we can see, we understand.” Stopping your thoughts can be as simple as tuning into physical sensation.
Mindful Breathing: A Tool for Centering
Begin your session by taking inventory of your mind, body, and breath. Notice if your breath is shallow or rapid, and take a moment to breathe in fully into your lungs. Take a couple of “belly breaths,” filling up your abdomen first, and then your chest. Take these deep breaths slowly through the nose. Then take another deeper breath, send it through your whole body, into the floor. Feel how the floor beneath you supports your feet. Ground yourself into the present moment and into your practice.
Creating a Safe Space with Intention
Step into your treatment room and take a grounding breath. Visualize true feelings of trust, safety, and care radiating from you and infusing the walls, floors, massage table and oils. Imagine peaceful light glowing into the room. As you put your hands onto your client, feel your hands as assured caretakers for this person.
It can be challenging to develop an attuned sense of yourself, your client, and of you both together in an environment. While we spend a lot of time sharpening our five senses, we may be less skilled in our capacity for inner sensing. Monitoring these inner states of the body takes practice and skill, but doing so can lead to a much more engaged and present massage for both client and practitioner. One exercise that may help you differentiate between being distracted, too-focused, and right on during a massage is as follows:
Ask a friend to volunteer to act as the client. As you practice, notice how the quality of your massage changes with each thought. Take a few moments to think about:
–Someone you love
–Someone you don’t get along with
–What you will be doing after this activity
Next, become extremely involved in your massage. Bring your head close to your hands and watch every little movement. How does this make you feel? How does the client feel?
Then barely touch the client and focus on a point in the room. Don’t think about anything but that point. How does the massage feel now?
Finally, massage as you normally would and notice any differences you may feel from practicing varying extremes of intensity.
As you become more practiced in massaging in a present state of mind, the more grounded you will become. As you become more skilled in being present, your massages will improve. You may find yourself more uplifted after a long day, rather than drained. These mindfulness skills may also extend into the rest of your life in unexpected positive ways.