A few thoughts on massage

I was trying to explain to a friend this evening the difference between professional bodywork and massage from a friend.

You see, the thing is, professional massage therapists have a lot of training. Now, granted, California is not leading the pack in terms of requirements for certification. New York is, with a 1,000 hour requirement. However, in a state as jam-packed with CMTs as California, to succeed, to lead the pack, a therapist has to be the recipient of additional training. A lot of it. I’ve had work from therapists who have studied at up to ten schools. Who have traveled overseas to work with practicioners in places like Sweden and Thailand. While it is certainly possible to go, take a 250 hour course, and start practicing, most therapists are constantly seeking new educational opportunities and new techniques. Which makes receiving professional bodywork from a good practicioner a pleasure. A qualified therapist has studied anatomy and physiology. A good therapist is aware of and in tune with your body. A good therapist works with a client to maximize the experience for everyone involved.

Getting massage or back rubs from friends, even friends who are CMTs, is palpably different. There’s something of a sacred space that I enter with massage. There’s a level of professionalism, so to speak, which I don’t get with friends. California has many arcane laws about massage (therapist must be fully clothed, client must be draped at all times, at least one of the therapist’s feet needs to be on the floor at all times, etc). But these laws, and the space provided in a professional studio, make an environmental difference for me. While I know that some people love outcall, I don’t want to have a therapist come and set up a table in my living room, I want to travel to him or her. There’s something about the dedicated focus I get from a therapist that I love. When Autumn was working on me on Tuesday, I felt as though her whole being was focused on the part of me she was working on. In that moment, the only thing that existed for either of us was my back, or arm, or leg, or whatever body part she was working with. Although she surely had an awareness of the time, and where she was moving with the massage, the session had a flow and intensity to it that is not, for me, equaled when I am in a space with a lot of distractions, such as my home. Therapists who have been in practice for a long time and who have dedicated their lives to their work are manifestly, profoundly better than those who haven’t. And while I always appreciate it when a friend rubs my shoulders if I am tired or cranky, or a partner gives me a loving rub, for me these experiences are not on a parallel with professional bodywork, and never will be (unless I get lucky and date a massage therapist). There’s something about paying someone money, or giving them work in trade, that makes the work a transaction. I don’t feel guilty or obligated to a therapist who works on me, I feel…complete.

The thing is, it’s ok that work from friends and work from professionals is different. Both are good. But sometimes, you need that professional touch. The two experiences are different. There’s a reason for that. The intimate contact and connection I have with friends and lovers is something that I take great pleasure from and actively cultivate. But when it comes to making my body feel whole again, healthy and loved, I’ll make an appointment with a practicioner I enjoy and relax. I simply wish more people experienced the joy of bodywork on a regular basis. I wish that more people understood that there are different schools of massage therapy, and different experiences they can have on the table as clients, from Thai massage to Shiatsu to warm stone treatment, and that all of these things are wonderful.

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