“When we take ourselves out of the present moment we are entirely unable to function creatively. Entirely unable. If you want to be creative you have to deal with what is happening. Only by dealing with what is happening can you really change things for the better”
Michael Chaskalson – from a talk given on freebuddhistaudio.com
Some time ago, listening to this great talk, I replayed this snippet several times. These words are central to our massage practice – good bodywork is creative bodywork and as the speaker so eloquently expresses – unless we are in the present moment we are “entirely unable” to be creative.
Yet how often are we actually really in the present moment? When we massage are we truly engaged in “what is happening”? Are we totally absorbed and fascinated by the feel of the tissues and their changing textures from second to second? Or, more likely, are we thinking about what we will do next from the “routine” we have learned? Or even worse, how long this is taking, how our back is hurting, when will the session be over, or what we are having for dinner?
The key concept of exquisite bodywork lies in our ability to truly focus. Mindful bodywork enables us to pay attention to what is actually happening underneath our hands; not what we think should be happening or hope is happening! If you develop this focused awareness then you will really know, for example, whether your trigger point technique is really releasing the tissues or producing no change.
Mindfulness in bodywork enables us to always be able to apply exactly the right amount of pressure that is needed as you will be able to notice if the muscles are melting under your touch or starting to guard as this there is too much pressure. I find in my own practice that even the simple act of truly drawing my attention to my work enables a change to happen. As the visionary cranial therapist Hugh Milne states “Presence is more important than technique. Beginners want to learn more and more techniques. When you achieve mastery, one technique will do”
In the East, meditation and mindfulness are inseparable from most healing practices. However their importance can often be overlooked in the West. Beautiful in their simplicity, applying the concepts of mindfulness and meditation to your bodywork can improve enjoyment of your work, enhance results, improve client relationships and enable you to better manage your work- life balance. This may sound like a fanciful “quick fix” but the truth is that although these concepts are easy to understand, mastery requires a great deal of practice. And the good news is that we can use our own massage practices to do this – any bodywork session is a wonderful opportunity to put meditation and mindfulness into action. If you let your work be your meditation you will never “work” another day in your life – you will leave your massage sessions feeling refreshed energized and bursting with positivism!
What is meditation?
When you read books about meditation, there is often a great deal of emphasis placed on different techniques such as chanting, certain practices with the breath, visualization etc. However, the most important feature of meditation is not technique, but the way of being, the spirit, which is one of quiet focus – of Being rather than doing. This can be a difficult concept as it is the opposite of the way we are accustomed to achieving in the west – through striving and effort and often-accompanying stress
In contrast, meditation is simply a question of being, of melting, like a piece of butter left in the sun. You just quietly sit, your body still, your speech silent, your mind at ease, and allow thoughts to come and go, without letting them play havoc on you. Most forms of meditation practice all place central importance on being mindful of the breath. This is a very simple process – just be aware of the breath, how it feels in your body, noticing any small movements, sounds or rhythms to which you don’t usually pay attention. When you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out. When you breathe in, know that you are breathing in, without going into the usual kind of internal dialogue in which our minds endlessly engage if left to their own devices. This is so much harder than it sounds! Our “monkey minds” are constantly aiming to stray, create noise and endless chatter.
A regular practice of meditation enables us to gradually develop our ability to be truly mindful and in the moment. There is a famous Zen saying: “When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep”. Whatever you do, you are fully present in the act. Of course one can add, ” When I massage, I massage!”
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a central concept of the teachings of the Buddha and is felt to be a spiritual faculty that is of great importance in the path to enlightenment. Mindfulness is basically an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment). The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness in one’s day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible, a calm awareness of one’s bodily functions, feelings, thoughts and perceptions, and consciousness itself.
Over the last few decades, the importance of mindfulness in maintaining positive mental health and reducing stress has been recognized by modern Psychology. Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, has been presented free from any religious connotations and is increasingly being employed to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including chronic pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction
The psychologist, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been at the forefront of these developments and in 1979, founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill. His MBSR -Mindfulness Based Stress reduction programmes (an 8 week course) have proved hugely successful in dealing with a host of physical and mental health issues.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Massage
There are many ways that mindfulness and meditation can be employed to positive effect within your bodywork practice. Here are a few ideas:
Starting your treatments: The Mindful 3 breath basics! (FIG 1)
Take time at the start of each and every treatment to become truly aware of yourself and your client’s body. Once your client is on the table, take a few seconds to notice how your own body is feeling before initiating contact. Notice where the weight is on your feet, how you are feeling and most importantly tune into your breath and follow it for at least 3 breaths, This only takes a second but will radically change your “entry” into your session. Usually just truly becoming aware of your body enables you to relax your posture, to release any tension and to begin to clear your mind. I feel that to do a truly effective bodywork session your body should feel like a “still pond” – it is only from this starting point that you will be able to pick up changes and responses in your client.
Then let your hands float slowly down and rest them lightly on your client’s body. Anywhere will do – I like to put one hand on the sacrum and one between the shoulder blades. Other possibilities are holding the feet or the head. At this point you are not trying to “do” anything you are simply “being”, allowing your client to start to come to his or her own place of stillness.
Tune into the movements of your client’s breathing with your hands and follow with your attention for at least 3 breaths. Be completely absorbed by what you are feeling, the texture of the drape, the quality and rhythm of the movements, the feeling of your hands against the body. Again just following for only 3 breaths will make a tremendous difference to your connection with your client. You may find that just through this simple exercise of paying attention, your client’s breathing starts to slow down and change.
Using mindfulness exercises to begin and end your bodywork sessions
Teaching simple mindfulness and meditation to your clients does not have to be a complex process. A good way to introduce the concept is to first of all bring it into the bodywork session. I like to talk my clients through a short and simple mindfulness exercise at the start of their treatment. This is a great way to quiet down those clients who like to talk endlessly throughout the treatment and gives both you and your client permission to focus on their body rather than the “monkey chatter” of their mind. Say something like:
“Now to begin the treatment, just allow yourself to tune into your body. Gently notice the feeling of your body against the couch, sensing the texture of the towel and the warmth and pressure of my hands.
And now just gently draw your attention to the breath, noticing the in breath and the outbreath. Allow yourself to tune into those small movements and sounds you don’t usually notice. You might be able to notice the physical sensation of the breath as it enters your nose and mouth, warming the air passages on its way to the lungs. You might be able to notice the rise and fall of the belly and the chest as you breathe in and out. You may even be able to visualise the breath like a golden or a white cloud, or whatever colour works for you.
As you pay awareness to the breath you may find it start to change. Just notice the changes, don’t judge or try to interpret. Allow yourself to just be. After the next breath ou,t just notice that slight pause, the stopping and the stillness before the next breath in. Allow yourself to tune into the quality and the rhythm of that pause and notice how it feels. Then let the next breath come when it wants to without grabbing for it. You don’t have to control the breath, it just happens. Notice the stillness throughout your body. “
Conclude the session by helping the client come back to their body and observe any changes:
“So lets finish by gently drawing the attention back to the breath. Bring your mind back to the ebb and flow of the in breath and the out breath. and notice how that feels in the body.
Gently tune in to how your body feels and whether it feels different than at the start of the session. Notice the pause and the stopping and the stillness after the next breath out.
Notice the sensations and feelings of this place…. The texture of the couch you are lying on, the feeling of my hands on your body, the smells and sounds in the room. Remember you can bring yourself back to this place at any time you need to. This sweet spot of quietness always exists inside you; you just need to notice the breath and remember that this peace always lies inside of you”
Starting and ending the session in this way introduces the client to the format of a mindfulness of breathing session and will make it easier to teach the concept as a self help technique.
Ending the session by drawing the client’s attention back to the place that they started also serves a dual function of helping them to tune into any changes you have helped to make during the session. Imprinting the memory of the feelings, sounds and smells associated with extreme calm also serves as a helpful “anchor point” for them to come back to in the future if they are feeling stressed or anxious.
Mindfulness during the session
Setting the tone for the treatment in the above way, continue your practice by always striving to develop your skills of mindful bodywork during the session. Aim to continually draw your mind back to your hands and the feeling of your client’s body, noticing when your mind starts to wander and just gently drawing yourself back to the feeling of the present moment. Tuning into your own breath is key to bringing yourself back into your own body rather than your head. The simple act of drawing your attention to what is really going on can produce far more results than technique administered with no awareness.
Mindfulness as self help for clients after the session
Meditation is a great self help technique to teach your clients and has proven benefits in the relief of chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Two established simple meditation exercises that I like to teach clients are the mindfulness of breathing and body scan. You can download these for free from the Jing website and give them to your clients (FIG 2)
https://www.jingmassage.com/self-care-resources-for-massage-therapists/mindfulness/ and https://www.jingmassage.com/self-care-resources-for-massage-therapists/body-scan/
The great thing about meditation is that you don’t need any special equipment – you just need to be sit and focus on your breath! Any of the postures shown here (FIGS 3,4,5 and 6) are felt to be optimal for meditation – the most important thing is for your client to feel comfortable.
Take some time to show your clients how to do one of these exercises at the end of the session and encourage them to do it dally – just five minutes a day will make a tremendous difference. Encourage them to build up the time as they become more familiar with the practice.
If appropriate you can encourage your client to attend a mediation or mindfulness course which these days run in practically every town. If this is not possible, the internet is also full of amazing resources.
About Rachel Fairweather and Jing Advanced Massage
Rachel Fairweather is author of the best selling book for passionate massage therapists – ‘Massage Fusion: The Jing Method for the treatment of chronic pain”.
She is also the dynamic Co-founder and Director of Jing Advanced Massage Training (www.jingmassage.com), a company providing degree level, hands-on and online training for all who are passionate about massage. Come and take part in one of our fun and informative short CPD to check out the Jing vibe for yourself!
Rachel has over 25 years experience in the industry working as an advanced therapist and trainer, first in New York and now throughout the UK. Due to her extensive experience, undeniable passion and intense dedication, Rachel is a sought after international guest lecturer, writes regularly for professional trade magazines, and has twice received awards for outstanding achievement in her field.
Rachel holds a degree in Psychology, a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, an AOS in Massage Therapy and is a licensed massage therapist.