“When we take ourselves out of the present moment we
are entirely unable to function creatively. Entirely unable.
You can’t function creatively except in relation to reality. 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.”
Some time ago, I replayed this snippet several times, struck by the power of the central concept of mindfulness and its application to bodywork. These words are so appropriate to our bodywork 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, sensing differences not just physically but emotionally and psychologically? 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 and excellent’ bodywork lies in our ability to truly focus. Mindful bodywork enables us to pay attention to whether that trigger point technique is really releasing the tissues or producing no change – if so maybe we
need to change our pressure slightly, or our body mechanics or even choose a different technique. 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 recognised 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 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!
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.
Talking your client through a simple mindfulness exercise If you feel confident you can enhance the effects of the above by talking your client through a short and simple mindfulness exercise at the start of the session. 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. Just gently notice the feeling of your body against the couch, noticing the feeling of the towel and the feeling of my hands. And now just gently draw your attention to the breath, noticing the in breath and the out breath. Allow yourself to tune into those small movements and sounds you don’t usually notice. 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.” This basic script is enough for the client to start to notice their own body and begin to release
tension, which already makes your job so much easier!
Mindfulness during the session
Setting the tone for the treatment in the above way, continue your practice with 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
Developing a meditation and mindfulness practice can be a wonderful self-help tool for clients who are experiencing chronic pain or stress-related problems. There are usually lots of different facilities locally offering meditation groups; also look for the MBSR programmes.
I leave you with the words of Thich Nhat Hanh
from his lovely yet simple book ‘Peace in Every
“Breathing in I see myself as
space. Breathing out I feel
© Rachel Fairweather is co-founder and director of the Jing Institute of
Advanced Massage. The Jing Institute of Advanced Massage Training is an
organisation dedicated to excellence in all aspects of postgraduate massage
training. Based in Brighton, we offer courses around the country. Our courses
include longer qualifications in advanced massage including our revolutionary
BTEC Level 6 (degree level) in Advanced Clinical and Sports massage and 1-2
day CPD courses in Hot Stone Fusion, trigger point, myofascial release,
stretching, pregnancy, on site, living anatomy and many others. You can also
check out the approaches discussed in this article in our DVD in advanced
clinical massage techniques, downloadable from the website. Please call or
check our website for further information and course dates. Tel: 01273 628942
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