Published in Massage World Magazine
(with acknowledgements to Steven Covey for his inspirational book: The 7 habits of Highly successful people)
What makes a really GREAT bodyworker?
During my twenty five year love affair with bodywork I have practised, taught, studied and received massage in many diverse parts of the world including the UK, USA, Europe and Thailand. I have known bodyworkers from many different disciplines and walks of life, from the extreme ends of the “New Age” to the resolutely scientific. I have experienced people working with muscles, bones, auras, Qi, cranial rhythms, Sen lines, meridian lines, manipulating organs, fascia, using movement and stillness. I have seen healing happen through working on the body, off the body and in the deepest layers of the body.
From all of this it has become apparent to me that some bodyworkers “make it” – they are successful, happy, have the practice they desire, feel like they are travelling their life path, and are financially content in whatever way that means to them. Others never quite seem to get there, their practises don’t flourish, clients don’t come back to them, they are scraping a living emotionally and financially.
So what is the difference? What makes a truly great bodyworker? It seems no single quality alone will suffice. I have seen highly gifted and intuitive therapists burn out rapidly as they become overwhelmed with the practicalities of running a business. I have seen therapists who are successful business people and know their anatomy inside and out but who have no sensitivity of touch or ability to relate to clients.
This article attempts to distill the essence of some of those qualities I have observed in the therapists who are living and loving their life and work to the full – the Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Bodyworkers.
Secret One: Enthusiasm
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” Emerson
“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity and truth accomplishes no victories without it” Bulwer-Lytton
Great bodyworkers LOVE what they do. They are excited, animated and energised by their work. They love to talk about it, read about it and let others know how great bodywork is. And their enthusiasm doesn’t just stop at the bodywork; they are energetic about all aspects of their practice; how they can make their clinic room the most restful and appealing to their clients, how they can design a great business card or leaflet, how they can find the best clinic or colleagues to work with. Enthusiasm is contagious, your clients want to know that you believe in what you do, they want a piece of what makes you buzz. If you are bored by your work, your clients will know and, lets face it, who wants to be around someone who is jaded .
One of my first teachers said to me “I have to constantly find ways to stop myself getting bored with massage”. That is what good massage therapists do- they are fascinated by the body, always finding new ways to achieve better results with their clients, looking for new techniques. If you are still doing the same routine you learned five years ago, chances are you will be bored.
So if you are jaded with your treatments, go and get some training, find new ways to work and break out of the box. Find a colleague to swap with and learn some new techniques. Read a great bodywork book. Surf the internet for inspiring bodywork sites. Rediscover your passion for your work and watch your practice grow.
Secret Two: Perseverance
“Victory belongs to the most persevering” Napoleon
“I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident, they came by work” Edison
“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all” Michelangelo
Like these famous characters, successful bodyworkers know the value of hard work and perseverance. Great therapists “keep on keeping on” when things are not going their way, pick themselves back up after mistakes and failures. No matter how talented you are, building a successful practice takes time, work and perseverance. Don’t expect the phone to just start ringing when you qualify; you need to put in effort and good old fashioned elbow grease to get those clients. Remember the old adage “If you love what you do you’ll never work another day in your life”. So love your vocation, work hard at it and enjoy the journey.
Secret Three: Be open to new learning
“As for me all I know is that I know nothing” Socrates
“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge” Disraeli
The fascinating paradox is that great bodyworkers “know their stuff” yet at the same time are comfortable with “not knowing” and are always striving to learn more. Taoist sages claim that “one who does not know actually knows, and one who knows really does not know”. To be empty, to recognize how little we know is to be abundant. Successful bodyworkers are always open to new learning, and recognise we are always beginners with so much to learn. As the great Tom Myers, author of “Anatomy Trains” said once in class “The higher the mountain of my knowledge, the broader the horizon of my ignorance”. Knowing more helps us realise how much more there is to know. In this way, bodywork becomes a precious jewel that will sustain our interest for life.
There is a wonderful story in the book “Beyond Shiatsu” by the inspirational bodyworker and teacher Ohashi that helps us to understand the importance of always keeping a “beginner’s mind set”
“In the 1970s I gave some sessions to the late prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. After one of them she said she was attending ballet classes for beginners. I asked her “ Why are you- a famous, top ballerina- taking a beginners basic course with 18 year old kids. She said “If I don’t take this class every day, I can tell it in my performance; and if I don’t take this class for 2 days my choreographer can tell and if I don’t take it for 3 days, an experienced audience can tell”.
This is the essence of mastery – to always be open to new learning, to seek out inspirational teachers and mentors, to use their experience to give you shortcuts to the success you desire.
Secret Four: Great Touch
“Good bodywork is 90% perception and 10% technique” (Christophe Somer; Rolfer)
Successful bodyworkers have great touch. Their work has focus, sensitivity and connection. The term “listening touch” coined by Rollin Becker describes this perfectly. Good listening touch is different than knowing lots of techniques- skills are important but if they are carried out with lack of focus and feeling, your work will be ineffective. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing sports massage, relaxation massage, aromatherapy, shiatsu, craniosacral work or Thai massage, the therapists who get good results and retain clients have great touch. This doesn’t mean they were just born with it: like everything else, good touch and sensitivity comes from application, focus and experience.
Good teachers will teach you not just technique but how to touch – how it feels to palpate a tight muscle, restricted fascia, stagnant energy or the gentle tide of the cranial rhythm. Receiving bodywork yourself will teach you what feels good and what doesn’t. Cultivate your sense of touch by being fascinated by the body and its hidden rhythms and find yourself a good teacher whose own touch thrills your senses.
Secret Five: Outcome orientated treatments
Successful bodyworkers are focussed on the outcome of their treatments not just what style or techniques they offer. If a client wants to relax, a good therapist doesn’t just launch into the same old tired routine but digs into their toolbox of techniques and finds what they can use to make this unique individual relax. This may well be entirely different from what will be needed to enable the next client to achieve deep relaxation.
At Jing, our advanced clinical massage courses look at how to reduce pain within 1-6 treatments from a combination of advanced techniques including trigger point, myofascial release and stretching. Being outcome orientated builds practices and retains clients as they know exactly what they can expect to achieve from the treatment or series of treatments. Being outcome orientated also relies on good consultation and assessment skills so you know what your client needs and expects.
Secret Six: Beautiful Body mechanics
“The energy is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, directed by the waist and expressed through the fingers” (Tai chi classics)
Employing good body mechanics while you work not only helps you to avoid injury but also enables you to use more sensitive and powerful touch. The equivalent of a secret handshake, we like to joke that good massage therapists are able to spot each other across a crowded room by the grace, composure and sense of focus of their body mechanics. A good massage therapist moves with ease and fluidity, avoiding techniques that place strain on hands, wrists, necks and back. In this way massage becomes a dance and moving meditation, following the principles of tai chi, using breath and energy and from a firm rooted foundation.
Good body mechanics relies on several basic principles:
- Power of grounding- As expressed in the quote above, Tai Chi Masters understand that power, strength and grace comes ultimately from the connection with the earth. Before you start working, take time to establish a strong energetic connection with the ground through your feet, legs and belly (known as the Hara or Tan Tien in the East). In Traditional Chinese medicine the Hara is the “centre of being” and martial arts emphasise moving from this place to achieve graceful power and strength.
A good visual to help establish a strong connection with the ground is by imagining roots extending from the soles of your feet and penetrating all the way down into the centre of the earth. On the in- breath imagine you are drawing up light, warmth and energy into your belly. On the out -breath imagine that energy is shooting up your spine, down your arms and out of your hands. This is a great visualisation to help you work deeper without working harder and encourages you to operate from your legs and belly rather than the upper body and arms. In this way you are able to give a deeper and more sensitive massage without strain. It does however mean that you will develop muscular horse riding thighs from doing massage rather than buff Madonna arms!
- Use of the Hara: A good principle of body mechanics is to ensure that your hara points in the direction you are working. Imagine your hara as a strong light attached to your belly that functions to illuminate your workspace. This helps you to avoid twisting your body into uncomfortable positions while massaging.
- Use your body weight not muscular strength to work deeper. If your table is at the correct height you should be able to lean into the body to achieve depth rather than pressing and straining with the hands and arms. As Ida Rolf, founder of the deep fascial technique known as Structural Integration said “Strength that has effort in it is not what you need; you need the strength that is the result of ease.(Rolfresearchfoundation.org, 2014)
- If your client needs deeper work, avoid the temptation to strain and instead bring yourself back to your breath and hara. Soften your body, shoulders and arms, breathe out and imagine the breath flowing down your arms as you lean into your clients body to achieve depth. This approach also keeps your body in a sate of receptivity where you can sense changes in the tissues. Tight muscles and locked arms reduce our ability to actually feel.
- Keep your joints stacked but soft. Avoid techniques that place the hands or wrists in ulnar or radial deviation or cause the elbows to bend excessively. The wrists should be in line with the elbows and the elbows in line with the shoulders. However at the same time, ensure your joints are not locked but have a slight softness within them.
- Feet, Breath, Belly: When we work it is easy to get completely caught up in the task at hand both psychologically and physically. This can lead to us working harder or faster than we need to and lessen our capacity for listening to the body and using the principle of less is more. Using your own breath as an anchor is a good way to avoid this. Always find the quiet part within yourself by re-connecting with the breath flowing in and out of your belly and by noticing the sensation of the feet against the floor. Keep checking back into your own body and noticing how you feel. A good mantra while you work is “Feet, breath, belly” . This really helps you to remain grounded at all times
- Keep your chest and heart area open and avoid the temptation of hunching over or staring at your client’s body. The massage therapist’s quest for X- ray eyes doesn’t help- honest!
Secret Seven : Good interpersonal and listening skills
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”– Leo Buscaglia
Whether you are a medical doctor, massage therapist, talk therapist or acupuncturist, a key component of facilitating wellness in your client is this therapeutic relationship or alliance. This refers to the sense of “collaboration, warmth, and support between the client and therapist”. In other words that warm fuzzy glow you get when you think about a professional who has shown kindness and concern for your wellbeing.
Research shows that if you have a good relationship with your doctor for example, this in itself means that you are likely to have an improved healthcare outcome regardless of what treatment you receive. This is just as true for our work with musculo-skeletal pain- studies have shown that positive therapeutic alliance ratings between physical therapists and patients are associated with improvements of outcomes in low back pain and increased treatment satisfaction for clients with musculoskeletal problems. Really? Can our client’s bad back be improving just because they like us? Is being smiley more important than soft tissue release? Research suggests that the interpersonal dynamic is certainly a factor and points to the importance of the practitioner- client bond as part of a competent and truly holistic healing process.
Good bodyworkers have a kindness and concern for their clients and excellent interpersonal and listening skills. Take time to develop these and your treatment outcomes will improve considerably.
About Rachel Fairweather and Jing Advanced Massage
|Rachel Fairweather is co-founder and director of Jing Advanced Massage. An acclaimed teacher and guest lecturer, she has been a massage therapist for 25 years and is co-author with Meghan Mari of an upcoming book “Massage Fusion: the Jing method for the treatment of chronic pain” to be published this year by Handspring Publishing. Based In Brighton, London and Edinburgh, Jing run a variety of courses in advanced techniques to help you build the career you desire including a BTEC level 6 (degree level) in advanced clinical and sports massage – the highest level of massage training in the UK.Our short CPD courses include excellent hands on learning in a variety of techniques including advanced stretching, trigger point therapy, myofascial release, pregnancy and hot stone fusion. For the first time you are now able to learn these techniques at your own time and pace with our revolutionary new online courses and webinars.
Want to find out more? Please contact Jing on 01273 628 942 or email [email protected]