It was just a couple of years ago that I attended a "Body Worlds" exhibit. I went there with the intention of reigniting in myself the ability to spew off the name and location of every muscle, bone, ligament and attachment site. Why? Because I wanted to be better at what I do.
As a licensed massage therapist, this information was all memorized while in school, and yet six years into my profession I had lost that sharp recall that labeled each and every part of our being. This inability certainly did not inhibit what I felt in my hands while engaging in my art. However, it seemed only reasonable to assume I must have lost a very important piece of what is needed to understand the discomfort of my clients, if I couldn’t remember more than just the major muscle groupings.
As I anticipated, my "Body Worlds" experience of viewing body after body of skinless beings, muscles and bones neatly identified and displayed in every imaginable position, enlightened me. I left there with such clarity of purpose, far exceeding my expectations and I was equally filled with an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude. What I learned, however, was not what I expected.
Actually, to be accurate, what I learned is what I already knew in my heart and yet let my intellect temporarily deter me from my own understanding. Simply put, we are not about muscles, bones and attachment sites. This information does not define who we are anymore than the suffix before our name or our job title does. Yes, each therapist should have this knowledge in their training, much as it’s wise to be familiar with the guide to any operating system, but that information is not what makes us gifted in our work. As massage therapists, knowledge and understanding of the physical structure designs the pathway in which we initiate touch to connect with another being.
The body is like a circuit board, full of connections and points where connections are no longer linked. It is through this instrument that we receive our clues as to the health and well-being of our clients. Working with the physical body is the arena for our interaction; however, it is a depth of work that goes so much beyond that. I was reminded while in the presence of empty houses – bodies on display – just how vast that emptiness is without life. Musculature was all there and accounted for and yet, there would be nothing to work with.
It is life that we actually work with.
It is our interaction with energy, the life force itself, that we have an impact on. Muscles hold onto stress, our day-to-day stories manifest into physical tensions. As massage therapists, we work with the intention of communicating with the whole person – body, mind and spirit – through our touch, not just attempting to manipulate soft tissue into something which feels more malleable. It is an overall pliability we are looking for – the softening of the heart, the openness of the mind, and the yielding nature to fellow humankind.
Most of the physical benefits of massage are quite well known today. We all know how the lymphatic system is stimulated, blood circulation is improved, and stress is reduced. This is all true and very wonderful. Yet, what I find most remarkable and what the world is in need of most right now is the healing of the heart and human psyche, which happens through massage.
This is true healing, when someone can get off the table, or up from the floor, and find themselves with a renewed sense of loving kindness and understanding. How this is accomplished is not through our ability as therapists to recite an anatomy chart, but from our willingness to hold open the space for another to be fully loved and accepted as they are. The musculature releases are merely the physical outlet of energy which has been bottled up, giving way to an open flow.
It is from this place that we can hope to mend societal wounds, one person at a time, ready to meet each other with open arms and hearts.