Prior to beginning massage school, I had considered myself a pretty savvy consumer of massage. Granted, I usually booked an appointment only when I was in crisis—“I can’t move my neck without pain. Can someone fit me in today? Please?” After each of those appointments, I was told by the therapist that I ought to return every other week in order to make some actual gains in my situation, rather than just an immediate fix for an acute situation. Regrettably, I made every excuse I could to avoid doing so. I told myself I only needed it when I needed it, that a session every couple of months would be sufficient, that it was too expensive, that it would interfere too much with my life, as after a massage I got nothing done for the remainder of the day. Of course, now I know better… Eventually, I began getting massage on a somewhat routine basis, which I found relaxing, beneficial, and enjoyable. However, I still didn’t know the first thing about massage.
I did some basic online research whenever I went to a new spa or practice, checking out what their particular offerings were. I scoffed at the idea of gentle therapies: reiki, craniosacral therapy. I needed deep tissue work! My (fill in the blank with plaguing body part) was killing me! Reflexology? How is that going to fix my tight hamstrings? So to be honest, my research was more perfunctory than practical, and I always opted for a general Swedish massage or deep tissue massage when I was in pain or in training.
Fortunately for me, the coursework at my school was far more well-rounded than my own massage mentality. We were taught chair massage, introduced to pregnancy massage, and had a brief stint in forearm (lomi lomi) massage. We also had courses that provided brief but thorough introductory instruction in the aforementioned craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, and neuromuscular techniques. I was blown away by these novel (to me!) options regarding massage, and found some that suited me better than others in practice and in receiving bodywork. However, the classwork components of physiological rationale for using various modalities, the intention behind each, and the actual hands-on practice made impressions that will certainly be long-lasting. Having clinic hours throughout this process meant that I was able to incorporate various modalities in my sessions, allowing for optimal therapeutic benefit for my clients, and allowed me to see that each one had its place in the healing process for my clients, as well as friends I worked on outside of clinic. And while I can only graduate with certification to practice Swedish massage, those other modalities have found their way into my bodywork, whether through client education, force of nature, or simply my intention.
That all being said, future massage therapists: go forth and seek massage!!! If your particular program does not offer the opportunity to learn these other modalities, then seek them out in your massage community. Receive the work from someone certified in that area, and really tune in to what is happening for you physiologically. You will at the very least learn something new about massage (if you’re as inexperienced as I was!) and the amazing human machine, and perhaps discover something you can be passionate about in your practice. Further, it will offer you a chance to network in your new field, which can potentially pay off in terms of future employment. And while you need to use your judgment, there are also lots of videos available online in these modalities that you can use to grow and expand your own personal massage journey.
And if it’s not your cup of tea? Well, one of the great things I’ve learned about massage along the way is that there is space in this field for everyone. While I never would have thought this would happen, I really enjoy employing the gentler forms of massage therapy that I’ve learned in my bodywork practice. I’m not the deep tissue/sports massage therapist that I thought I would become—at least, not yet. But what I do bring to the table is an intention that is full of healing for my clients, with a wealth of knowledge about the human body, and the knowledge that there are many ways that I can effect change for my client, despite my own preconceived notions of what massage was. Using a number of modalities, and with client education, I can bring about positive change for the people who are open-minded enough to try techniques that may be unfamiliar, but that are profoundly beneficial for their well-being. And that is what being a massage therapist is all about.Image courtesy of RyanHoyme.com