Do Less. Be Better.

Yesterday I taught a brand new continuing education course for the first time, on how to effectively massage the inner thigh. 

It was a delight to be teaching something for the first time, especially on this part of the body, which is as vital as it is neglected. 

We were reflecting at the end of the class, and one of the participants – thank you, Veronica! – said that the thing she learned most from the class was something very different than what she had expected. “The best thing we can do as therapists is to keep it simple.” And then she paused, and then said, “Oh, and slow down.” 

I find that sometimes our students say things far better than we can! I have been thinking about her comment ever since, and I think she has gotten to the heart of my teaching work. The aim of my classes and my writings is to help you become a better therapist by doing the most fundamental things more effectively. In my experience, the most fundamental elements of a transformative massage—those things that make a massage satisfying to give and incredible to receive—are often the simplist. And the trouble is, they are also easy to ignore. 

I think that too often when we give a massage—and too often when we take CE classes—we try to be big and fancy. We forget about the essential ingredients. 

These days, that is especially easy to do. There are phenomenal opportunities for each of us to learn and grow as massage therapists these days. Every day, it seems, there are new modalities to learn. (Or at least, there are old modalities that are repackaged and given fancy new labels.) And there are amazing and complicated techniques to master. And the astonishing rate of scientific research and breakthroughs mean that there are always new ideas to parse, new concepts that we can try to apply to our massage work. 

We are incredibly lucky to be therapists in this age of abundance! How can we not want to take advantage of any and every opportunity to advance our knowledge and our work?

Of course, we should do just that. We should learn as much as we are able. 

But what I want to advocate for is a very particular kind of learning—a learning that focuses on those most fundamental elements, and that focuses on the place where you and your client meet.

It is easy to be lured in by something just because it is new and fancy and complicated. And of course, there is nothing wrong with fancy—fancy is damn fun!

The trouble is that so much of our continuing education these days is focused almost exclusively on the client. And on doing stuff to that client. Rather than creating a relationship with that client. All those new tricks and modalities and techniques are about imposing your formidable strength on the client. There is rarely any consideration of you—of the whole you—the massage therapist, in that equation. You just become the deliverer of a particular kind of stroke or pressure or stretch. 

And unfortunately, many of us massage therapists buy into that idea. We are so eager to help our clients that we assume that our own needs are less important. Even though we would never say this, we work as if our own bodies are less important than the bodies on our table. We are aiming to help our clients become more self-aware, but rarely are we focusing on how we can become more self-aware, as well.  

I think we need to bring ourselves back into the picture. I think we need to pay more attention to ourselves and how we are working. That is what is going to make our work more successful, and make our treatments more effective. In other words, we need to pay as much attention to the how as the what. Because what you are doingin a massage—whatever techniques you are using, or modalities you are employing—is only as useful as how you are doing it.

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That is why I call my teaching work Body Brain Breath. These are the three foundations of our work—these are the places we can engage our clients and facilitate meaningful change. 

But too often we are oblivious to some (or all!) of these three elements. Instead, too often we just focus on our forearms. We just go through our routine. We become like the delivery guy, giving the client as many strokes as possible, and then moving on to the next client. 

Let’s change that. Because if you are more aware of your body and brain and breath while you are working, you will be happier and your clients will be happier. How do we do this? By paying attention. In my classes, I encourage therapists to cultivate an awareness of the specific, long-developed habits we each have—to notice how we are using our body and breath, moment by moment, and how we could make shift those habits so that our work was more satisfying for us and more beneficial for our clients. And we cultivate an awareness of our brains, and the ways that everything from our distracting thoughts to our autonomic nervous system impacts every session we give. And then we learn ways to massage more mindfully, so that we can harness the power of all these elements, rather than letting them get in our way. 

Because this, I fear, is what happens too often. We get in our own way. Us therapists often have the best intentions in the world, but we get in our own way. We get stuck in our own patterns and routines, and give the same massage over and over again. Or we are so eager to help our clients—“fix” our clients—that we end up overwhelming them and try to force their bodies to change. 

Instead, I urge you to pay more attention to ourselves, and explore how to use your body and brain and breath more effectively. You’ll be more able to release that client’s stuck subscapularis if your own shoulders aren’t locked and tense. You’ll be more able to help that client who is recovering from a traumatic accident if you can make your own body and breath calm and easy and comforting as you work. You’ll be more able to help that pregnant client feel truly comfortable on your table if you aren’t distracted by the groceries you have to buy tomorrow or that argument you had yesterday. 

So I am an advocate for simple. I want to show you how to get out of your own way, and to take advantage of the tremendous abilities you already have. Simple, however, doesn’t mean easy. My courses are challenging, both intellectually and somatically and even emotionally. But that is what we need as a profession. And that is what I know you are ready for. Come join me. Deepen your awareness and grow your skills.