When I was a kid, my Mom and I used to lie at opposite ends of the couch with our legs entwined. When I was a kid my Dad used to kiss me goodnight.
Then, somewhere around ten or eleven, I became too big or perhaps too much of a “boy” to get a leg cuddle or a Dad kiss. I don’t really know why. I just noticed that the good feelings, the physical affirmations of security and love were gone.
I also learned from my culture and my Catholic religion other things about kinds of touch and times when touch was inappropriate between myself and others and even with myself. Pre-adolescence was the beginning of the numbing of my body as I began to override the natural instinct to touch with the cortical control that resulted from social inhibitions.
I became increasingly awkward, cautious, self-conscious and stiff throughout my teenage years. By the time I was twenty, I had developed chronic torticollis and woke up with a painful stiff neck every morning. Some mornings it was too painful to even get out of bed.
A few years later, I decided that I had had enough of the pain and began altering my lifestyle. Daily stretching (this was before yoga), a Tai Chi class and, most importantly, ten sessions of Rolfing eliminated the torticollis and changed my life forever.
Rolfing was the first kind of structured touch I had ever experienced. It was an awakening and a remembering of how good it was possible to feel in my body and in the world. I never forgot the lesson and it is no accident that in 1980 I ended up attending massage school, becoming a massage professional and eventually owning my own school.
For me, and for many bodyworkers, touch has been pivotal to our personal development and well-being. But it is essential and no less dramatic for most people. While it is true that recent generations have been raised to be more comfortable with their bodies on an individual level, our cultural relationship to touch is more pathological than ever.
We can’t touch our neighbors’ kids, teachers can’t touch their students, pastors can’t hug their parishioners, and colleagues can’t offer a supportive touch in the workplace. Touch is the physical manifestation of relationship and, when we touch, it signals a deep intimacy, a deep connection and bond of trust between two human beings. Unfortunately, contemporary media tends to emphasize that touch means sex.
Thus, the fear of touch and a discomfort with intimacy, along with an impossibly high price point for table massage, are the biggest barriers our profession has to overcome if more than four percent of the population is going to get massage on a regular basis (see How Sticky is Massage?).
That is the second reason why I do chair massage. Of all forms of bodywork, it is the least threatening and requires the least vulnerability on the part of the customer. We let you keep your clothes on, there are no messy oils involved, you can sit down rather than lie down and it takes a fraction of the time required in table massage.
Chair massage is kindergarten touch. It doesn’t require a high investment of either money or trust and it doesn’t require you to have something wrong with you. It is the gift of touch for its own sake. The many varieties of table massage all require a secondary, college level or post-graduate level understanding of, or comfort level with touch.
A close friend of mine, Rika, tells the story of the ten-year old boy who wanted to get a chair massage from her at the hotel where she worked for many years. After receiving permission from his father, the boy jumped in the chair and proceeded to receive his chair massage like a pro. When he was paying for the massage, the father said, “You don’t remember us, but a year ago we were here and you gave us both a chair massage. Every night since then, my son asks for a back rub as part of his bedtime ritual. It has been one of the best parts of both of our days.”
And I’ll bet that is one kid who will never lose touch with his “sensational” body.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It reminded me why we do what we do.
I originally took a ‘adult education’ massage course which was very basic–no tables– just instruction. It was given by a local massage therapist. At the end of the course he commented that I was a good student. When I first attended massage school, lead there by a urge to ‘get out’ of corporate work and do something different, I again was told by the owner, when I’d completed my ‘final’ on her, that I had the ‘touch’, just needed more techniques. That was in 1999. I’ve had many corporate clients, still do health fairs , and always enjoy the compliments I receive such as, “excellent”, “loved it”, on the comment sheets. I’m so glad I love what I do.
One essential piece of every Kata I have ever taught on the chair or the table has been to end each session with a single cupped hand percussion timed to the words, “Thank you very much.” It is truly a privilege to do work we love and very important to remind ourselves with each massage.
Dear David, My story is one of always wanting to make first my family then others with whom I worked as a teacher, feel better. I noticed that if I offered a back rub or a foot rub that people became relaxed.
My mother and brother were the people I used to practice on. Then at school, as a teacher of children with problems, I noticed the wildness subside when I sat close to the children to share books. I would gently hold round their shoulders or stroke down their arm as I read the story. Some children would sit so close that it was hard to turn the pages. I decided to train in peer massage to introduce it as a behaviour modification tool. I have been delivering training to schools ever since. Love Jean