You book the massage appointment. You take the risk. It is a financial stretch but you have to do something because you have not been able to manage on your own. You lay down on the table. The massage therapist says “Take a deep breath…Relax…”
In the last few years I have become very conscious of what I say to people. As I have gotten older I have given less ‘%#@’s’ about some things and more about others. One of the things I have given more about is how I might accidentally harm someone whom I am caring for. That fills two categories; people I treat, and the people I teach to treat.
I primarily work with massage patients in pain. Frequently those people have the kind of pain that has been untreated, underestimated, and has fallen through the medical cracks. They are sometimes angry, vulnerable, difficult to deal with, as well as they are often generous beyond belief, humble, and full of hope. They come in all forms and shapes and sizes…but what they have in common frequently is they cannot relax. This may pertain to their whole body, or a single part…but if they could simply relax and gain control of whatever they are seeing me for, they would have done it long ago.
And so, it really bothers me when people say ‘relax‘. It has become somewhat of a trigger word because, what I hear is the response: “Don’t you think I would if I could? I booked an appointment specifically because I need HELP relaxing, and here you are telling me to relax, when I have admitted, I can’t”. In fact, in my case being told to relax, specifically makes me more anxious. I am pretty sure every dentist I have ever known has said “take a deep breath and relax” right before he has done something awful.
I think in terms of massage therapy, the word relax is old, is loaded and full of harm. It is like a brand that has ceased to have meaning to us, and yet has become the only word we use. For people looking for a spa day, it may have no connotation, but for many it could be one of the worst things I say to them all day.
While it is hard to watch your words all the time, I have tried to omit relax completely from my massage practice. I had to think for a bit on what exactly should take its place. Frequently I am communicating a lot with people on how an area feels to them, and I will ask whether or not they felt a tone drop in an area or if that is my perception- ie ‘should I move on? Do you feel more comfortable now? And then, of course, the old stand by word “release” pops up. I am not a big lover of the “release” description either. What has been released? Certainly I am releasing nothing…something might be relaxing…but then there is that word again!
Neither word is the correct thing I want to say to anyone, but those two words are flung about, both of them holding too much meaning, and way too little at the same time. What I want is to give someone an actionable word or words, that they have control of, something that removes my hands from the picture, other than to bring awareness. The words I want to use need to suggest that they have self efficacy in a process that I am creating a space for. And so for the moment, I have settled on “Let go” or “Be heavy”. As in, “I am going to be gently moving you around for a moment, and so there is no resistance, I would like you to try to let go of that area/practice being heavy, but if you cannot, that is okay…we can just move together for a little while and it will be just as good.”