My Frustrations with Swedish Massage

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My Frustrations with Swedish Massage

One of my frustrations with Swedish massage is all the rubbing. This doesn’t mean that I believe that rubbing is not good for you. It is. Effleurage, J strokes, cupping (not the Asian kind), all bring a nice hyperemia to the skin. That rosy glow is associated with health, because it does indeed indicate that the blood is moving, and that is well….healthy. In the end, a therapist’s goal is essentially to create healthy tissue that functions as it should. So massage, in many ways, mimics the life of a moving body while you, the recipient of all that rubbing, lie there, semi conscious, smiling and sighing with relief.

Sometimes, however, I think rubbing is not enough, and by that I mean that maybe it‘s too much. Rubbing is a one-way dialogue; like a conversation between the hands and the body where the hands just won‘t shut up. Lost in all that self-centered movement is the listening part. Almost every “bad” massage I have had has been from someone who is rubbing, and not listening.

As therapists, we often talk about active-listening as part of our intake or interview skills, but it extends further than that. Even if the therapist is present for you during the hands-on part, the therapist still might not be listening. When I am working with new therapists, this is perhaps the hardest concept to impart to them. I want them to stop rubbing, essentially even stop moving, and let the client’s muscle do the work. This is hard for them to understand because if movement and pressure cause release, then more pressure should cause more release, right? Maybe not.

If the therapist is truly listening, he or she might feel that the muscle only releases on the exhale. Or maybe there is a flutter-like fan movement that indicates that the muscle is about to release, and the therapist just needs to stay there for a moment and coax it into relaxing. Or the muscle might release right away only to tighten up more, telling you that you should not be treating this person at all and you should refer them out for further diagnosis.

In our efforts to “Do” to “Fix” we often miss the obvious, which is the body is a self-cleaning oven; it is made to heal itself if given the right opportunity, and the right set of ears, aka hands.