Massage: More Than Laying Hands
July 7, 2021

My practice

Massage therapy is an umbrella term that encompasses “the laying on of hands” to facilitate physical change. The goal of massage therapy usually involves one or more of the following: to temporarily relieve physical discomfort; to improve function or mobility; provide long-term relief of musculoskeletal pain; provide mental relaxation. Other times, massage can help clients release energy and find a safe haven to decompress. A massage session can look like spa music, hot stones, long flowing strokes, minimal talking. It can also look like a vigorous series of stretches, exercises, and brisk stimulation of the client’s muscles with hands and tools.

My flavor of massage therapy is still evolving, but at the heart of each session is the client’s wants, needs, and goals. A common reminder in massage school was “leave your ego at the door”. As someone only recently aware of her empathic tendencies, I have seldom struggled to leave my ego out of our sessions. However, I have certainly been challenged to not take on the energy, fears, frustrations, or doubts of my clients while I provide massage services.

Picking up my client’s distress

A few months into my career as a massage therapist, I had a man call my practice. He was seeking massage to temporarily relieve his chronic physical pain that stemmed from severe anxiety. His voice was high and breathless and rapid as we spoke on the phone. His fear and his chronic distress were palpable. I was immediately on edge and spent the ensuing week fretting about our upcoming appointment.

When my client arrived the day of his session, my anxiety amplified. That is to say, his anxiety was extreme, and I took it on. He told me that he’d struggled for decades with crippling generalized anxiety, and had found no relief from medical doctors. His anxiety manifested physically as aching abdominal pain, burning chest pain, a permanently clenched jaw, and severe neck and shoulder tension. He was near tears as he described his daily suffering. I was near tears as I felt his fear and pain in my own spirit and body.

Massaging his body and soul

I left him to undress and get settled on my massage table. When I came back, he was lying face up, breathing rapidly and irregularly, his hands clenched, neck arched backwards, shoulders hunched forward, eyes squeezed shut, attempting a posture of protectiveness as he lay mostly undressed on his back, a most vulnerable position. My room, a dimly lit space with uplifting art on the walls and a beautiful mobile of birds hanging overhead, immediately facilitated my grounding, and calm confidence filled me.

I sat at my client’s head, held his head in my hands, and we breathed together. I held his neck, talked him through gentle movements and stretches, and we breathed together. As I worked from his neck to his shoulders, his eyes softened, his hands released, his breathing and mine slowed and became steady. We spent an hour together, quiet, calm, simply existing in safety and warmth, breathing together.

His energy and my energy communed. We grounded together. We transformed together. I left that session feeling calm, nourished, replenished. He left the massage session with shoulders down, head high, a small but genuine smile on his face, and renewed energy. As he walked out the door, he looked at me and said “I feel like a new man”.

Healing beyond the physical

I don’t know how he is today. I never heard from him again and sometimes wonder how he might be doing. Ultimately, though, I’m comfortable knowing that for the hour he spent on my table, in my hands, he experienced relief from his pain, both physical and spiritual. He sought help, he came to me for facilitation, and he gave himself relief and healing. For that time, I had the honor of being a channel for change.

I’ve been a registered nurse for nine years, and a licensed massage therapist for the past two. I come from a long family line of doctors and nurses. Because of this, I had, until very recently, been deeply skeptical of anything that wasn’t “real medicine” or “real science”. Only in the past several months have I become open to things I don’t have peer-reviewed explanations for.

Closing thoughts

Even before this spiritual transformation, I had many caregiving experiences that clearly demonstrated to me the power of compassion, empathy, quiet listening, and being present with another person’s body, mind, and spirit. I have been witness to the healing journeys of thousands of individuals. I have seen that the healing of one’s body often transcends the physical.

In my experiences as a facilitator for healing, I have seen overwhelming evidence that physical healing stems from, or comes with, mental and spiritual transformation. Mind, body, and spirit in harmony make rich ground for healing and growth.

Maria Fox

Licensed Massage Therapist

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