There is nothing better than a good massage with just the right pressure – not too deep, and not too light. As you lie there, the pressure is such that you find your tensions melting away as they surrender to the skilled touch of the massage practitioner. Without the need to wince or hold your breath, you feel the ‘knots’ and stress areas fully revealed, layer-by-layer, until they have been released.
Pain and discomfort are very personal perceptions, and the art of massage includes being able to find that ‘fine line’ between keeping the massage experience pleasurable and finding and chasing away the areas of discomfort. Sometimes these areas are few and far between, and sometimes they are everywhere. They may be on the surface, and sometimes they are very deep indeed.
‘Deep Tissue’ massage, when done properly, can produce longer-lasting results. Very few people want to leave the massage session after paying good money with the same stress and tension that they carried into it, yet that is what can happen if the massage is too light and superficial. Yet very few people will return to a massage practitioner if they were bruised or forced beyond their tolerance levels.
When we think about what ‘Deep’ implies, we should see it is much more that increased pressure. Deep refers to our very core, our longest-held memories, our past trauma, and places we may not even be aware of. Deep takes us to underlying muscles and connective tissue, including those that work overtime for postural support and in cases of ‘guarding’ or protecting vulnerable areas and old wounds. Deep can also take us to places outside our comfort zone, which can bring up long-held fear and resistance. Deep may take us places we never knew we were holding within us.
After 25 years of massaging, I have learned many ways of going deep in a non-intrusive manner. It involves balancing myself on that ‘fine line’ and never pushing too quickly or deeply, while being perceptive enough to not fall back or get distracted. In this way, I keep a little window open for the client to pass through … or not. I establish trust and connection with spirit, warm up the tissues, and help move their stresses and discomforts out of the way. Then it is up to them to take the next step when they are ready. Never do I want them to recoil or slam that window shut in pain, nor force my agenda onto them. It is their unique healing journey, and I am simply there to assist them.
The challenge is to gradually go deeper, layer-by-layer, without excessive force or causing any collateral damage on either client or practitioner. One of my favourite ways to accomplish this while giving a fantastic experience on my table is Listening to the Body.
While every body has certain universal ‘spots’ where tension collects, everyone is different. It is essential to listen to them, rather than tell them what they should or should not experience. I do this not with words, but through palpation—the skilled informative touch of my hands. The way they respond tells me if I am on or off track. For example, responses like a deep sigh and feeling the tissues slowly soften and ‘let me in’ tell me I am getting good results. The deeper I go, the slower I go. This requires great patience, and usually takes multiple sessions to work through all of the layers. Remember, it is not a contest and you do not need to hurry at all. Let the client set the pace.
I have found as a therapist that using the elbows to break down adhesions is less effective as they are not as sensitive as your hands and you lose this informative touch that tells you not only how much pressure you need but most importantly where to apply it.
One of the reasons that Deep Tissue Massage is so unique is often held up in our intention. That is our willingness to be there physically to help any given client “pass beyond their past” and to let go of long-held tensions and issues that may hold them back from healing themselves. I, as a massage therapist, am not there to do the healing; that is up to the client, but it is through the physical channel and medium of massage that this wonderful experience can occur. Deep tissue massage is an important part of this process.