I am writing this in March 2021, it certainly has been a strange and challenging year, but also one of recalibration and reflection.
Our challenges have been collectively felt and personally nuanced; as a bodyworker, myself and my colleagues have faced some huge challenges that none of us ever anticipated or could have predicted. Though of course this pandemic has raised some concerns about the practical applications and the economic viability of close-contact work in a post-Covid world, the conversations that I have been having with clients and the treatments that I have been able to continue with have been incredibly affirming; I really believe that as we emerge and build back from this period of lock-downs, protocols and restrictions, we need touch therapies to support our bodies and our minds to restore resilience and connection. This month is also my 20 year anniversary of completing my first massage qualification. I have been reflecting about my life-long involvement with body work and I thought you might enjoy knowing a little more about the path I have taken with it.
I have tried to keep this as a brief summary of my journey in bodywork, really it is a story of renewed returning. Points of question - is this right for me? Is this enough? Can this work? And the resounding answer of yes, and again, yes.
I'm putting this blog out there in January when so much of what we read at this time of year is about how you can improve yourself -every where you look there is a constant barage of offers for diet pills, diets, gym membership and all the other plethor a of things to make you the best version of you. I'm not one for resolutions; perhaps I might say, this year I'd like to laugh more, or do more mountain walks but I can honestly say that best foundation for any project of self improvement is to love the way you are right now.
For many years I have battled with the impact of negative self-image. Not my own, (not often) but that of so many people that I meet through my work as a body worker. Every single week someone will apologise to me about his or her body. Often just that they haven’t shaved their legs or that their feet are “revolting” sometimes people say “it must be horrible having to massage my disgusting body.” (no word of a lie)
This was reinforced for me recently while watching the comedian Sarah Millican, she did a sketch about going for a massage, I cringed to listen, assuming my profession was about to be slammed, however, it was worse! She said “I hate going to see a skinny massage therapist because they must be thinking “yuck, yuck, yuck” as they massage my fat body. I was horrified. I get it was a joke, but like most jokes it resonated with a horrible truth. Many people live with a lot of shame about their bodies, and whereas I thought my profession could be a source of great comfort to people and help to boost self-esteem, it can actually contribute to their sense of self-consciousness.
I feel compelled to put a different message out there; When I tell my clients that I don’t judge the appearance of a body when it is on my massage table people honestly find that hard to believe. We are so conditioned by media images and have internalised so much of the constant objectification of the body that it can be hard for some people to genuinely adjust to the idea that there is another way to view the body other than what it looks like. To quote Body Image Movement founder Taryn Brumfitt
“Your body is not an ornament, it is a vehicle to your dreams.”
When I am working with someone in the context of massage I am not thinking about what they look like. I am reading the tissues to find areas of restriction and tension. I am feeling the quality and depth of the breath, I am feeling for a calling in from energy points in the muscles that facilitate deep release of tension, I find this discourse of the body infinitely more interesting than whether your legs are smooth or whether you weigh more than you would like or you think you should. I have found meeting bodies of all shapes, sizes, levels of fitness and health, young and old such a privilege. Because quite simply bodies are amazing, they are amazing irrespective of the bits we don’t like, they are amazing even if they have calloused heels, or cellulite, or varicose veins. They are amazing when they are in their physical peak and when they are chronically unwell. Bodies are amazing and worthy of our deepest gratitude and respect, and that is what underpins my approach to massage.
I guess somewhat ironically, if you want to improve your health and make positive steps to changing your lifestyle – whether that is increasing fitness, losing weight, stopping smoking or reducing stress. We make much much much better decisions about our lives when we have high self-esteem;
guilt or shame do not form a good foundation from which to make positive life choices.
I have found that through a positive relationship with the experience not the appearance of ones’ body, be that through exercise, movement or body-work treatments such as massage, shiatsu, reflexology etc , you put yourself in a much better place to initiate self-care and increase wellbeing.
So, Sarah Millican, if you’re reading this, you need to find a different massage therapist! ;-)