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Tuesday, August 13, 2013
by Shirley Wright, LMT
I’ve given many massages, both in training and in my new practice. However, none have caused me to think and reflect more than one I gave the other day to an older man. His nephew had purchased the massage for him, so it was not his idea. When he called to set up the massage day and time, I met him first through a message on my phone. His voice was gruff. We played phone tag for a couple days but was finally able to set up the massage through his wife. She said, “Well, he might come or not. We’ll give it a try!”
As the man entered my massage office, I could tell that he was a little nervous. He didn’t seem gruff as all, as his phone message had suggested. He was actually quite quiet. I asked if he had ever had a massage and he answered that yes, he had had a massage before. I wondered his age and ability to get on and off the table, etc., which I always think about with older clients. We talked briefly and I asked for his health history. He chuckled and said, “Oh I’ve had this and that and a few years ago, I had surgery on my knee. Right now, I feel good except for that knee. It bothers me when I stand too long. He also said he’d had back surgery a few years ago but it felt really good when someone rubbed it. I thanked him for the history and explained to him how massages with me worked, and then I showed him the massage room, table, etc. He said he was all set to get ready and asked me again how I’d like him to lay on the table. I told him that I preferred that he start face up.
When I entered the room, he was ready for his massage and handed me his glasses. Jovially, he said, “I guess I won’t be needing these for awhile!” I took them and set them on a stand and said, “Oh no, you won’t need them. Your job is to take a deep breath and just relax. Let me do everything else. I will lift up your arms and legs and you can let me do all the work.” He agreed.
I began to work on his face and noticed that he looked a little tired. I also could feel the energy coming from him and it told me that he was nervous. A massage can be very intimidating if one doesn’t know the therapist or the location. Massage can make people feel vulnerable. I slowed my hands and spent more time on his face. Gradually, the tension started to release.
I moved on to his shoulders and then his neck. I like to spend as much time there as I can because it’s a common spot for tension to collect. As I worked on his shoulders, I started to think that perhaps he was older than I had originally thought. He had only covered his lower body with the sheet, and I quickly noticed a long scar down the middle of his chest. I slowed my hands even more and thought about that scar. My brother had a similar scar that formed after heart bypass surgery. I assumed that this man had also had bypass surgery at some point but when I asked his health history, it was just one of those things that no longer held a lot of significance for him. I lightened my touch. I began to think that if he was older than I thought and had many more health issues, perhaps he needed a very light, soothing massage. That’s where I focused my energy.
As I worked on his arms, I could tell that his nerves were dissipating. He was relaxing nicely. I massaged his arms and shoulders and could not help but notice the age spots and scars on his arms. I would guess that his skin breaks open easily. I felt good that I had lightened the pressure of my hands and slowed my strokes significantly. It was working for him to find more relaxation, and I certainly did not want to do anything that would hurt him. Looking at his arms, I thought of my father. Had my dad lived, he would have just turned 84 years old. My dad had very weak skin as well and it would break open and bleed easily. He also had similar age spots on his arms at age 62, which I should have known then was a signal of his rapidly declining health and early aging. I didn’t know that at the time. My father also had arthritic joints and a lot of back pain. I deeply regret that I did not learn how to give massage when he was alive. Thoughts of my father always provoke positive energy. I could feel the flow of positive energy from me to this man and back. I relaxed as well.
As I moved on to his legs and feet, he fell soundly asleep. His light snoring could be heard in sync with the calming music I was playing that propelled the sound of loons on a lake. I felt completely at peace and at that point, slowed my touch even more. I knew he’d feel bad that he missed feeling his foot and leg massage but he probably needed the rest as well. I worked slowly and wrapped his feet in hot towels, one at a time, as I finished them. All aspects of following a time clock had left my head. He was my last appointment that day, and I felt my mission was to give him the best massage possible and encourage his relaxation. That is what I did, perhaps as a thank you to him for allowing me this quiet reflection time.
When I got to the point in the massage where I needed him to turn over so that I could do the backs of his legs and his back, I tapped him on the shoulder. He woke with a bit of a start and then grinned. “I guess I fell asleep!” he said. I told him that the best compliment for a massage therapist was when the client fell asleep. It meant that everything I was working toward happened! He quickly turned over and I began the rest of the massage.
I could see the scars on his lower back as I worked in and around that area. I was very careful to do only very minimal massaging to his lower back. He said “rubbing” his back felt good and I used the lightest strokes possible to do just that. I wanted to loosen the area but again, do no damage. I worked slowly on his back, ending the massage by placing hot towels there. When I told him that he was all done, he thanked me. I encouraged him to get up very slowly and sit up for a few minutes before he attempted getting dressed and walking. He took my advice but came out of the massage room pretty quickly. He was very agile!
As he was getting dressed after the massage, I couldn’t help think that I had been given that opportunity to work with him from a higher power. I thought about his physical scars and could see them as a symbol for the scars that everyone carries. I could see the scars on his body from surgeries. I know that sometimes when I give a massage, I can feel emotional scars flowing from the client and that I need to pay careful attention to them for the same reasons, to encourage relaxation and do no harm. Emotional scars are harder to see sometimes, but a good massage therapist can feel them and help to work them into a more positive light as well. I thought about all of the journeys that his body had endured, about that heart bypass that he had committed to history. I felt his strength and courage and his ability to dwell on the present, not the past or the future. I thought about the stories he could probably tell. I felt a profound connection through light touch. It made me feel humble.
As he came out of the massage room, he said, “That was fabulous! I can’t believe I fell asleep! I was so relaxed that I just couldn’t stay awake.” I repeated the part about clients falling asleep as being a compliment and he agreed. He asked for my card and said he would be back.
Just as he started to leave the office, the sky let loose with a major rain storm. I said, “You might want to wait a minute before you go out in that.” He agreed and sat down. For the next 15 or so minutes, he entertained me with stories. The stories were about his younger days and his nephew who had purchased the massage for him. He also talked about family living in the area as he tried to find a connection that he and I might have. I have always loved hearing stories and listened attentively to all that he shared. I finally asked him how old he was. He replied, “I’m 78!” I would not have guessed that he was a day over 70! He said he plays golf a lot and tries to stay in shape. I’d say he’s done a very good job of that. I told him that his shoulder blades felt less stressed than the 20-year-old girl I had worked with earlier in the day. He grinned and said, “That’s because I don’t have to go to work anymore!” I agreed with him!
As the storm passed, he went on his way, and I went back in to clean my massage room and set up the table for the next client. I wished that I could connect with every client like that and felt that maybe, over time, I would.
Over the past few days, I have thought often about that particular massage. And with that thought came the realization that touch matters. With my hands, I was able to put someone at ease, relax them enough so that they fell asleep, and bring them to a point where they thanked me when I should have been thanking them! We live in a world where we’ve been taught that touch is not a good thing. This experience of working with this older man unraveled something deep within me. Touch can lead to healing – for both the therapist and the client. As I slowed my hands, the connection was deeper and more meaningful. The massage itself was a very light one; touch does not need to be deep because even the lightest touch can make a difference. I am truly blessed that I had this experience and was able to learn, grow, and contemplate on it. Touch matters.