Jude Davis (Tutor and Co-founder) shares a recent experience. Initially excited for a post-lockdown massage, Jude felt subsequently somewhat less than the ‘treated’ she had aimed for, and instead rather more stressed and uptight than before.
This reflection hopes to encourage consideration of our approach and how our actions and sensitive attention matters.
How should you feel after a massage?
We ask this question on the course. It’s important to consider the experience of massage. Especially in providing an empathic approach when being with labouring women and offering this therapeutic touch to ease tension and the strong muscle work of labour.
Today, I have returned home from ‘treating myself’ to a massage. I was thrilled to find on an app that I could select my favourites altogether. So often the ‘menu’ of treatments available are thought up by someone else, given a fancy name but can never tune into your individual requirements. Today I found it, my recipe for my ideal treatment – Indian head massage (30 mins), back, neck and shoulders massage (30 mins) and foot massage (15 mins). I was delighted, no fiddling with my arms, which I never feel any benefit from and no messing with my legs, which I hate as a hangover from being inappropriately touched up by my uncle, my grandpa and a family ‘friend’ as a young child.
I had believed I had got a ‘bargain’ in central London, this hour and 15 minutes of ‘treats’ cost a mere £63 and so perhaps I should be grateful.
There was no prior questionnaire about health status or allergies. About 20 minutes in the masseur did ask if I was allergic to anything and if I minded her using aromatherapy before using some Cedar oil, but there was no questioning about whether or not I liked that specific oil before it was liberally applied. Luckily, I’m happy for that essential oil to be used on me, but following this experience, and depending on how I wake up tomorrow, I might have formed a negative response to it.
Home now, and I feel bruised and betrayed by the experience. Not once or even twice, but three times I told the masseuse that her pressure was too hard. After that, I couldn’t keep saying it, so I endured repeated leaning on and pinging of muscles in my back she accused of being knotty.
She kept going over my arms with what felt like enormous pressure. Arms wasn’t even in the deal I’d requested. I’d deliberately left them out, having never particularly enjoyed them being massaged before as part of ‘full body’ treatments. Yet she so went for it and kept going over and over them, much to my anguish and discomfort. She told me that my arms were very tense. So, I started to feel sorry for them and like I had neglected my arms and had taken them for granted and so thought that maybe it was good that she was giving them some well-deserved attention. It was the most painful bit.
She asked if there was any part of my back that needed special attention. I told her that the middle part of my back had been painful this morning and that had prompted me to consider booking a massage, but that it didn’t hurt now. She assured me that it would hurt after the massage and she wasn’t wrong about that. I told her that I was just generally stressed out and so that was what I wanted to be treated for. She didn’t ask about the cause of my stress, she just proceeded to her work.
I know Lindsay is not at all fond of the word pamper. At her Spa you would never had had a ‘pamper day’ as her approach is far more interested in tuning into the individual in a holistic way than any blanket mollycoddling. However, I think what I needed today was a pamper rather than this violent pummelling that I received. I wanted to be stroked to relieve the muscle deadlock of the stress of trying to buy a house that the owner doesn’t want to move out of and of never knowing when he and I are going to move past this stalemate.
The point is, I teach this stuff. About how tricky it is to be sensitive to the needs and requirements of the massagee (I just made that word up as meaning the one receiving the massage). We discuss in the course how difficult it is to speak up for what you want when you’re having a massage and specifically asking for the things that are making you unhappy to be done differently. I’ve studied the answers to our massage questions in countless study days and feel like I should be an expert for how necessary it is to be assertive about such requirements, yet I failed to successfully assert my own needs. As providers of massage, we try so much to be sensitive and responsive, but we cannot respond if the masagee doesn’t communicate verbally or non-verbally. Today, besides stating the massage was too hard, I was flinching and holding my breath at times, yet it didn’t stop her continuing to try to iron out knots in my body with her arms and elbows.
Perhaps tomorrow I shall wake up with a body that moves more freely and feels huge relief from today’s experience and so reflect differently upon it. Haircuts take a couple of weeks for you to really like them, maybe sometimes there’s a delay in appreciation of massage. In labour however, we do not have time for the benefits to occur to us another day, we need to feel less rather than more discomfort and that is an immediate requirement.
I don’t believe that my masseuses’ intentions were injurious, I suspect she simply thought she knew what was best for me. I expect she would be upset if she knew that I am subsequently feeling beaten up and offended.
I hope that this blog helps us to reflect on our intention as providers of massage. To tune in to our massagees with acute attention. To check ourselves for overriding the massagee’s needs with what we think might be best for them. For hearing their verbal and non-verbal signs of you making their situation more and not less manageable. For doing a good job. Good luck.
Tutor and Co-founder, Aromatherapy for Childbirth
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