A few months ago I got a text from a friend:
OMG, I’m so stressed! Late for my massage and haven’t had a chance to shave
I assured her it was perfectly fine—the massage therapist wouldn’t care. But she persisted:
My skin’s so dry and yucky, too! Maybe I should just cancel.
Fortunately, I was able to reassure her that her massage therapist would be just fine. She went, and had a wonderful and much-needed session.
As a massage educator, I have the opportunity to work with hundreds of present and future bodyworkers, and I can promise you—we don’t care about your unshaved legs or your chipped nail polish.
Before your next massage, there are some other things we’d like you to know, as well.
1. You are beautiful.
Yeah, you. Just as you are, warts and all—literally.
Being massage therapists gives us an opportunity to work with so many bodies—big and small, black and white and every color in between, with myriad life and health histories. No two clients are the same, but all have one thing in common—every single person who gets on our tables is a human being, and therefore is beautiful.
There’s something you should know about massage therapists: We are in constant awe of the human body and how it does what it does. And that’s the same whether you have dry skin or stretch marks or surgery scars. You may judge yourself for these things, but we will not.
Please don’t let worries about your weight or gender transition—or anything else you might be worried that we’re worried about—keep you from getting bodywork.
And if you ever encounter a therapist who is disrespectful or insensitive, please either talk to that therapist about his or her behavior, or find another one. If you want a massage, there’s a loving, generous therapist out there who would be honored and delighted to work with you.
2. Healing is not a passive process.
Some massage therapists are so good at what they do they can seem like miracle workers. But at the end of the day, it is always, every single time, your body that did the healing. And you get to own that success. Yay, body!
Bodyworkers can do awesome things, but your massage therapist can’t do anything without your help. The extent to which you take an active role in your healing is the extent to which you can heal.
My clients who experience the best results are engaged in the process. They drop into the work. They notice and tell me what they’re feeling. They breathe deeply. And off the table, they do the stretches we talked about. They change their sleeping positions. They drink more water. They eat well. They move. They meditate or do other things to de-stress.
Because if nothing else in your life changes, you’re probably going to end up back on our tables with the same complaints as before. And while that might be good for our bank accounts, we’d really prefer that you experience the healing you’re looking for.
3. Your body is amazing.
Yes, I mentioned this above, but let’s explore it a bit further because it’s so true. Massage therapists often lament that anatomy—more than just the birds and the bees—isn’t standard in public education in the U.S. The result is that most people have no idea how incredible their bodies truly are.
Your innate capacity to heal is astounding. So astounding, in fact, that as massage therapists, our primary job is to simply support that process. That’s right—contrary to popular belief, we don’t make things happen in your body, we simply give your body more resources to heal itself.
One of the ways we can do that is by encouraging your body to shift from the aroused, fight-flight-freeze, sympathetic nervous system state to the relaxed, rest-and-digest, parasympathetic state—because that’s where all healing takes place.
Not some. All.
And that leads me to the next thing many massage therapists want you to know:
4. Pain does not support healing.
Our culture thrives on the idea of no pain, no gain. We abuse ourselves. We are abused by others. I know therapists who boast about how much their work hurts as if it’s a badge of honor. Well, I say: Not on my table.
I’m going to catch flack for this one, I know, but the longer I am a massage therapist, the more bodies I touch, and the more extensive my research on the nervous system and trauma, the more I am absolutely convinced that pain has no place in my work.
Now let me clarify—there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. We might describe discomfort as that hurts-so-good feeling that so many clients genuinely enjoy. In that space, you can still relax and breathe into the sensation, even if it’s a bit intense at times.
With pain, however, you are constantly fighting the urge to tense up. Your body is sounding alarms and wants to get away from the sensation. That is a protective response. And in that aroused state, you cannot heal. It’s only after the pain has stopped that your body can heal.
And let’s clear up a misnomer: Deep tissue doesn’t mean deep pressure. “Deep tissue” is an unfortunate name for a set of techniques that denotes focused work, but does not require extreme pressure to be effective. Deep pressure can be applied with any number of techniques, but many studies show moderate pressure is actually more effective to long-term healing. I could geek out about anatomy here, but suffice it to say that overwhelming and overpowering your nervous system is not a good thing.
Think about it this way: If you invite me to your house, is it better that I kick the door in, or wait for you to open it for me and welcome me inside?
What I’ve found with my massage clients is that even if we get into some fairly intense spaces with pressure—to break up scar tissue, for instance—if we can stay on that hedonic edge where they can relax into the work, the results are far better for both their physical and emotional health.
5. You’re in charge.
You are in charge of your body. You get to say yes and no to anything a therapist wishes to do.
There’s something that happens in a lot of sessions that I call “losing your voice on the table.” It’s even happened to me as a client.
You see, there’s a power differential in the therapist-client relationship wherein the naked, or mostly undressed, person lying down on the table is perceived to have less power than the professional standing over him. This power differential can keep clients from advocating for themselves by speaking up and saying things like, “That’s too much pressure,” or “I’m uncomfortable with getting work there,” or “This sheet is too loose—could you please secure it?”
When you do speak up, you have the right to a therapist who listens and responds appropriately.
I once had a new client during an intake tell me through tears that her previous therapist persisted in using painful pressure after she begged her to stop. The therapist told her she needed the pressure and it was good for her. This therapist had a strong reputation and had worked with several high-profile clients, so after a few minutes the client shut her mouth and went along with it, mentally leaving her body to endure the pain.
That is not being a good massage therapist. That is abuse.
You have the right to have your boundaries honored, and the right to end the session if those boundaries are violated grossly or consistently. You may even wish to report the therapist to his employer or the state licensing board.
6. We really do care about you.
The vast majority of massage therapists entered into this profession because of a profound desire to help people. We care about you and we genuinely want you to heal.
It is an absolute honor to us to do this work. The fact that you welcome us into your lives and trust us with your bodies is sacred.
You should know that when I teach continuing education classes, it is a routine thing for massage therapists to break down in tears talking about how much we love our work and care about our clients.
So if you’ve been thinking about getting a massage, please make an appointment. We’ll be delighted to see you.
About the Author
Kelly Madrone, L.M.T., is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and bodyworker. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Potomac Massage Training Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. For more information about Kelly and her workshops, visit evolvedanimal.com.