massage to overcome fight-flight-freeze stage

A few days after the U.S. presidential election—which, no matter which side one was on, has been a tumultuous time—one of my local therapist friends said what was needed was “a paradigm shift.”

I believe the paradigm shift we need to actively promote is one that fundamentally includes the practice of kindness.

It certainly has seemed too easy for people to harden their hearts toward one another. TV, radio and social media news concentrate almost exclusively on the exceptional and negative happenings in the world. The everyday, non-exceptional presence of people acting with care and respect toward each other is not considered news.

This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans.

The natural perspective of massage and all forms of health care is inherently nondiscriminatory. People deserve respect and high-quality attention regardless of politics, the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, body type or income.



Beyond Fight-Flight-Freeze

Even deeper than our nondiscriminatory position, massage and other therapies that have been sometimes characterized as new age bear a message that now is more important and universally relevant than ever.

Let us not lose the power of the knowledge we transmit through our work.

We are surrounded by a media and culture that is somewhat inflamed by what I call the epidemic of hypersympathetonia—or living with a hypersympathetic nervous system. When we are stuck in the pattern of fight-flight-freeze, everything turns into something to be attacked or feared, or we stay stuck, frozen halfway between fight and flight.

Hypersympathetonia is a social tragedy that results, cumulatively, in the inflammation of the body politic. Massage, of course, is an antidote to the anatomic, physiological and psychological consequences of hypersympathetonia.

Our realm is about health and care—not just for self-help, but equally for the health of our communities, and ultimately the world. We need to make the benefits of what we do as clear and as available to as many people and cultures as possible.

We can see, bright as day now, that the world needs the insights and practices that are preciously carried by our profession, and the realms of knowledge and insight associated with us.

The need for peace has come to the fore—whether we look at people striking out to silence those whom they take as their enemy or people seeking peace on yoga mats and massage tables.

It is very exciting to note, in light of this need, that the development of massage, yoga and mindfulness has been dramatic in the West over the last 40 years.

Similarly, psychotherapy, humanistic religion, awareness of the mind-body connection, and clearer scientific understanding of the neuro-endocrine system have given us many tools we need to understand ourselves and others, to choose healthier behaviors, and to have compassion for the challenges human beings face from within and without.

Vast new resources now exist in our world.

Now is the time we get to put all this fully into practice.


Respect is Deeper than Positions

I have always felt that the knowledge embodied in the massage movement is essential information that everyone needs. Along with the flourishing of massage, we see the spread of yoga, Buddhism, Sufism (thank you, Rumi), meditation and mindfulness.

What have we learned? Massage therapists embody the respect for being that goes far deeper than positions or behaviors; we acknowledge the importance of people feeling cared for and heard.

Massage conveys nonverbally to the client:

  • He is worthy. Touch conveys care best of all senses.
  • Each person is an anatomical, physiological and psychological miracle.
  • There is generally nothing wrong with her that what’s right with her can’t cure.
  • He has the resources to help himself.
  • Her pain is not her destiny, nor capable of consuming her world.
  • Even though the sympathetic side of the nervous system is exciting, the autonomic balance, dependably stimulated by massage, is generally healthier.
  • The human body is not just a physical thing; it is a source of intelligence and knowledge.

The lessons clients learn from massage and other healthy resources are lessons, I believe, we need throughout our society.



Free Minds & Hearts

The last thing we need is to take positions in massage therapy. Ida Rolf, Ph.D., spoke of the fixations of the body’s posture as a kind of disease; what we want is, rather, free movement. She taught that if we free the body, nature will organize it. Similarly we see fixations in postures of mind and heart as forms of dis-ease.

When we free our bodies, hearts and minds, letting go of positions and postures, and honor everyone, we build a sustainable, workable world in which we can address in a heightened manner everyone’s desire for peace; a world in which the fight-flight-freeze pattern can become a thing of the past.

Ultimately, love is the answer. I believe even those stuck in hatred stay stuck because they have not found or experienced the love they need or want. To pick up this torch of care and love may be the highest purpose of what we do. The trick is not to let just a few people pick up this torch, but to have us all pick it up.

Each of us has to live with the contradictions of our time. We can transform ourselves, and we can help a client better access his own healing resources through our work. We cannot make anyone change.

I wish I could massage the whole world. I wish compassion would become as valuable to everyone as the acquisition of things or money.

We have our work cut out for us. But this is real work—maybe the most important anyone can do: to spread the power of love and peace throughout the world. People are crying out for real solutions to their concerns.

In our work, I am reminded of Marge Piercy’s poem, To Be of Use, which ends with:

The pitcher cries for water to carry

And a person for work that is real.

May our real work make a real difference in this world.


David LautersteinAbout the Author

David Lauterstein authored this guest editorial for MASSAGE Magazine. Lauterstein is the co-founder of Lauterstein-Conway Massage School in Austin, Texas, and he received the American Massage Therapy Association’s 2012 Jerome Perlinski Teacher of the Year Award. Lauterstein is the author of The Deep Massage Book: How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork (Redwing Book Company, 2012) and Putting the Soul Back in the Body (self-published, 1985). He is a frequent contributor to MASSAGE Magazine, for which he wrote:More Doesn’t Always Mean Better: The Problem With Deep Tissue Massage” (June 2016), “Mindful Bodywork: Bring Awareness to Your Touch” (July 2016) and “The Art of Massage” (, July 22, 2016).