I was standing up on an elevated train platform, trying to get my bearings and unsure of how to get to my destination. I asked a young woman standing by me for directions. She calmly and clearly gave them to me and then she touched my arm.
That touch has remained with me to this day.
It was given along with the specific directions, but much more deeply than the communication of information was the care which that touch conveyed.
It changed my whole life.
I arrived successfully at my appointment that day—but I am still fulfilling the sense of destination that her touch gave to me.
I really don’t know where this journey leads, but like every great adventure and like destiny itself, it is ever unfolding, thanks to that young woman and to the secret knowledge that touch brings to us.
I have been involved in massage directly for more than 40 years, and, in a greater sense, for my whole life—because touch has meant the world to me.
I think I’m like you. My life is in most respects dedicated to what we learn from touch, from massage and from massage education. Yours too, I expect.
Touch is an undercurrent, a deep, nourishing fact that has affected all of us to our very core.
I write this because I care so deeply about the destiny of massage. Where are we headed? How can we optimize the realm of massage therapy?
I believe massage therapists work in three areas:
Dis-ease. Physical or otherwise, dis-ease is often clients’ excuse to get a massage; to feel better, to help with physical injuries, pain, excess tension, confusion, stress or being beside oneself. Dis-ease treatment is an important part of what we do.
Dis-position. This term refers to misalignment, and persistence of dysfunctional habits, in movement, emotion and mind. This can include massage and bodywork helping to recalibrate the set-point of the autonomic nervous system, or somatic education.
Rolfing® Structural Integration developer Ida Rolf, Ph.D., talked about how common structurally “random bodies” are. So often, as well, we find ourselves and our clients challenged with random minds.
We bounce from one random thought to another
Then there are dispositions that are overly narrow-minded, leaning unhealthily in reactionary directions through lack of knowledge or prejudice. Massage, by bringing compassion in with touch and waking up the bodymind, helps people remain positive through hands-on psychosomatic education.
Destiny. Finally, we come to a third level—perhaps the highest level of health, that of destiny. In both Western and Eastern models of health, this is identified with self-realization, actualization and enlightened living.
Think of your clients.
What are your highest hopes for them? What do they want? What are their dreams? If this person on your table could blossom and become the best possible version of himself, what might that look like? How would he talk, walk, hold himself; what pursuits and attitudes would feed his deepest happiness?
What is more precious than our dreams and the means to make them come true?
We each strongly desire fulfillment in work, in love, in life. It’s what we all want—what the Declaration of Independence identifies as unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As much as our clients’ dis-ease and dis-position grab our attention again and again, we cannot afford to lose sight of ultimate goals, these highest hopes our clients consciously or unconsciously manifest.
Ultimately they want to, and we want to see them, remain positive to fulfill their human potential.
It is no accident that modern massage in the U.S. was a core element of the Human Potential Movement that exploded from the culture of the Esalen Institute and other progressive communities around the world beginning in the 1960s.
Its leaders—including bodywork pioneers Rolf, Moshé Feldenkrais and Milton Trager, M.D.—began to study and explore the nonverbal humanities, and to join the rigors of Western thinking and science with inspiration from the wisdom traditions all around the world, particularly from Asia.
Human potential never goes out of fashion. People just sometimes lose sight of their individual and collective higher goals.
Human potential is not a movement; it is an evolutionary obligation.
We are the only animal that can evolve itself over one lifetime. Educators see this in so many massage students telling us, “My life has fundamentally changed as a result of what I learned and experienced in massage school.” Therapists hear from clients, “Massage has changed my life.”
That brings us to the question, how might we conceive of the strategies for the fulfillment of human potential through massage? How can the study and practice of massage contribute to humankind, to the fulfillment of our best destiny?
There is no question as to the essential role touch plays in human life. Touch is the first sense to develop in the embryo—as early as the sixth week—and it derives from the same embryonic layer as the nervous system. As such, it is the foundation of our entire world.
Our world is in danger of the lessons taught by touch to be ignored.
The communal disposition so often seems to be locked in disagreement and duality. There are incidences of horrible violence; painful income inequalities; racism; sexism; diseases that run rampant, especially among poorer people and nations; and the devastation of our environment.
We are confronted, as therapists, by the urgency with which the lessons of touch are so desperately needed in our world. The hardest thing is if we forget the evolutionary and revolutionary role of touch.
Loving touch and the experience of connection are what every person most depends on.
We know in our hearts it is touch that we need—to be in touch with ourselves, with each other, in our schools and businesses, and in the world as a whole. An essential element in all massage is education of the heart.
Let us remember and be emboldened by these truths:
- Through touch, we are communicating more than manipulating.
- Each session calls upon us to try to communicate, through this most fundamental nonverbal medium, what the person before us may need to most know in body and mind.
- Let kindness, the experience of connection and actual reality triumph over disconnection and virtual reality.
- By touching with clarity; as well as graceful body movement, enlivened by our own breathing, manifesting care and understanding of this person on the table, we set the stage for what may be the deepest form of bodymind learning.
- The deepest learning results in self-evolution. Viewing that collectively, touch is bearing a precious message for humankind—we can make peace on earth through valuing human potential more than profit potential.
- “The thing that brings human value back to experience is the touching of it with human presence.”—Psychotherapist Steve Gilligan
- We never know what touch may change a life.
The message of touch is irreducible and irreplaceable. Let us remain positive so we can join forces and make the biggest difference in the world that massage can provide.
David Lauterstein is co-director of The Lauterstein-Conway Massage School & Clinic, a teacher of Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method and Zero Balancing, and author of The Deep Massage Book.