Are you fully engaged—body, mind and spirit—when giving human and animal massage? Each facet of mind, body and spirit adds influence, interpretation, response, approach and texture to your massage. Have you ever given a massage and drifted into a riveting conversation with your spirit? You re-emerge to the present. Your hands have been on auto pilot. You have not been completely present. Your mind and its attention were disconnected.
I have been teaching canine massage and practicing human massage since 1997. In my workshops, I emphasize the power of maintaining awareness of the mind. Clients, especially four-legged ones, sense when you are truly present, when you are drifting and the startling shift when you notice and reattach. I can tell when my human massage therapist drifts. Her hands are still connected; but when they press into me they feel like they’re pushing whatever is in her thoughts. If you notice your mind has begun to wander or stray, gently bring your focus to your breath. This way, you can smoothly transition your greatest presence back to your client, making each session balanced and seamless. By doing this, you’ll be more effective.
Maintaining body-physical and mind-conscious connections are fundamental, especially when working with animals. When dogs sense pressure that is too intense, they react spontaneously and honestly. They naturally pull away, putting distance between them and the annoyance. Dogs move away from discomfort, and move toward happiness. They’ll either turn their bodies around to point in a different direction, stare at you or if they feel or anticipate pain, even snap.
Anticipated pain is sourced in memories of feelings from previous experiences, and they create emotional holding patterns. All clients, biped and quadruped, access and revisit their memories and feelings during bodywork. We retain all the memories and references of everything we have ever experienced in our bodies. And when we are in a semi-meditative state like as that initiated with massage, they surface. When they do, and your client responds to them, we need to stay consciously present and grounded. Observe your breathing. Stay connected as an unbiased witness. I visualize that while I am with my clients, my spirit presence holds them in caring intention.
Range of motion (ROM)
You already know massage has powerful physical effects on cardiovascular circulation, joint flexibility, and muscular and neural tone. Massage affects the movement of fluids of the body. It reduces restrictions and promotes fluid flow and drainage. For example, work on the face, head and neck using techniques of compression, skin rolling, rocking and joint mobilization helps readjust the fluid in the inner ear necessary for maintaining equilibrium. The sinuses process and drain fluids. Massage gently pumps the lymphatic interstitial fluids through lymph nodes, and supports the inherent actions of the fluids as well. Frictioning and joint mobilization not only create heat within the tissues, they also enhance the lubricating function of synovial fluid within joint capsules. Range of motion becomes more balanced, freer and easier.
We learned in massage training that working the belly affects blood pressure. It shifts the pressure of fluids above and below the diaphragm; that’s how it enhances respiratory-lymphatic movement. While the physical pressure can be quantitatively measured, there is also a qualitative enhancement of internal ambience. This means that with massage, the body can maintain or re-establish its balance, function and wellness. Every natural process necessary for health and wellness is optimized.
Range of emotion (ROE)
Working the belly also affects one’s digestion. In traditional Chinese medicine, the stomach meridian functions to process food from its entrance to egress. The stomach meridian is a chain of 45 acupoints that run from mouth through the anal region on the ventral aspect of the dog and down the leg to the nail bed of the first toe. It is highly affected by tension. During times of stress, we and our clients ride emotional rollercoasters. When we are worried or excited, such as with tests, interviews, first dates, last dates and any anticipated emotional boat rocking, our balance becomes disrupted, as evidenced by indigestion and bowel irregularity (bloating, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea). This includes the cause and effects of a lifetime of nature-induced and nurture-induced responses. We describe this as the emotional holding pattern of chronic stress.
Two techniques that help your client’s belly reclaim balance, control and power are still-holding and circular stroking over the solar plexus. These techniques can make a massage transformational. That is the reason we include support of range of emotion, as one of the many benefits of massage.
Nonverbal body language says a lot and can be a conscious tool for enhancing ROM and ROE. A hand on the dog while giving a massage reminds her the massage is still happening. Lifting both hands off the body gives the signal that the massage is complete.
Staying completely present with your client, body, mind and spirit supports ROM an ROE on a deeper, more visceral level. Withdrawing your mind and spirit, even with your hand on the client’s body, leaves her to process her demons alone. Maintaining your presence and connection allows her to know you support whatever releases and shifts that gurgle up from her reservoir of memories.
Jonathan Rudinger is founder of PetMassage (www.petmassage.com). Rudinger, R.N., L.M.T., has been instrumental in developing the field of canine massage for people at home and at the professional level since the mid-1990s. He has facilitated more than 250 weeklong professional level canine massage workshops and has attracted students from all over the world to the PetMassage Training and Research Institute in Toledo Ohio. His home-study courses have provided instruction for thousands more dog owners. He is the author of several instructional books and DVDs that address many aspects of PetMassage including basic training, energy work, end-of-life care, creating and marketing an animal massage business, and a PetMassage children’s program for scouts, camp and afterschool activities. He is founder and president of the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (www.iaamb.org), and is also the president of the Association of Canine Water Therapy.