Years ago, I had a massage at a festival that sort of makes me laugh now. The man giving me the massage was doing his thing, getting 'in there' in areas that he thought needed work - poking and pulling me where I was really sensitive.
"Relax." he kept saying.
Now honestly, I was trying to relax; I knew massage was what I needed. But at the same time, he was hurting me, and I didn't trust him to stop hurting me. To protect myself, I tensed up, making my own barrier. It stopped him causing me more pain where I felt vulnerable.
It also stopped him doing anything to my muscles at all really - there's no way he could have done any good either. The whole massage was basically a polite fight - him telling me to relax, me tensing against him. Amongst a load of polite chat.
I'm sure that if I had opened up and relaxed, I would have had an amazing massage. But for whatever reason, I stayed tense, and I didn't let him in. Maybe I wasn't ready. Maybe I didn't trust him.
I still remember that massage today, something like 11 years on, and hearing a similar story from a new client today prompted me to write this.
In our lives, we develop ways of protecting ourselves when we sense a threat:
- we say 'I'm fine, I'm tough' when we're feeling scared, to avoid being seen as an easy target,
- we take a deep breath, tense up, and walk past the gang on the street, trying to look as 'cool' as possible,
- we stay alert to attacks.
For most of us as we get older, these threats are less and less likely, but the tension has stayed there, to 'protect' us. For others, those threats are still there - and that protection is needed.
As a massage therapist (and a friend, girlfriend, sister, whatever) my job isn't to get in there and destroy the person's defence because 'I don't think they need it any more.' My job is to take people as they are - to love them for who they are right now, with tension and defences here and there, with quirky habits and hopes and fears, the whole lot.
Who knows what goes on behind closed doors, in other people's lives - maybe they really need that defence up right now. Who am I to judge? We are ALL a work in progress.
When I massage, I don't assume that I know best, because I really really don't when it comes to somebody else's body or their history. They know best. The client is always right.
Opening up and being vulnerable takes bravery, you need to know you will be safe and protected when you do it. If someone lets down their defences with me, it is an honour and a privilege, it isn't my right.
As a massage therapist, my job is to love you AND your defences. And if you decide to let them down, then amazing.
I honestly feel very lucky after a day of massaging and I hope that in time I will extend that love for my clients to myself too, and then... LOOK OUT! - my massages will be even better! (But I guess, for now, I just need to learn to love that I am not there yet.)
Ruth Nadia x