Two Legs or Four
The Value of the Path is the Same
By Karrie Osborn
Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, November/December 2009. Copyright 2009. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Animal massage has grown considerably in the United States since its emergence within the horse community in the 1960s and 1970s. It was on the racetracks and in the stables that famed sports massage therapist Jack Meagher (who passed away earlier this year) and others like Linda Tellington-Jones helped massage become a valuable component of equestrian care, while also unveiling the hands-on work to a broader animal advocate population. The field has evolved significantly since that time, with animal therapists now offering everything from acupressure to energy work to hydrotherapy to--human massage.
Despite their place in ancient Greek and Arabic equestrian traditions, animal therapies continue to fight for a place in the massage community today. Some opponents even question the place of animal massage in human massage schools. Still, a growing number of massage and bodywork practitioners are working with animals, big and small, in everything from zoos to living rooms around the world.
The legitimacy human massage has earned over the last decade has no doubt been a boon for animal massage as well. "People have started to understand that massage can help their animals in so many ways," says Barbara Maciejewski, who has been involved with the animal massage program at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT) since 2003. "There's great acceptance--word is out there now."
The world of animal massage is definitely changing, as evidenced by not only today's legal wranglings surrounding who can and can't do the work, but also by who is taking animal massage trainings to begin with. According to Maciejewski, students taking the animal course work at BCMT are veterinarians, vet techs, and massage therapists. She says not only are vets seeing animal massage as another revenue stream, but massage therapists are seeing it as a way to fill holes in their appointment books.
Yet, the story today is not just what animal massage is; it's also what animal massage can become. The fact is, we've come nearly full circle in the discussion as some of today's animal massage experts are now adapting their work for human clientele.
Working with Animals (and Humans)
For Linda Tellington-Jones, focusing on the human audience is built into the root of her TTouch work. Most in the animal massage community are familiar with the long-standing work of Tellington-Jones, but few may know that her work involved both animals and humans from virtually the beginning.
Horse massage was passed down to Tellington-Jones from her grandfather, who learned it from Russian gypsies at the Moscow racetrack where he earned the title of lead trainer in 1905. She co-published Massage and Physical Therapy for the Athletic Horse in 1965 and later included it as a chapter in her first book, Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding. Through her studies with movement educator Moshe Feldenkrais in the mid-1970s, Tellington-Jones's work with animals and humans continued to evolve, until in 1983, the Tellington TTouch modality was born.
"What has emerged over the ensuing decades is Tellington TTouch, an easily learned method of 20-plus hand positions combined with varying tempos and pressures," says Tellington-Jones. "TTouch crosses the species barrier and has spread around the globe for use in the world of humans, as well as all species of animals."
Tellington-Jones describes TTouch as a system of gentle, circular touches, lifts, and slides done with the intention of activating cellular communication. Many have considered the work transformative on both physiological and emotional levels. For her animal clients, the bodywork is also known to improve behavior and performance. "TTouch is a language beyond words that deepens the appreciation and connection between humans and their animal friends," Tellington-Jones adds.
In the midst of that connection, Tellington-Jones says clients will often see the benefits of TTouch on their animals, and then make the correlation for themselves. "Animal massage has become mainstream in the last decade, and I hope it will make more people aware of the benefits of bodywork for themselves by seeing it for their animals," she says. "We awaken many people to the benefits of TTouch for self-help by teaching them what it feels like for their animals. Then, they discover they can use it to reduce their own tension, stress, pain, and anxiety."
Tellington-Jones says we may not understand why TTouch works so effectively at the cellular level to reduce pain and fear, but the results have been so positive in hospitals and for individuals working on themselves that TTouch has been included in the curriculum at the University of Minnesota for a minor degree in complementary healing modalities, through their Center for Spirituality and Healing.
And though the TTouch focus remains split between animals and humans, its end result is universal--improved well-being.
Skya Fisher, owner of Cat Paws Massage in Bellingham, Washington, is taking her animal massage work a step further and hopes to train humans how to massage their animal companions. For her, it really is about passion. From animal shelters to wildlife rehabilitation centers, Fisher has always been connected to animal advocacy. It was a natural move for her to incorporate animal massage into her work as an MT for humans.
Just as education is key to creating a knowledgeable human client base, Fisher says a critical component for making animal massage successful is educating people why it's important. "As a society, we still view companion animals as lesser beings," she says. "We breed them for characteristics that we think are cute. Simultaneously, we ignore their emotional, social, and sometimes physical needs."
In truth, Fisher says, animals benefit from massage therapy the same way humans do.
Through decades of transformation, animal massage has now evolved to a place where some animal modalities are transforming and growing to meet the needs of human clients. Therapists will tell you that's a good thing. Regardless how animal and human massage paths converge or divide along the way, the fact remains--whether two legs or four, the value of the path is the same.
Karrie Osborn is contributing editor for Massage Bodywork. Contact her at email@example.com.