Give in to Stillness
Enhance Your Massage Experience by Completely Stopping
By Jennie Hastings Stancu
We live in a culture that likes to go, go, go. It's often difficult to find a place to step off and pause for a while, allowing your world to slow down just a little. One of the best antidotes to this constant, frenetic lifestyle is a good, old-fashioned massage.
Stillness During Massage
You may come in wound up from the stress of being late, the crazy day you had at work, or just because life happens at ever-increasing speeds. When I have a client come in frazzled and spinning, I think of my massage table as the net that catches her, and my work as the anchor that holds her long enough to activate the nervous system's parasympathetic response--the place where she lets her mind be still and her stresses float away.
My suggestion to completely stop has to do with holding clients in stillness, just for a few breaths, a few times during the bodywork session. When clients come in for a massage, they are looking forward to me moving and manipulating their muscle tissue, and I respect this contract. However, I do think there is room in any good massage for all movement to cease, just for a moment, so that stillness can be experienced fully.
I think it makes sense to have at least three moments of complete stillness in a massage: right at the beginning, at some point in the middle, and at the end. During a moment of complete stillness, I let my palms rest on my client's body at whatever point I am working. For example, I like to rest at the head, hips, sacrum, knees, and feet. During the moment of stillness, I take three deep, full breaths. My clients pick up on the cue and deepen their breaths as well. Sometimes while my hands are still, I will feel twitches and adjustments in my clients' bodies, and I may also be able to feel more clearly any lines of tension during these same moments.
Thirty seconds of complete stillness may feel like a long time to you if you are used to constant movement during a massage, but even if I do this a few times, it is not taking much away from muscle manipulation, and it gives clients support in doing something we all need to do on a regular basis: completely stopping. Clients walk away from the massage with a little more bodily knowledge of what it feels like to be still, and this knowledge will support them later.
A Chance to Catch Up
On some Sundays, to completely stop, I will sleep as late as my body chooses and then spend the rest of my day at home in my pajamas. I usually do some cooking and cleaning. I might take a bath and get dressed. But I don't pressure myself to do anything besides relax and do only what I truly feel like doing.
I know this might feel impossible to some of you. Perhaps you have a family that makes constant demands on your time and energy. Maybe you can all have a day together to completely stop. Turn off your cell phones, the computer, and the television. Make pancakes, take a nap, play a board game, take a walk. Observe a cat and try to be as catlike as possible. Stretch, yawn, eat, sleep, repeat. If this sounds too hard to do as a family, maybe you can send your kids to sleepovers on a Friday night and hang out at home by yourself or with your spouse.
Why It's Important
When we completely stop, we give our bodies a chance to catch up. The mind stops bringing in new information and the body stops bringing in sensory stimuli. From this quiet point, we are more aware of our spirits and better able to hear the whispers of intuition. When we stop (or slow down) the incoming stream of life, we can begin to process what has already happened. We find more clarity because we can hear what our inner voice is saying without all the unnecessary chatter and distraction.
It is a huge gift to completely stop in this day and age of hectic, fast-paced life. Give this gift to yourself by practicing silence during your next massage (or during any time of the day). Bring yourself into your body; descend into your body. Completely stop. Close your eyes. Listen to the breath moving in and out of your torso. Listen to the birds and life outside. Sigh.
Jennie Hastings Stancu, LMT, is the author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). She lives in Portland, Maine, where she practices massage, yoga, and coaching with clients.