I have heard it said that each one of us has “medicine” to offer to the world, be it through music or visual arts, active listening, teaching yoga or meditation, or any number of gifts. I believe that we all have the potential to connect with the healing energies of the universe through our hands.
I want to offer a few thoughts about this powerful medicine of human touch at a time when need for it is at its prime. As hard as we all may try to avoid it each year, the holiday season often brings with it high levels of stress: flu season, demands of added activities, the quest to find the perfect gifts for friends and family, and/or an increased feeling of loneliness or loss.
When I was studying nursing over two decades ago, gentle back massage was still included in the curriculum and to be offered to patients spending long hours in hospital beds. In fact, in the early history of nursing, therapeutic touch was integral to the care of the patient. Over the years, touch lost its place in nursing care and in Western medicine in general, where a visit to ones primary provider can be virtually void of any human touch.
Through my own personal journey of athletic injuries and chronic pain, I became aware of the power of therapeutic touch and decided that I needed to put it back into my professional practice. Adding massage therapy and reiki to my set of tools has opened up a world of possibilities in the art of healing. The additional training I received in myofascial work and oncology massage has augmented what I am able to offer both in my public health nursing work and massage therapy practice.
The best education for me in the work with massage therapy however, is what I gain from each individual session with a client. My job is both to ascertain my client’s goals for our immediate session and to support his/her longer term goals after the session is finished. Some people are able to identify quickly in words what they are looking for while others come with more of a vague idea.
It is an honor to begin a session by helping to create a safe space for the work to happen. Some people find a desire to talk while they receive a massage, perhaps letting off steam from the day, while others may drift off or even fall asleep. My efforts are focused on how to create a supportive and nurturing “container” (as massage therapists like to call that safe place created) to allow the natural medicine of therapeutic touch to achieve the desired outcomes or, sometimes more importantly, help someone reconnect with themselves. Every session is unique and sacred, like the individual.
Quite a lot of research has been conducted that documents the positive outcomes of massage: reduction in pain, stress, and depression; an increase in sleep, physical energy; and a general sense of well being. I rejoice with my clients when our work together produces such benefits. But it is always a struggle to let go of the intention or desire to “fix” someone’s pain when I know that is not my power, but theirs. I am empowered, however, to accompany people on their journey. I am aware that massage can be an instrument to help people touch deeper places in themselves and allow the natural process of healing to happen from within.
Being able to offer this gift of accompaniment is one of the things I value most about my work. A few clients summed it up for me recently with the following quotes: “Sometimes I would sit on the curb and cry because of my pain; I didn’t know where it was and it was overwhelming. Now I know where it is and somehow that makes it more manageable”… and “Yes, I feel less pain after the massage, but what matters most to me is that you felt my pain with me, and now I am not alone.”
It is an honor to be someone who is trained to do this type of work and use it in different professional settings. Of course, I encourage people to include massage therapy as a part of their wellness model if possible. Some day it will be included as an integral part of our health care system. At the same time, I encourage everyone to tap in to that natural medicine we all have with human touch, whenever it’s appropriate. This time of year, it can be one of the most effective, and certainly most economical, gifts we can give each other.
“Touch was never meant to be a luxury. It’s a basic human need. It is an action that validates life and gives hope to both the receiver and the giver. The healing of touch is reciprocal.”-Irene Smith
- Rae Johnson is one of the fabulous massage therapists in the spa and is available on Mondays for: deep tissue, Swedish, Aromatherapy, and Oncology massage as well Reiki.