life felt like it was going to be going great. I was doing the work I wanted to do: helping people heal! Taking my work seriously, I never told anybody that I was a healer, always referring myself and other bodyworkers as therapists. Yet the image is hard to escape, the compliments challenging to accept without pride and though I feel that I had some of the best education in the state and there was never any illusion given to us (explicitly) about what we were doing, I began wondering what it was I had actually chosen to take on. Time for some research of my own.
Research on American Style Massage Therapy is like working on somebody’s hand with too much cream; slick, dodgey and a challenge to hang on to. I found three articles off the bat (grain of salt, remember?) that made me question myself especially; one about Thai Massage (that showed Thai compresses working better than anything else), one web article covering a number of trials and this article by a massage therapist-gone-writer. I was so excited! Real information on what the science community had discovered that we were doing! And their conclusion was that Massage Therapy is great for:
Wait, I went to school for what?
To help sad, mopey people get through their day? To remind Anxious Annie that the world is OK and she need not carry it?
Well, yeah, actually. The numbers abound indicating that the United States is one of the most depressed and anxious countries in the First World (the Third might actually be happier). The Anxiety and Depression Association has some pretty scary numbers, as they should, and the National Institute of Mental health isn’t much better. Again, grain of salt.
Even if these numbers are exaggerated, just observing myself gave me a lot to consider when it comes down to being touched. As a male-bodied person in this society, circa 2017, there is only a few times where being touched is acceptable. Sexual anything is the big one, no matter if your beliefs hold to strict or loose ideals on when that should happen, and who can ever escape noticing it these days? Sports is another, which I am going to lump dance into because I can. And don’t forget, the big cultural catch-all: when you are really, really drunk.
It’s different for women-bodied people as well as the whole (more realistic but requiring more wordage) spectrum of body and preference types. But what is common overall is the lack of healthy, nurturing touch. And as a massage therapist that is (another) idealization I intend to create in my work.
Touch as a Therapy
There’s a book I am reading right now called “A Guide to Healthy Touch: Vitamin T“. It is old, it is adorable and though there are some things I squirm at as a mature, modern individual (such as the letter you can write to a ‘spaceinvader’ to get them to respect your boundaries), it has a lot of very valid points about proper etiquette and the importance of healthy touch.
Touch is a very powerful form of communication. Whether or not we are paying attention to it, we are always touching something: our clothes, the hair on our body, the air around us, anything we are using with our hands and even ourselves (think under the arms or between the toes). It’s not a conscious part of most of our existence: We exist in this world through touch, including the ‘touch’ of light on our eyes and the touch of smells in our nose.
This is Why
massage therapy continues to be an important part of modern American society. As a country that has a double standard on touch and the usual variations on ‘acceptable’ negative touch standards we have chosen to maintain and uphold our therapies that require sensitive, kind and healthy intentioned people in order to fill that space. Even if they are not interested in massage I encourage all people to seek out a source of healthy touch in their lives.
My current definition of healthy touch comes from the following Chain of Intent:
Wish to benefit another without expectation -> Understanding that touch is the asked for means in which the benefit can be given -> Mindful-listening of the touch interaction throughout, maintaining previous links -> Providing Healthy Touch
Or W.U.M.P., if you like acronyms.