Light as a Feather

During intake I expected to hear about the tension in her neck but instead received directives to go light there…no, make that everywhere. “Be gentle,” she said, and paused for emphasis. “Gen-tle.” There was a flash in her eyes that told me that she’d been wronged before on a massage table…or maybe elsewhere in her life. 

On one hand, light-pressure Swedish massages are easy. I barely break a sweat, which for me is incredibly rare. On the other hand, they pose a different set of challenges. At the franchise where I worked at the time, I was conditioned by most of the clients to use firm pressure and basically to go digging for those mysterious “knots” I heard so much about. So when a client deviated from those requests, I needed to be hyper aware. 

Of course, we were taught in school that each client has different needs, pain tolerances, life experiences and emotional associations that affect what kind of massage they prefer. It’s just that light-pressure requests were incredibly rare there….

I washed my hands, glanced into the mirror, mimicked that same stern look that had flickered across my client’s face. Light. Light. Gen-tle. 

My hands on the client, I quickly noticed that my breathing was shallow, guarded. I wasn’t trusting my own self, so why should she trust me? I took a slow, deep breath. Slow. Light. Gentle. 

I’m going to mix metaphors here, but massage therapists spend the bulk of their time warming up and remodeling living clay during a typical massage for tangible results. 

Light-pressure Swedish strokes, in contrast, fade…impermanent, sumi-e strokes of water on pavement. Loose fists become wingtips. No, feathers. The finishing part of each stroke is paramount. The client’s body pays close attention, bracing against potential discomfort, perhaps awaiting disappointment. 

Light. Light. Easy, now. Lighter pressure awakened me to the “noise” I often needed to gloss over to warm the tissues quickly during a 50-minute session. In her tissues was a buoyant quality that I would normally have had to sink right past. Just under the surface of her skin was the faintest crackle of dehydrated fascia around her traps. Fascinating. But I forced myself to move on before I focused too long, sank in too deeply. 

The client sighed, a good sign of release. Oh, wow, her legs needed work. I resisted, focused harder, lightened up, breathed deeply again. IT bands are often sensitive on even the hardiest of clients. There was no way I was going to resolve anything here in the time allotted. Resolution didn’t seem to be my client’s objective, anyway. 

The session eventually ended. The focus and willpower I needed not to go too deep made the time go surprisingly quickly. The client emerged out of the room a bit starry-eyed. She thanked me three times, said it was excellent. 

And it was only then that I allowed myself to relax.