I’m sure that most massage regulars have experienced (hopefully only on rare occasion) a massage that feels something akin to a child arbitrarily pushing brussel sprouts around his plate. The spectacular flip side to that is a massage where it feels like the therapist is working some kind of “magic” with his or her hands, a fantastic dance of muscular interaction and release. I reckon this drastic difference is not attributed to skill, experience or technique alone, but rather to a combination therefore, and foremost to the attention and intention of the therapist, as well as the client. Granted, there are many factors that go into the overall experience and associated sensations of receiving a massage (and giving one), but I find intention to be one of the most powerful factors influencing bodywork. In this case, it can occur that even the most gifted and skilled practitioner may deliver a brussel sprouts massage, while an untrained yet genuinely caring person may work wonders.

The power of our intentions and how they are translated through touch may be witnessed in many examples of every day life. Consider the difference between placing a firm, disciplinary hand on someone’s shoulder, versus the transmission of a sympathetic touch in the same place, although it may be just as firm. Think about snatching up a crying baby hoping it will shut up, versus picking up the same child with the intent to comfort and soothe; the outcome usually strongly mirrors the underlying intent. Or imagine giving your tired grandmother a loving shoulder massage, compared to massaging your spouse’s shoulders while snuggling by the fire; although you may employ identical techniques of soft tissue manipulation, your intentions would carry very different implications, resulting in very different massages.   

For those on the fence of doubt, try a simple experiment with a friend or family member. Simply have them sit in a chair and stand behind them. In three different phases, you will place your hands on their shoulders while you entertain three different types of thoughts. Once think about conferring love, generosity, health, joy, good energy and healing to the person in front of you. One time think about whatever comes, whether it’s errands you have to run or a pair of shoes you’d like to buy. Finally, think about something that makes you feel sad, angry or ashamed, or entertain judgmental thoughts about the person. You can do these in any order. Don’t tell the person what you are thinking about, but ask them to rate the quality of your touch after you’ve gone through all 3 cycles. Most people will clearly feel most comfortable with the touch when you were directing positive thoughts toward him or her. Some people will feel no difference, we are all energetically more or less in tune, but be honest with yourself before you write someone off as energetically numb—for many people it can be hard work to focus the thoughts in one consistent direction for any amount of time, so if you are sending mixed messages, of course it will be hard for another individual to notice a difference.

This can be a fun experiment. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but take the message to heart. Often no defined intention at all feels distinctly empty, almost as unenjoyable as a bad intention.

So, for massage, what can we do? As clients, we can come into our massage sessions with the intent to relax, receive, breathe, honor ourselves, and let go. As therapists, we can come into our sessions with the intent to soothe, calm, invigorate, guide, coax, or woo the muscles, as fitting the needs of the client, but always with presence of mind, and always with the intent to touch with reverence.



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