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  • rachelslee

What is holistic massage?

Updated: May 10, 2020

The following article by Andy Fagg, originally published in Massage World magazine, explains the term holistic, and outlines the processes and outcomes of massage.

".... Massage in essence is about sensitive communication through the medium of touch. At the moment of placing my hand on a client’s body, a range of physiological responses can occur, affecting the skin, the sensory nerve receptors, the muscle tissue, the circulation of blood and lymph, the ease of movement of joints, the digestion and so on. My skill as a holistic massage therapist, varying the depth, speed and intention involved in the touch, helps to determine which response occurs. Yet there is great deal more than this. Our emotions are body felt sensations. Consider when you have experienced familiar feelings such as anger, fear, shame and joy. Each of these is fundamentally a physical response and experience as result of the situation you were in. When I touch your body, I am literally in touch with your feelings.

Also, our bodies embody our conscious and unconscious belief systems about ourselves. If you believe yourself to be a confident, outgoing person, you will carry yourself in a certain way, your muscles will develop particular patterns of tension and relaxation and you will present a particular appearance to others. If you believe yourself to be insignificant and unimportant, the posture and muscle patterning will appear very different. Whatever your self-belief, when as a holistic massage therapist I touch you, I am literally touching your view of yourself and the feelings that help to maintain that view. .....

"...As a holistic massage therapist, I engage with each client, assessing needs and including physical, mental and emotional factors. I then make an appropriate selection from a wide repertoire of possible techniques, customizing the treatment to meet those needs at that particular time. This process is creative, sometimes unexpected and does not follow standard routines. I need to be guided by principles of sensitivity, awareness, knowledge and professionalism.

In many ways, holistic massage is about setting an atmosphere, creating an energy, being in a particular vibe. The way in which the massage is approached is as important as the techniques themselves. Of course, techniques matter too and may be drawn from a wide area. For instance, holistic massage may include:

· classical Swedish techniques such as effleurage; petrissage, kneading, friction and wringing;

· percussive techniques such as hacking, cupping, pummelling, plucking and brushing;

· gentle hand holds, drawing on healing traditions and an awareness of the human energy field. This may extend to working off the physical body in the human aura;

· deeper pressure techniques; such as neuromuscular technique (NMT);

· passive joint mobilizations and stretches, such as muscle energy technique (MET);

· appropriate techniques from related bodywork traditions such as cranio-sacral therapy and shiatsu.

An important feature of this approach is the ability to track through from a theoretical knowledge and understanding of anatomy, physiology and pathology to the practical realities of each client’s symptoms and responses – and how therefore to adapt one’s massage. In other words, the really skilful holistic massage therapist will understand the body’s structure, function and malfunction, know how to assess the effects on a particular client and the consequent links to massage technique. ....

"....In addition to technical skills, the role of the holistic massage practitioner must require self-awareness, since depth of contact with oneself is a prerequisite for depth in the therapeutic relationship.... In the Massage Training Institute all practitioners must maintain continuing professional development (CPD) through supervision and further training courses and cannot renew their annual registration without this.....

Attention to personal as well as professional development by the practitioner means that during sessions s/he can be more present and grounded. Quality of touch becomes the interface at which the practitioner and client meet. There can be a deeper level of communication beyond technique, offering clients opportunities for change through greater awareness. ....

".... Holistic massage can lead to a variety of outcomes; depending on the needs of the individual client. (ref 2). They can include:

· physical improvements such as relaxing tight muscles, improvements to circulation, nervous function and joint mobility; this can ease many short and long term ailments, such as back pain, arthritis and insomnia.

· reducing stress, one of the main causes of disease in Western society. As well as addressing stress factors, holistic massage can facilitate the switch between sympathetic and autonomic nervous systems, hence allowing both body and mind valuable recuperation time (refs 3,4,5).

· emotionally, massage can provide the caring non-intrusive touch clients have often longed for; this can soothe the busy mind, reduce stress and enhance self esteem.

· at a deeper level still, massage can release the personal history stored in body tissues; this can lead to powerful changes in our energy and provide a vital and chemical ingredient in each persons process of growth.

Of course the key here is to work with each client and the agenda they bring. Some wish to have their tight shoulders relaxed, whilst others might use massage for much deeper personal growth......

"....The holistic approach to massage therapy can touch an individual’s whole being – physical, mental and emotional. It holds the possibility of reintegration, is person centred and is guided by principles of sensitivity, awareness and quality of touch. These enable the holistic massage therapist to work with clients, applying techniques and skills in an appropriate manner. At an organisational level, the MTI is one organisation with a well developed, thoroughly thought through approach to holistic massage."

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