Sep 26, 2011

Bodywork or Massage?

A few weeks back, I was sitting with a dear friend of mine in one of our favorite haunts in NE Portland. Following a late afternoon romp in Laurelhurst Park, avoiding duck poop as we tossed a nerf ball back and forth, we were enjoying a brew and a plate of nachos. Perhaps we were discussing possible ideas for a logo for her new business, or our endeavor to train for and run a 1/2 marathon, when out of the blue Lauren, my friend, said, "I think I'm starting to know what you mean when you say 'bodywork'."

Ah, yes bodywork. After going to school for 'massage therapy' and becoming a 'licensed massage therapist', my friends and family don't quite follow when I describe what I do as bodywork, not massage.

The term bodywork can be understood in two ways: it is an umbrella term, encompassing all forms of manual therapy, including massage. It is also the term I use to distinguish and differentiate myself from the word massage. A contradiction this would seem? Allow me to elaborate.
In broad terms, bodywork is an umbrella term for all kinds of manual therapies. Manual therapy is the use of skillful touch to deliver treatment, describes Deane Juhan, in Job's Body: A Handbook for Bodywork. Thus, as different as these practices are from one another, Swedish (relaxation) massage, Shiatsu, Feldenkrais, Rolfing & Structural Integration, Visceral Manipulation, Trager, Craniosacral and Aston Technique can all be labeled under the umbrella term of bodywork (and these are just a few of the many hundreds of manual therapies and modalities that may fall under bodywork). I even consider private instruction in Pilates and Yoga as forms of therapeutic bodywork.

And yet, bodywork is also a very specific term, more specific and very different from what massage, unfortunately, has come to imply.

Going back to Juhan's description of bodywork, he writes that it conveys the 'idea of the body being touched in a deliberate fashion for specific results,' meaning there is a process of intention for both the the client and the therapist. The client is not passive, like a slab of meat on table, the therapist is not impassive, like a lump of stone. A session of bodywork is the meeting point between the needs of the client and the methods and the discretion of the therapist. 

Bodywork is a practice that one builds upon over time. Meanwhile, massage is what is innate to our human selves and we use it on ourselves or to comfort others when we hurt physically, emotionally, spiritually. A person benefits enormously when they receive respectful, safe touch from any other human being. But bodywork is not innate to us, it is a combination of knowledge, skill and study that are developed over time and practice. Bodywork is about intention.

An example of what I mean is that a person may come in with a knee that becomes painful during running. I could massage the area around the knee, the quads, the IT band, the hamstrings and perhaps the sensory input will assuage the pain for a while and relieve muscle spasm. But the knee will more than likely continue to cause pain when that person runs again.   

In contrast, with bodywork I assess the factors that may be causing the knee pain, often which are not at the knee, but come from the hip and/or the foot, and use methods to recreate balance there. When the foot and the hip are in balance, the knee will naturally and quite happily come into balance. And is more likely to stay in balance, as the factors causing it to be imbalanced have been addressed.

Thanks for reading!

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