adapted from SUPER MASSAGE © by Gordon Inkeles
Our puritan heritage has assigned all physical contact between adults to two rather narrow categories: sexual or commercial. When you touch other adults you’re either making a sexual advance or you’re making money. Those engaged in commercial touching are careful to remain as impersonal as possible lest they be accused of making a sexual advance. This unfortunate stereotyping has created serious confusion in the massage profession. Lest massage become a euphemism for prostitution; it’s practiced as a “therapy” in which the body is manipulated as impersonally as a collection of auto parts. Real massage, the kind that has been practiced everywhere on earth since biblical times, is a sensual art: it works because it feels good. Sensuality is part of the wide spectrum of human feeling between sex and therapy. We live in a society that tries to deny its existence.
In massage, this denial has created some bizarre imitations. A prostitute posing as masseur fiddles around with a leg or an arm for a minute or two before getting down to business. The customer really didn’t expect massage and none was offered. But the massage therapist posing as doctor has even less use for real massage. Any gadget that will confer authority on the practitioner and distance him from the sensual is embraced wholeheartedly. High- speed electrical devices, magnets, bits of stone, and vials of uncertain chemicals are solemnly pressed against the body. Hands are waved back and forth in the air in order to “balance” mysterious forces.
When flesh finally does meet flesh it’s always to demonstrate an exotic theory, never, simply to please. Bursts of nasty finger poking alternate with violent manipulation of the joints because “blocked energy” must be liberated. Strokes wander aimlessly across the body, departing from the map of the circulatory system, from nerve paths and, finally, from all known systems. As the confusion mounts, charts covered with mysterious oriental characters are rolled out indicating that dozens of mysterious lines converge on the bottom of the spine, the side of an ear or the back of one toe. And of course the magnets and bits of stone converge on those spots with full liturgical ceremony.
“Auras, “Pressure Points” and Pain
Through it all the practitioner advances relentlessly on his helpless “patient” self righteously poking, jabbing and pulling at the body. In manner, if not in practice, he seeks to emulate the high priests of the medical profession (usually his sworn enemy). Ask a question and the authoritative bullying begins: your therapist knows things you don’t know about “meridians”, “auras”, and “pressure points”. It’s all very mysterious and complex and if it hurts, well…it’s good for you.
The body as Supernatural Freak Show
Quackery, not prostitution, is the biggest problem facing massage today. We’re in the process of rediscovering an ancient health principle that can enrich our lives, but for many people the quack, and his spooky bag of tricks, will be the first and last contact with massage. The human body, perhaps the most complex arrangement of matter in nature, is surely a fantastic mystery. But the quack usually has little understanding of anatomy and no appreciation for the sensual beauty of massage. Those who love massage understand that there is something primal about the experience—this is one of the most ancient human activities. Unfortunately, so is quackery. Thousands of years ago when people massaged by the light of open fires there were plenty of bead strokers and body pokers trying to get the evil spirits out. The quack has always sought power by transforming the body into a supernatural freak show that only he can understand.
But there is a grey zone, too, between quackery and real massage. Many earnest practitioners, concerned that their efforts will be confused with prostitution, go to great lengths to “dignify” massage. Most of the posturing—instead of stroking we “apply efflurage”—is a harmless attempt to acquire serious professional status. However, such affectations are usually abandoned the moment a partner begins to sink into that profound state of relaxation that only real massage can bring.
As for the legitimate professional masseur, given all the confusion about massage your customers deserve some consumer protection. Needless to say, once they’ve had a satisfying personal experience, they will want to spread the word. You can help bring massage to many needy clients by simply providing the necessary guidelines.
Coming soon: Guidelines for professional massage