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Massage Today
May, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 05

The Spirit of Massage

By Retta Flagg

Editor's note: Retta Flagg has 16 years' experience in the massage field and 25 years' experience in metaphysical studies. She maintains a private practice in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, and offers continuing education courses in neuromuscular and muscle energy technique, palpation skills, and self-empowerment technique.

I was talking to a colleague one day, and he mentioned that he liked Thai massage best because it was the most spiritual technique he'd learned.

I stood there and thought, "But they are all spiritual." For me, touch is a sacred act. My massage work is not just a job; it is part of my spiritual service in the world. I consider everything I do part of my spiritual service, but I have found that the act of giving a massage touches me and feeds me on so many levels.

How has massage touched me so deeply? First, I have come to recognize the depth and uniqueness of each person on my table. Every one of my clients is an extraordinary person. Have I been lucky in the kind of client that I attract? Perhaps, but it is more that I have come to appreciate each client's unique expression of their humanity and the challenges that that expression entails. Second, I am honored to be able to contribute to another person's well being in some small, and sometimes, large way. Third, "being with" another human being and learning to listen to and honor his or her experience has taught me how to "be with," listen to, and honor myself in my own journey.

Another aspect that I consider important in the spiritual realm of my massage work is holding a sacred, healing space in my working environment. Sacredness originates from within and grows from our connection to divine or higher energy. Holding that space for my office helps me to ground my connection in my everyday experience. It is my belief that by holding a sacred space, the quality of my massage work is enhanced by the energy of my connection.

There is a lot of research being done on the power of prayer and faith in a healing situation. Guess what? The power of prayer and faith is measurable in a research environment. Regardless of any validation by any authority other than my own heart, my spiritual connection sustains me in my work and daily life. Do I need research to validate the effect of my faith on my work? Not at all, but I think it is time that as a profession, we step out into the arena of research as a means to validate our spiritual experience in our work.

One of the main challenges in doing research on "spirituality" in relation to any field is in defining spirit. On the one hand, each person's spiritual journey is a unique and personal experience. On the other hand, many religious teachings limit a spiritual connection to one, and only one, valid means of expression. In defining spirit, the one group tends to feel threatened that its personal connection will be limited by another group's definition of its experience. The other group feels threatened that its one and only one means of expression will not be the definition of spirit. Personally, I not feel that spirit can be defined. It can, however, be described. Its effects can be measured. That description and measurement can be broad enough in scope to hold space for every person's belief system and experience. In the last 15 years, our profession has matured and moved into mainstream health care and health prevention. We have held out to the public the physiological benefits of massage, our comprehensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and our high ethical and educational standards. As my colleagues speak about the changes in the massage field, they always remark that it is the spiritual side of massage that keeps them vested in their work. However, they feel that if they talk about it, they will lose their credibility in mainstream health care. I think it is time that we honored the spiritual foundation of our work as a credible aspect of what we do as massage therapists.

The sacredness of touch needs to be addressed in the massage school environment alongside anatomy and physiology. Perhaps spirit cannot be defined, but it can be taught, and it can be taught in such a way that it does not violate the boundaries of one's religious beliefs. Teaching how to hold sacred space and honor a client's experience can be done without having to connect it to a specific dogma. As a profession, we need to clarify and describe our spiritual experience even as we had to clarify and describe what we palpate with our hands.

I recognize that the medical profession is much more comfortable with a distancing word like "holistic" to include spiritual connotations in their work. I ask you, "What makes it holistic?" Body, mind, and spirit. Spirit is the fifth element that acts as the glue of the universe. I think it's time that we name it and claim it for what it is. Touch the body, and touch the soul.


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