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Massage Today
December, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 12

Movement Awareness: Connecting Self with Client, Part I

By Josef Dellagrotte, PhD, LMHC, CFP, RMT

Every massage session is a movement relationship between practitioner and client. Because clients are passive receivers, we tend to ignore their awareness of and responses to what may be happening to their own body image perceptions.

We consider our role in this interaction as body use, contact, and application of technique.

Movement organization differentiates between massage as therapy and improvement vs. massage as treatment only, whether as a relaxing or as a myofascial relieving experience. The root of massage practice is in movement itself. The practitioner must move his/her own body in harmony with the inexorable laws of gravity and biomechanics. Massage is not generally considered a movement modality; in reality, it is, and it grows in public significance when it is consciously practiced with self-movement awareness and skill. Sooner or later, the client picks up on whether the message in the massage carries something more. Consider the following:

First, picture a standard massage treatment. The practitioner's actions reveal well-organized movements, or compromised, imbalanced, stressful postures during the application of treatment. There appears to be little client movement, and little equivalent or commensurate response. The client's body absorbs the potentially beneficial forces applied by the practitioner. The neglected, significant question is this: Is the practitioner benefiting? Is he or she getting better or worse?

The general protocol and expectations of a massage session have been shaped by tradition, experience and habit. The passive client comes to a session for the purpose of experiencing relaxation, without movement, or without any self-induced motion except to lie down, remain motionless, and then to get up and leave. The client feels the positive effects, but is minimally conscious of the process. The reality is that the practitioner does most of the moving; the client's body is moved. The effort is distinctly disproportional.

Second, the practitioner's actions reveal active mobilization that resembled work or effort. Any kind of hands-on work must affect one's own body. Physics dictates that any force generated must travel freely, without resistance or torque. To do otherwise is to generate turbulence affecting one or more components: muscle, nerves, myofascia, joints or bones. Whatever the modality used, the body must experience some effect, and this effect must be registered in the nervous system.

Third, the practitioner is moving his/her own body -- but how? The very act of movement involves using vectors of force, direction of force, body tensioning along myofascial planes, and an entire dimension of sensory-motor stimulation through touch. Some of these myofascial pathways of movement have been anatomically described (for example, see Thomas Myers' Anatomy Trains). No matter the technique or style used, the practitioner has to begin with self-organization, in the field of gravity. Technique is secondary to the greater principle: well-organized and efficient direction of movement energy in motion. This can be further broken down into components, such as the core functional movement based on the actions and planes of movement. In essence, every practitioner, either intuitively or by sheer behavioral learning, must use the basic functional components of human biological and biomechanical motion.

When working on a client, a practitioner intuitively recognizes a fundamental need for postural stability; for balance; for transmission of forces from the ground through oneself; for a certain amount of strength; for lengthening of one's own body; for relaxation, and for satisfaction while one works. This means that the practitioner, like the musician, has only natural, core functional motion possibilities: notes, then chords, then melodies or compositions. The notes are single actions of one part. The chords are combinations of notes that form core functional actions of extension, flexion, rotation and lateral bending of the opposite segments. These core functional movements, or colors of the body spectrum, allow joints to perform different actions.

As a functional movement, that action is precise and ideally effortless, not forced. If the articulation, with its corresponding muscle contraction, muscle lengthening, connective tissue or fascial spread, and internal sensory feel, are not resonant and syntonic, trouble ensues. If the movements go well, they combine to form patterns of action, or primary functional actions, the practitioner and the client benefit. As the practitioner moves, so does the client. Where the practitioner is struggling in her/his body, the client absorbs the manual forces, not having a clue (until later, perhaps) as to why a negative reaction was felt. It is rationalized often as: "I felt good, but then the pain came back."

Josef DellaGrotte is a certified Feldenkrais trainer, registered muscular therapist, integrative somatic practitioner and body-centered psychotherapist. He began training with Ida Rolf, then with Moshe Feldenkrais, who named Josef as a training assistant. His interest and practice is in combining therapy with somatic education, taking the client beyond passive experience and dependency into learning and self-care.


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