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Massage Today
February, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 02

Movement Awareness: Connecting Client With Self, Part II

By Josef Dellagrotte, PhD, LMHC, CFP, RMT

Editor's note: Part I of this article appeared in the December 2002 issue, available online at

The Essential Qualities of Human Movement

When the practitioner moves well, it indicates that forces are being transmitted along pathways of contraction and lengthening - an interplay of force vectors matching up with myofascial pathways of lengthening, such that the net effect is both postural uplift and neutralization of torquing stresses.

An observer would see smooth motions and a relaxed, satisfied client. Movement is a science, a skill, an art form which, when well executed, affords practitioners a better chance of working without the attrition rate of injuries associated with the profession; a sustained pain-free practice; and more-satisfied, better-managed clients.

The Essential Skill of the Practitioner Is in the Quality of Movement

The real science and art of massage begins with the practitioner's awareness through movement, which has higher-grade value than simply learning several external techniques. Movement is the very condition of life and all life activities.

There is no escape: If the practitioner does not have awareness of movement and how she/he is being affected, it is only a matter of time before the gravitational stresses of life lead to structural and functional disorders in the form of musculoskeletal or myofascial pain. Disorder, the dreaded entropy of the body, sets in. Will power and determination are no match for these forces. The practice life of the bodyworker is cut short; damage and pain becomes recurrent - and all the unnecessary result of poor learning or weakened kinesthesia!

Moshe Feldenkrais, the somatic innovator and pioneer, observed that life without movement is inconceivable. Ida Rolf understood that structure was the key to stability, balance and mobility. Several somatic innovators have developed new learning approaches, so that not only the practitioner, but also the client can experience basically efficient movement, leading to the maintaining of supported upright posture. The field of somatic study has moved outward, from treatment to educative therapy.

Once again, historically speaking, the client has another chance at self-learning and self-maintenance. Once aware that the way we move is a major key to practice, we can look into the detail of primary functional movement actions. What I'm referring to are species-based activities of daily life that have a purpose, satisfy life needs, and even share a species commonality, to some extent. For example, people all over the world must lie down, get up, sit, stand and walk.

What Practitioners Need to Know

To be structurally, functionally and even psychophysically well-integrated, every person needs the essential movement nutrients: resonant movement; lengthening through the spine and along myofascial pathways; stretching of local connective tissue pathways; strengthening of muscle groups in a balanced way; relaxation responses, which are built into every movement activity; feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment from movement activity; and clarity of direction and intention. We may not get the full complement at any one time; as when taking vitamins and minerals into our bodies, it can take place at different times.

The bodyworker needs to be able to access lengthening, which is how energy is being transmitted through the body. Every position we assume when working on clients requires this lengthening. Otherwise, shortening or harmful compressions start to take place by default. When you work, you are either lengthening or shortening; there is no in-between.

Stretching is an essential component, but a highly misunderstood one. Ideally, stretching takes place when we slowly move one local myofascial area. For example, yoga stretches work so well because they take place in slowed down, stillness time, with breathing, relaxation and focus.

Strengthening takes place whenever we move in concentric fashion against gravity. We also can focus on conscious strengthening through particular exercises. Doing massage work can strengthen, but it also can weaken. (I have done therapy with many practitioners who were getting weaker in certain areas of the body, especially the shoulder girdle and upper back.)

Resonance, or smooth movement, is an essential quality that represents everything working together, with forces being distributed without internal turbulence or damage. Resonance derives from physics: the resonant frequency-of-motion principle, represented in pendulums, coils and springs. All living bodies seek and enjoy resonant movement.

Relaxation is an internal physiological experience. The response has been described and documented by many. How does it occur in movement? Whenever movement is resonant, the points at which we move through our own center of gravity (the neutral place), we experience a millisecond of effortlessness, even enjoyment.

Psychophysical (Somatoemotional) Dimension: Empathic Touch

The client who is being moved well unconsciously responds and registers positive somatophysical or psychophysical well-being. This response is enhanced further when the client begins to notice improved sensation when sitting, standing, walking, or performing other activities. Whenever the client notices that, following a session, something has carried over, and that some function has improved, this has significance. Whenever the nervous system has an experience which is not imposed upon it, but is suggested through a empathic touch contact that matches the client's need state, there is likely to be not only healing, but more: improvement of function, and with this a further move in the direction of health and wellness.

Whenever the client notices that something beyond temporary alleviation of discomfort has occurred, he or she is far more likely to return. The massage therapist who follows this path soon has not only a regular clientele, but also a set of learners and movers who are ready to reclaim their bodies and actively take charge of their own wellness.

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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