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Massage Today
January, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 01

Learning to Pay Attention to the Quality of Touch

By Ann Catlin, LMT, NCTMB, OTR

I once received a massage that stands out in my memory. The space was beautiful and inviting. The therapist was attentive as we visited prior to the session. It had been a while since I'd gotten a massage so I was really looking forward to this time to let go and renew.

I was happy to relax on the warm table for a few minutes waiting for the session to begin. The therapist quietly entered the room. Then, I felt some quick touches on my back as she moved toward my feet where she abruptly started a vigorous foot massage. It was jolting. I wish I could say this was an isolated occurrence, but actually I've had this kind of experience several times. It reinforces the importance of the quality of our attention and touch at the very start of any session.

On the first day of my workshops, we do a focused attention exercise as we begin to explore gentle holding techniques. Partners sit facing one another and one person is the "receiver" and the other is the "giver" of the attention. The giver silently places their attention on their partner, mindful of acknowledging the individual within. They are instructed if the mind becomes distracted, to gently bring it back to focusing on their partner. After about three minutes, they silently switch roles and repeat the exercise. Then the group is asked to reflect on the experience. The feedback is always the same: the room feels warmer, the energy "softer," they feel calmer and centered and connected to one another. Occasionally, there are tears and always there are hugs as we close the exercise. It's remarkable to witness the shift that occurs in about six minutes. Now, we are ready to begin touching in a more intentional way.

Enhance the Quality of Your Touch

massage touch - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Whatever the context, all touch has quality and intention. The quality of your touch is the physical attributes of the touch itself. For example, touch may be warm or cold, firm or light, fast or slow, rhythmic or sporadic. The intention is what you communicate or convey through the touch. For example, you may use touch to communicate caring, to guide someone, or to greet a friend. Focused touch is touch that's offered gently and mindfully, with awareness of your intention. Beginning any session with a focused touch sets the tone for the entire massage, regardless of the techniques that follow in order to meet the needs of your client. The following are some simple steps that will enhance the quality of your touch as you initiate the touch session.


Centering before you make physical contact with your client affects the quality of your presence and makes the connection with your client more authentic.

Some examples of common centering methods include:

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Visualize a calming scene.
  • Say a brief prayer or inspirational verse.
  • Simply pause to focus your attention.

Focused Touch

It doesn't matter if you begin the massage at the feet, head or other area; take care to make the initial contact soft and slow. Hold the touch for just a moment before beginning any technique. This allows your client to feel your presence and it establishes trust.

Intend to Connect

Meet your client in the moment. Silently acknowledge the individual within the body you are massaging and their ability to receive what is needed for the rest of the session, whether that is relaxation, healing from an injury or pain relief.

Closing The Session

The quality of your touch at the end of a session is important, too. End with a moment of focused touch and gently pull your hands from the body. This allows your client to continue to enjoy the effects of the massage without the jolt of an abrupt change of energy at the end.

Taking these simple steps will go a long way to build a supportive environment for your clients. I've found that when I take care of the quality of my touch at the beginning of a session, I'm more fulfilled by the experience. I hope you are, too.

Click here for previous articles by Ann Catlin, LMT, NCTMB, OTR.


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