I have had dozens, probably even hundreds, of bad massages, oh man have I. This is because I like to receive from many different practitioners. I always learn something - either something I wish to integrate into my work, or something I would never subject a client to.
That's the thing about massage therapy - every therapist brings something different to the art. The experience of receiving can be spectacular, mediocre or just plain old bad, depending not just on the skill level of the practitioner, but on the rapport between practitioner and receiver.
A massage is a dance in which rapport is crucial. If there isn't a good alchemy between therapist/practitioner and receiver, things can go terribly wrong - as they did on Monday evening. I received a massage from a complete stranger on the other side of the country where I was visiting for Thanksgiving. She didn't lack technical skill, but she seemed to have no empathy. There was no poetry in her work. She was what I call a massage mechanic.
Receiving from a massage mechanic is not a bad thing if they follow the same protocol for every massage, as they do at spas, but when they go rogue and think they can figure out what needs fixing in their client, well, bad things tend to happen. I know someone who received a massage from someone who decided to give her an osteopathic treatment, immediately after which she developed a hideous case of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Massage mechanics should stick to the program, not try to be creative.
To move beyond the mechanic stage involves people skills and a sense of rhythm, contour and energy. Those who can put it all together are therapists.
I'm inspired by therapists who listen to what I say, but also "listen" to my tissue and are able to get into the rhythms of the complicated being that is me - my breath, heartbeat, cranial rhythm - so as to enhance the possibilities for balance and wholeness. What they do is never as important as how tuned in they are to my body and being. There's a world of difference between massage mechanics and massage therapists, though we share the same degree.
The mechanic I received from the other day had a sharpness in her energy right from the git-go, as if perpetually waving a finger at the world, or perhaps standing with her hands on her hips, glaring. I noticed, but sometimes things change once I get on the table. Not in this case, but sometimes.
The verbal intake was a disaster.
Practitioner: What can I do for you?
Me: I love a full body massage, though if you want an area to focus on, it would be my shoulders, neck and back. I'm a massage therapist, so my upper body can get stiff, but please don't spend too much time up there because it brings all my energy up rather than helping me feel balanced..
Practitioner: You're a massage therapist? Oh no - the worst kind of client.
Me: What are you talking about? Massage therapists are great receivers, in my experience.
Practitioner: We don't take care of ourselves.
Me: Who is "we"? I take great care of myself.
She just stared at me. It was vaguely hostile.
OK, you would think, after that exchange, I would have decided to skip the bodywork. This was clearly going nowhere good. She told me right to my face that I'm the worst kind of client. Still, I was curious about what the experience might be like.
She spent almost the whole hour on my neck and shoulders, largely ignoring my arms, hands, legs and feet. In other words, she did the exact opposite of what I'd asked her to do. It was a horrible massage and I'm still sore from it.
A bad massage can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It is discouraging. If you receive a terrible massage, please do not assume every massage is going to be so bad. Massage therapists and massage practitioners come in many forms. Bad massage is a part of my professional research and development, but for most people, it is slightly traumatic.
Rapport is at the center of every kind of healing relationship. Doctors, acupuncturists, dentists, psychotherapists, M.D.s, and massage therapists need to be people you respect and trust. If there is no rapport, even if the practitioner is said to be the "best" (whatever that is), if you don't like them, it makes everything harder.
As for the practitioner from the other day, needless to say I would never go see her again. The experience was certainly not a waste of time. I was reminded of how good I am at listening and taking in what my clients say - a nice confidence booster. I was also reminded that when I encounter that sharp energy from someone, letting them work on me is always a bad idea.
Oh well, lesson learned.
May there be harmony between you and those who lay hands on you, the massage therapists, doctors, dentists, hair stylists, manicure/pedicure people, etc. We humans are animals. If we hope to find healing and wholeness, touch should occur in an atmosphere of compassion and trust. Believe me.