Getting Behind Your Work

As practitioners it serves us to remember there are two people in the room when we’re working who deserve loving-kindness and careful consideration: the client, and ourselves. When we push, we are hurting someone: it might be the client, but I would wager it’s our own dear person that suffers too.
The most helpful idea that I’ve come across to work creatively with this notion of relentless prevailing upon a client – and dialing it down, if not completely off – is “Get behind your work.” I learned it from David Lauterstein during a Deep Massage workshop this past autumn, and I think David might have learned it from Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing.
My Deep Massage Workshop with David Lauterstein came at a pivotal moment this past year, when I had one of the busiest summers of my life. Seeing four to five clients four days a week, I was depleted, and less apt to know where I ended and where my client began. I rely heavily on my Reiki practice to get me through multiple sessions relatively unscathed, energetically, but I knew my body was losing its poise as I labored.
DeepMassageBookimageThis was my first experience with “Get behind your work”: during David’s workshop, we were all engrossed in hands-on learning, seated, perhaps practicing “Making Rainbows” along the ITB. I was hoping for help, and could sense David and Susan Tesar, his teaching assistant (and fellow Mainer/oncology massage/MT) moving around the room behind me.David stepped over to me. I waited, anxiously, to hear or see how he would improve my work.

Rather, I felt it: he gently put his hands on my shoulders, and moved my torso back over my hips. He then placed his hands on the top of my head (not unlike the way one receives a blessing from a pastor or the pope!) and moved my head into alignment with my shoulders.

My body dropped into itself; my scapulas plopped neatly back into their pockets inside my back; my arms went from locked and constricted across my chest and pushing, to rounded and open, allowing my chest to expand and for me to take a deep breath, naturally. All this, and I hadn’t broken hand contact with my client.

“Relax!” David said. I still laugh out loud, remembering the way he said this one word to me: part encouragement, part command, with a touch of: exasperated humor? Is that what I detected? Whatever it was, it was a sea change for me.

As I’ve been reading David’s “The Deep Massage Book,” studying my notes from class and bringing myself back to that moment, again and again, while practicing with clients, my somatic “ah-ha!” from David’s simple correction has formed into some words for me. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from this profound teaching, and would love to know others’ experience with it as well.

Through posture – in lunge, or seated – your arms are kept in front of your body and your hands are at some distance from the rest of your person, as you engage your client. You’re not arched away from your hands, but you’re not crammed in over top of them either: there is fluidity and strength flowing between you and your hands, through the soft angles of your arms, and the openness of your literal and energetic heart.

The temptation, as I see it, is effort. We often associate real effort with shoving ourselves over our client in an attempt to give them the pressure we think they want, or help both of us feel like Something Is Happening. (If they can hear you breathing heavily, it’s deep tissue!)
Rather, we ask our clients to meet us where our hands are: no more, no less. Deep Massage is not an altar call: it’s a polite knock on the door. “Attraction, not promotion,” is one of the Traditions of the Alcoholics Anonymous program: it’s true for us, too.
“I like that imagery,” said Susan, as she and I exchanged emails on the topic.”A gathering of y’self deeply through your heart, then meeting with your whole self through your hand-heart! The client then has an invitation to meet there with as much as they can.”

There’s another way of looking at this, where one considers the many meanings of “get behind.” There’s the physicality of it, but there’s also the emotional/relational aspect that can’t be ignored. What do we mean when we say we “get behind’ an individual, or an organization? Why, it means we support them. We believe in them. We are behind them, all the way.

In the same way, we get behind our work: we trust ourselves. This is sorely needed, especially if we feel betrayed or disappointed in any way by our practice: by the lack of income it has generated for us, or the panic we feel at not being sure we’re making a difference for our clients, or feeling inadequate when others seem to be doing better work or have a busier schedule…any time, basically, we’re consumed by doubt and push, to counteract our fears.
   Stepping back from your work – getting behind your work, with your body – is a chance for you to breathe, remember who you are, and develop faith in what’s happening. The only place it’s happening is under your hands. That’s a good, safe place to put your attention: where the work actually is. (“Working at interface” is the term I believe Zero Balance practitioners use.) You can respond to clients spontaneously, because you’re already right there.
   One of the most beautiful things about Deep Massage is how much respect it has for you as a practitioner. Truly, you are as valued as your client, as you learn the techniques and philosophy behind it. It practically feels self-indulgent, except you realize that by bearing in mind your own self while working, you truly have your client’s best interests at heart.
How relaxing is THAT?!
This blog was part two, of sorts, from the previous: “Love as technique

Love as technique

I had an alarming phenomenon visit me while I was in massage therapy school, during student clinic. In even those rigorously managed and strict environs – and I in my white monogrammed polo, khaki pants, hair pinned back and clipboard in hand – it arrived with enough frequency that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Gradually, with complete strangers from the Cambridge area, when I actually relaxed for a few brief moments, I felt love. Not a tame, generalized sensation of general bonhomie and good will towards this person who willingly let my novice, nervous hands knead their frame, but startlingly strong, unmistakeable love: breath-taking and untoward.

I remember one moment in particular when I needed to take my hands off my client and shake my head a few times, just to snap out of it, if I could. Didn’t work. I got back into my routine, bearing up under the strain, cross from being harassed, and hoping eventually it would go away.

Nearly 15 years and countless massages later, I got my wish. The stress of setting up my practice a few times, until it took; worrying about how I was going to get enough clients in this small town on the north coast of Maine, and then, once getting them, worrying how I was going to have the strength to see them all; taking the ardent work of my hands and turning it into a reliable commodity, have all worked that blazing affection right out of me. I’ll admit it. I’ve been afraid, in recent years, of burning out.

Enter continuing education: through conversation, books, workshops, social networking and good old-fashioned questioning. Where did that messy, divine, fiery tenderness go? Could I retrieve it from some shunted layer, deep within?

My last year of school, one of the faculty at the Muscular Therapy Institute – Erika Baern – had a few massages from me. I revered her, but she seemed very professional, almost to the point of being grim, so I reined in my adoration as best I could, trying to be quiet in her presence and learn from her by osmosis.

I wasn’t sure I had made any impression on her, even though I deeply wished I had. But in the final week of school I received a bound packet of articles from her in my student mailbox. “Kristen: I think you should read these. Erika.” This was the encouragement I had been looking for, and my first introduction to David Lauterstein.

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David is a educator, practitioner, author, writer and musician. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, is co-founder of The Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage in Austin, Texas, and published “The Deep Massage Book” in 2012.

He has an international teaching schedule, offering Deep Massage workshops, and came out with (one of my favorite) music CDs, “Roots and Branches,” of his acoustic guitar music played live in the studio alongside massage being performed – “so we would have a music that actually arose from massage itself.” he says on the TLC site.  He also has a killer FaceBook page: Deep Massage Book.

Each one of us deserves to have teachers in our lives who by their mere presence  are instructive and nurturing; who meet us where we are, whether total newbie or tired pro; who inspire devotion through a terrific combination of deep insight, concise correction and weird humor. David has been one such for me.

The reason I locked in on his writing from the get-go is his inclusion and defense of the energetic components of massage therapy. He teaches Zero Balancing and this informs Deep Massage; I am a Reiki Master/practitioner, so our frequencies hum on the same pitch when it comes to looking at our clients through more than one lens (a prism is more like it).

It’s been a long time since student clinic, but because of reading Lauterstein’s work (I also highly – highly! – recommend his “Putting the Soul Back in the Body“) I’ve been reassured there was a place for that strong ardor, and my line of work was the perfect place to feel it.

What I’ve learned from continued study with Lauterstein (and also Tracy Walton‘s oncology massage writing and training):  that what we sense in session may be just important to what we do: that who we are as a practitioner has everything to do with how the client experiences the success (or failure) of being “met”: that while we must master techniques, understand physiology, identify pathologies and know anatomy, the openness of our heart – the tenderness and love we feel for our client – is where our true power lies.

In my next blog post I will describe my understanding of the phrase “Get behind your work,” which I got from my most recent workshop with David, and one that I see as both command and consolation.

What do we pray for?…Finally, alchemy. It is NOT up to you. I wish it was, but it’s not…the body contains all of the healing substances it needs already. The person contains all the healing substances it needs, they just don’t notice it. We are there to just help them become aware. I want people to realize they’re miraculous.
– paraphrased from David Lauterstein’s Deep Massage training at Down East School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine.