Using ‘Energy’ in Massage Therapy

“Energy Work” in massage therapy usually refers to therapeutic massage in which the technique is physically minimal on the practitioner’s part, often not even touching the client’s body. This can be misleading because all bodywork of any type is energy work, since everything is energy. Things without energy don’t exist in the physical, relative universe.

In any case, I have found that there are certain truisms concerning energy as it functions in massage work and during a massage session, and they apply across the board regardless of technique or approach.

Since everything is energy, what we are talking about here is how to get energy to help us accomplish our goals in our massage sessions. Simply put: focused, purposeful energy is a function of presence and intention.

Presence means being in one place and not another. Seems pretty straightforward, and it is; but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. In fact, it can be very difficult for most of us. We have, by training and experience, very cluttered minds; lots of thoughts going every which/way. We doubt ourselves, most of us most of the time. Every thought has a clear and purposeful energy, but contradictory thoughts have contradictory, and so diluted, energy.

An example in a bodywork session might go like this. The therapist is working on a stiff neck probably causing headaches per the client’s complaint. The therapist is focused on the techniques he/she is employing and wondering if they are the ‘correct’ choice. The energy of the therapist is not going to be particularly functional at that moment – it is diluted, basically going in two directions at once which will cancel the effectiveness. Any time thoughts have incongruent directions, the net energetic effect will be weak. It would be similar to accelerating and braking a car at the same time – a lot of energy is being expended to little desired effect.

The ‘trick’ here is to hold one thought at a time, with no contradictions.

An example, and another analogy, is something I noticed while working with my dogs. I can usually communicate clearly with my dogs if I hold one thought while I speak simply and directly, having a clear and singular intention in mind. I walk them in the woods daily. I don’t want them to eat stuff off the ground, but it’s okay if they eat snow (which there is a lot of up here). It was not going well until I focused and unified my thought and intention. When I would say, “Don’t eat deer poop,” and I would picture in my mind simultaneously deer poop and my dogs not eating it, with my intention focused on that being a positive happening, the dogs began getting it. I started saying, “Eat snow,” and I pictured them eating snow and that being a positive thing, they did it. It surprised me how well it worked, and then again I wasn’t surprised, because that’s how energy goes.

Decide on an intention, hold that thought, and feel positive about it. If other thoughts intervene, and they will, practice gently putting them aside and return your focus to your original intention. Now, you can change your intention to suit the moment and the circumstances as you perceive them; the functional piece to get is to hold one thought/intention at a time so the energy is clear at any given moment. That would be the definition of presence for the therapist in a massage session.

Self-doubt is a problem for most of us, because most of us were taught not to trust ourselves, most unfortunately. One good way to diffuse that learning is to practice recognizing your first idea and go with it before wondering about it. Can you see how self-doubt inherently dilutes energy? Self-doubt is two thoughts going in opposite directions. When you practice and get used to going with the first idea that comes to mind you avoid the whole situation. The first idea is almost always a very good one anyway, and is most often tied to intuition and inspiration, so it’s a safe bet. And, of course, if it doesn’t seem to be working at that moment, you can always switch. And switch the focus, presence, and intention to the next idea. As you become more facile at this, the power of your energy and its influence on the moment will follow.

Keep at this, practice presence, intention, and focus. We will revisit these concepts from different perspectives in future articles, because when energy becomes more functional and operative in massage sessions, magical things can happen, and happen regularly. Peace and love.

7 comments on “Using ‘Energy’ in Massage Therapy

  1. Hi Chuck & Julie,
    Thanks for this timely post, and the great reminder that all touch is energetic. I am currently working with a sarcoidosis patient who can tolerate deep work in some areas and only the lightest touch in others, and very little movement. I am learning that the essence of my work with her is intention, and technique is secondary. She has responded well, and the sessions are helping her manage pain she has known for 22 years. I took your Pressure Sensitivity class way back when and was introduced to many of these concepts then. I have also found that my yoga practice greatly helps with quieting the mind and keeping an intention. It may also help to direct the client to focus on an intention for the work also. Any thoughts on that? Thanks again for the post, and I hope you both are well!

    • You are so on the right track. I would put sarcoidosis in the autoimmune class, and getting a parasympathetic response from your client would be high on the list of what you’re looking for. So, anything that calms and engages your client’s mind is great. Next week’s article will be on inflammation in general; check it out and let me know what you think. QAll my best, Mei.

  2. Thank you for this reminder. A very good and true explanation of the mental roles played out by the therapist. I know that as long as I remind myself to “feel (sense)” the pain, muscle and energy flow, I CAN alter it for the good.

  3. Great analogy with your dogs, and very interesting self-discovery… If you’ve never read about how dogs communicate/learn, etc., visualizing a picture is so effective because that’s how they think – in pictures/symbols (which is why using hand symbols with a command works, as well as visualizing what you want from them)… they are experts at reading physical cues and body language. Its how they survive. They are also very direct, focused and live in the present moment (talk about presence and intention – they are experts! as most animals are) – as my wife points out, all humans must seem absolutely nuts, and schizophrenic lunatics to them! Animals live in the present moment, unlike us – so we have all these thoughts going on in our head that are undoubtedly unrelated to the present moment – the signal gets lost amongst the noise. Think about how nuts that probably seems to a dog and all other animals – that what is happening in the present “here and now” moment, isn’t what we are emotionally/mentally feeling… we are completely incongruent in their world. That’s why animal therapy is so effective – its therapeutic to be around them, they ground us.

    Autistic people also share this ability – “thinking in pictures.” They are definitely more at home with animals because they speak the same language. If people learned to speak “their language” – in pictures, which takes presence and intention – they wouldn’t feel so misunderstood. Check out any work by Temple Grandin – excellent HBO movie with Claire Danes too!

    So true with bodywork (or most activities for that matter) – how effective can you be when you are thinking about a million other things besides the person who is in your presence? Just as technique is only as effective as what you do with it, one could say, massage is only as effective as the level of your Presence and Intention. Those two keys are huge – definitely a major part in effective bodywork, and healing on the whole – if not THE gamechanger. And, when you are fully engaged with someone – fully in the moment and your presence and intention are focused – they definitely feel it, and know it.

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