The massage industry is changing, and mostly for the better. The field is moving towards a more empirical, science based approach and, in my opinion, this can help solidify massage therapy as a necessary part of health care in this country. Patchouli wearing, sage burning, layer-on-of-hands, massage therapists of yesteryear are becoming the exception instead of the rule. As with any trend, there is always a backlash, and energy workers are getting hit a little hard. If you read some of the discussion and comments online, you might think that the Salem Witch Trials were back on, and crystal-toting hippies were the enemy.
I currently do not perform any energy work tradition on clients; but I am not ignorant on the subject. In my pre-massage therapist days (around age 19), I was very big into energy work. I got all of “my attunements” which consisted of me setting a time with a person on the internet, and I just kind of sat there and received the energy. Unless, they were some sort of charlatan, and then I guess it was all placebo effect. The More You Know? Right? I took a correspondence course, learned the symbols, bought the books, carried the crystals, burned the sage, layed on the hands. I even spent the money to take this “Lunar Reiki” course that was a type of energy work that, if I remember correctly, had something to do with the power of the Moon Goddess…all gentle and feminine like, that was channeled by some woman who thought, “I must bring this to the masses….of ebay.com!” Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish my attunements because “legitimate” Reiki masters didn’t like that any old person could make their own version of Reiki. They sent cease and desist letters, and this lady disappeared never to be heard of again. I do find it odd that practitioners of one intangible energy work could criticize another as being fraudulent. Its as if, “Oh, that life force she is talking about isn’t real, but my life force IS.” Little 19 year old me, walked away from this whole experience pretty disillusioned. Both, Lunar Reiki and traditional Reiki camps, claiming to be attuned to the life force, ended up looking like a couple of snake oil salesmen.
As a massage therapist, I originally rejected anything that looked like Reiki. I wasn’t a quack, and I didn’t want to appear to be in the same camp as those eBay attunement givers. I gave a straight up, clinical, anatomy-based massage. Did it help the client? Most likely. I recently had taken a Tui Na class, which uses Taoist and martial arts principles to bring the body into balance. In Tui Na, you move chi. What is chi? Life force, also known as, energy work. Tui Na is physical massage. You pick up the tissue. The tissue is moved; unlike some Reiki that can be done just by hovering your hands over the body. The basis of Tui Na is that chi is moved throughout the body to create balance and wellness, and I found many of the moves intuitive. When we go to comfort a person, we usually place our palm on their back and pat them or move the hand in a circular motion. These same movements are done in Tui Na. If you know anything about chakras, (another metaphysical concept involving energy or life force in the body), the Heart chakra, is in this same location. If I want to comfort someone, I touch their back with my palm. Reiki says, “That is transferring life force energy or ki.” Tui Na says, “That is moving chi.” Another new age tradition might say, “You are clearing the heart chakra.” An athiest or agnostic might say, “They are sad, and this feels good to them.” At the end of the day, all of these people are doing the same thing, and they are just calling it different things.
In my practice today, I consult science. There is empirical evidence of an emotional component to pain. So, if you come to me in pain, I can rub your shoulders; I can assess your posture; I can recommend stretches or exercises to improve mobility, but that emotional component remains. When you are stressed, your shoulders might tense up and cause neck pain. You are depressed and you slump, which leads to upper back pain. The physical issue can be removed, but if the emotional component remains, you are stuck in a repeated cycle of pain. I mention all of these points because we cannot approach massage as if every client is a hunk of meat and tendons. However, your body is more than your “subtle body” and neglecting the issues of the flesh is neglecting the issue entirely. My massage teacher always says something along the lines of, “Thanks for addressing my ethereal light body, but since I paid you for a massage, pick up my flesh and move it.”
Energy workers aren’t the devil, guys. In fact, I now think they were on to something that we may have lost sight of. If you are in pain, you have to assess your “spirit damage” or you might just stay in the same cycle of relief, pain, relief, pain. If we want to become a respected, utilized, health care treatment, we do have to stop treating ONLY the subtle body, become approachable, stop imposing wild, false claims about what energy work can do. When I give massage am I moving life force, chi, clearing chakras, or lowering stress hormone levels? I don’t know. I do know that my job is to do no harm, and if I can make a person feel better while maintaining a ethical code, my job is accomplished.