Massage Therapy and The Alexander Technique
by Robert Rickover
Do you ever experience pain or discomfort when you are giving a massage? Are you sometimes exhausted at the end of a day's work? Do you worry about burn out?
If so, the Alexander Technique could make a big difference in your life. The Technique is a simple, and very practical method you can use to convert unnecessary tension into useful energy. It is probably best known because of the many famous actors, musicians and dancers who use it to improve their stamina and the quality of their performance. But for over a century it has been used by people of all ages and lifestyles to alleviate stress-related conditions such as backache, neck pain, migraine and the like.
The Alexander Technique can enhance and prolong your career as a massage therapist by helping you to become more aware of how you're using your body when working with clients. Massage therapy is a very demanding profession, both physically and mentally, and so it is not at all surprising that therapists sometimes produce unnecessary tension in themselves when giving a massage, particularly in their neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands. This excess tension wastes a lot of energy and greatly increases the likelihood of pain or even injury.(1)
Excess tension also interferes with your ability to help your clients. Tension in your hands or arms, for instance, restricts the flow of kinesthetic information from your client's body, making it more difficult for you to know where best to apply pressure, and how much to apply.
Worse yet, excess tension in your body is immediately transferred to your client. As Alice Pryor, Director of the Texas Center for the Alexander Technique in Austin, and a Registered Massage Therapist, says: “The state of your body is communicated directly to your client the moment you touch him or her. If you are tense, that tension will show up in your client, often as unconscious resistance to your work. If you are in a balanced, flexible and coordinated state, those qualities will be picked up by your client and he or she will respond much more quickly to your touch.”
Teachers of the Alexander Technique work with students individually and in group classes. As part of the work, we use our hands to gently guide you and show you how to recognize and prevent habits of posture and movement that needlessly drain your energy and interfere with your ability to use your body in the most effective way possible.
After having some experience with the Technique, you'll very likely find that you don't need to put as much physical effort into your work as you've been accustomed to. In other hands-on healing professions - such as physical therapy and Rolfing, for example - the trend today is towards using much less pressure when working with clients. In the field of massage therapy too, a comparatively light touch, delivered with clear intention by a therapist who is using his or her own body well, can often produce far better results than heavy pressure - and with a lot less wear and tear on the therapist!
(1) A survey by Massage & Bodywork found that 77 percent of experienced practitioners had felt some form of pain or discomfort due to their work in the past two years. The survey also found that 64 percent of practitioners had symptoms serious enough to cause them to seek medical treatment, and 41 percent were disgnosed with a musculoskeletal discorder, such as low back pain or tendonitis.
Robert Rickover is an Alexander teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada. He often works with massage therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists to help them do their work more easily. He may be reached at (402) 475-4433 and at this Email Contact.
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