In the previous blog post I suggested that, instead of asking about the type or style of massage I do, you should rather ask about my approach to massage as that will give you more insight about my worldview and how I understand the health and how I relate to you and your needs.
We spoke about broad approaches to massage and I explained why I make that distinction:
It has to do with how the different therapists understand the mind-body relationship.
In this post I want us to discuss this subject in more detail.
Some approaches to massage are based on Eastern philosophies while others are rooted in the Western paradigm of health.
But in-between there are a myriad of mishmash combinations of these two theories. No clear-cut division exists between these world views and different explanations of the age-old mind-body relationship.
To confuse the matter further, different schools of thought and therapists use names, terminology and jargon interchangeably and non-specifically making it difficult to assign someone to a particular category.
Take for example, myofacial release: what I was taught to consider just one of many massage techniques, has in some countries been trademarked and registered as a separate therapy .
So please understand that my summaries of the different approaches are by no means comprehensive nor particularly nuanced. Space does not allow for that. I merely want this post to act as a guideline to explain my own approach.
APPROACH #1: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE ... AND HANDS
This first group of massage therapists emphasises a vitalistic or spiritual aspect of humans and of living organisms in general, a force or energy which differentiates them from the natural world.
It is a metaphysical approach based on arcane philosophies e.g. chi or qi in Eastern philosophies, the soul in Christian churches and in traditional African beliefs, our consciousness and prana in Ayurveda.
Today its proponents are primarily religious groups and New Age movements. The latter uses terminology such as energy, spirit, frequency, life force or vibration to explain the vital principle of humans. These theories are often based on quantum mysticism which seeks to relate esoteric ideas like the mind-body-spirit connection, with principles from quantum mechanics.
Health according to this view of the world is determined by the flow of energy and disease is explained as an imbalance in the vital energies.
In some cases vitalism has found its way back into, or is still found in, formalised healthcare via other alternative and complementary (CAM) modalities besides massage such as homeopathy and naturopathy and even chiropractics.
In South Africa, indigenous traditional healers or shamans have also been assimilated into the official healthcare system under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007 .
The traditional healer group includes sangomas (diviners), inyanga (herbalists) and traditional midwives. Their cosmology unites the physical, psychological, spiritual and ancestral worlds and traditional healers have been called to be the mediums that communicate with the different worlds.
It is estimated that traditional healers are consulted by approximately 60% to 80% of the South African population, often in conjunction with modern biomedical services.
APPROACH #2: THE MATERIAL WE WORK WITH
The other approach to massage is the postural / structural / biomechanical one based on a reductionist and materialistic approach of Western medicine.
According to Dr Eyal Lederman, director of CPDO, a centre providing continuing professional training manual and physical therapists in the UK, this approach is based on the belief that structural imbalances and asymmetry in the body lead to sore and tight muscles and abnormal mechanical stresses on the musculoskeletal system.
This may cause persistent injury or chronic conditions through wear -and-tear.
The aim of a massage treatment is to correct these structural factors.
NO MATTER THE DIFFERENCES
Very often these two approaches, vitalism and the mechanistic, are merged with neither the therapist nor the client experiencing cognitive dissonance.
It seems, on the whole, that clients are not particularly interested in these distinctions unless they are very religious or serial sceptics.
And even in cases like that, people have the ability to integrate the incongruities between their world views and the therapist's explanation of the benefits they experience from a massage treatment.
My conclusion? We seem to be either drawn to the massage therapist or not, no matter their approach.
And that is perfectly ok.
Body-mind or mind-body? If you are struggling with physical and mental pain and feel that the dominant health paradigm’s dualistic approach to mind and body seems inadequate to explain anything, I want to talk to you. Join me under the tree in my garden for a cup of rooibos tea and let’s talk massage and SomaSense!