Massage vs. Bodywork – Is There a Difference? Part 1

by on Oct.18, 2012, under Fitness

There are many massage therapists and types of bodyworkers working in the health industry. It can get confusing figuring out who is who and who can do what. Here are some tips that may help you to choose the right therapist.

Many people, who are solely massage therapists, are now calling themselves bodyworkers. Admittedly, they do work the body, but where does that leave those of us who have had actual training in true “bodywork” modalities such as polarity, reflexology, structural rebalancing, myofascial release and integration? How do potential clients tell us apart?

Here are a few tips:

Most masseuses and massage therapists will go into the client’s environment. Most bodywork therapists have a place the clients can come to for reasons explained below.

Another difference would be in the way the work is done. In massage, most therapists use a set routine. A bodyworker has an understanding that ties his or her advanced schooling together — such as polarity, Traditional Chinese Medicine, yin/yang and the Tao, and/or Ayurveda, and works with each individual in a unique manner depending on what is needed and required — not always on a table or chair.

A third distinction would be the consciousness within the bodyworker and in his/her hands. This would be something that couldn’t be seen and/or felt by most people. With guidance, some people can learn to develop this awareness. Both practitioners and clients can attain this through a spiritual sadhana (practice) such as meditation and daily qigong practice.
One more distinction between massage and bodywork is the client’s participation. During massage, most people just want to go to sleep which is why the therapist often goes to their homes. With bodywork, the client participates in the process utilizing breath and sound, including voice dialogue and movement, which is why environment is important. The client needs to feel safe in order to respond to the situation, especially with sound. If there is someone else in the house, they may not feel comfortable releasing the sounds and emotions that may arise and will use many excuses to avoid the experience — such as a ringing telephone.

Many people who come to me think that because I use my hands to do my work, they receiving a “massage.” It tends to be difficult to get them to breathe, move or vibrate as their body feels, and bring awareness to what is going on for them. They have learned that they are not “supposed” to move or express through during hands-on work. (I’ve even had people apologize because they’ve twitched when I’ve gotten to a particularly sensitive area.) As a bodywork therapist, it’s my job to keep nudging and urging them to participate, as they will get more from the process the more they stay aware and participate. The “monkey mind” (that little chatterer in your head) is extremely afraid of and resistant to new things. It just wants to go to sleep and ignore what’s happening in the moment.

The other difference between bodywork and massage is the outcome. When someone leaves me, I want him or her to know they’ve experienced themselves differently. They may have released old suppressed emotions; experienced greater awareness in how they can enhance their lives; or realized old habit patterns which they are currently using and which worked years ago as “survival” techniques, but aren’t working any longer. My outcome is for my clients to feel — not just go to sleep so they can do it all over again the same way tomorrow.
Whether we are masseurs, masseuses, massage therapists or bodywork therapists, one duty we share is to educate.

I’ve had people come to me and say they’ve received massage before and never did it again because they were so sore afterwards they couldn’t walk or they couldn’t get out of bed for three days they were so “sick.”

To the latter complaint I say, “hallelujah!”

I actually had someone tell me this after I had worked the sides of her neck which were highly congested. My response to her was, “GREAT!”

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