Several years ago, I integrated couples’ instructional massage into my practice. I worked with people in pairs—mothers and daughters, seniors and their caregivers, romantic partners—and I taught them how to give each other massage. As it usually goes with first time teachers, I started off with entirely too much enthusiasm: I choreographed complex techniques that met their partner’s specific needs, schooled them in proper body mechanics to prevent injury, and even sent them home with a compendium of reminders to make their home-practice more productive (a list that consisted largely of things like “slow down,” “turn the television off,” and “if it hurts, don’t do it.”) I learned very quickly that all of this was overkill. Most of my clients—even married folk with a brood of kids at home—simply didn’t know how to touch each other. I had one young couple who were shocked, and maybe even a little scandalized, to learn that they would be massaging each other’s bare skin. As DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein puts the problem, “This is a touch-phobic society. We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”
Once I understood that this phobia of touching with intention was the rule rather than the exception, my approach changed dramatically. Rather than teaching couples how to do massage, I focused on teaching them how to listen to the space where their bodies met. I soon realized, to my joy, that teaching massage was like giving people an entirely new language, a different emotional currency with which to communicate. While massage is just another name for touching with good intentions, these intentions are—at least at first—entirely devoid of semantic meaning. Channeling positive energy through touch is a dialect that has yet to be burdened with the familiar connotations of verbal dialogue. When I teamed up with a psychologist to teach couples in counseling, I learned that consensual tactile contact could interrupt and even subvert antagonistic conversational patterns that had scripted relationships for years.
Giving massage requires a state of mind that subordinates the giver’s own needs to those of the receiver, even as it affirms the boundary between the giver and the receiver in a very literal way. As a mode of contact that does not attempt to appropriate the other, consensual touch neither violates the other’s boundaries nor suppresses the self into the other, but exposes both giver and receiver to a limit they share. In physical contact, the touching and the touched remain separate, yet the two beings move closer to a border that also enjoins—and it is on this border that a new kind of communication begins.
To book your couples instructional massage appointment, contact Julia at (512) 580-7096.