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Why harder massage doesn’t equal better massage.

Why harder massage ≠ better massage

There’s something that I learned from 20 years of ju-jitsu – and that is to yield, not to force.  In fact one translation of Ju-jitsu is “yielding art” – when the opponent advances, you move with them, yield to the force, work with them, not against them.  Using blunt force to counter blunt force is a thugs game.

I am a DIY enthusiast. When I bring out my tools, my wife cringes … mentally she prepares herself for a trip to the emergency room. Onetime I was helping a neighbour with some fencing and I sliced my wrist open.

It is not just the risk of injury that makes her cringe, it is the mistakes. I love to work with my hands (hence the massage), I am very good with instructions and assembly, however when it comes to DIY, measuring is not a strong point of mine. The adage, “measure twice and cut once” … I could measure 10 times and still get it wrong. I’m guaranteed to put a hole in the wrong spot or cut something just that little bit too short (trust me when I say my massage skills are better than my carpentry skills).

I have been teaching my son to use basic tools to assemble things. He loves to put things together with me, and together we see our projects grow. Like many children though, he is prone to impatience. After one project he excitedly told his mum, “I was putting the screw in and then it just broke.”

Sometimes putting a screw in is delicate business. Over tighten it and you snap the head, strip the head, strip the thread, or split the work. He is still developing his touch. It is so important to feel when the screw is biting, when it is jammed and when you need to back it out and try again. Sometimes a bit of soap or wax might help it go in. There are lots of tricks to learn.

Watch any fine craftsman and you will see that his grip on any tool is light, he caresses the timber with his hands as he works. Even the use of a chisel and mallet is a something that is done slowly and gently … tap tap tap, not BANG BANG BANG. The work is an art, and it is undertaken with a love of the work and an understanding and respect of the material, an appreciation of the hardness, the grain, any knots, and character marks.

It is how any tactile (touch) therapy should be too. Your body is delicate and intricate. It needs to be treated with respect. When I was younger, I preferred firm massage. “Go hard or Go home” … “If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t work.” If I didn’t ache for two days, the treatment must not have been any good. I’m not sure why I let people just hack away at my body without any finesse – I paid them to assault me.

It was during a particular stressful time that I decided to try a lighter style of massage. It was a heavenly time – the therapist melded with my body and my spirit. I felt connection, tenderness, warmth and more importantly I felt respect and compassion. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the amazing therapeutic affect that such gentle work would have on my body … and so my therapeutic transformation began.

Muscles are complex tissues. The layering of muscle and fascia around our bony structure is intricate. When you press hard on a muscle, without preparing it first, a reflex engages and the muscle becomes tense. Keep on pounding that muscle, until it has been beaten into submission, and it will eventually soften and release. After that panel beating work expect a post workout soreness (it’s DOMS setting in), and be prepared for your tension patterns to return.

Take a softer approach to warm that same muscle, gently stretch it and then work into it layer by layer, and it will let you in.  The muscle will yield as it gives you permission to go deeper. There we have it.  Yield.  This is where massage therapy becomes an art form – sensing when tissues soften, when the muscle is ready, when the who person consciously and subconsciously grants permission and the tissues yield, the therapist following.

There are times when working firmly with the body is just what the doctor ordered, but not before preparing the body first. You’ll feel better for it and are more likely to get longer lasting results too.

When you search for your therapist, look for someone who connects with you and who is likely to treat you with the respect that you deserve. May they treat you and your body as an exquisite creation, to nurture you and to restore your health.

David Clayton is the Principal Remedial Therapist at Myomasters Massage located in Hope Valley in the north east of Adelaide.  He has a passion for supporting humans to live the lives they were to born to live using massage and soft tissue therapies.  He has a particular interest in assisting people to recover from stress, anxiety and trauma using compassionate and nurturing touch.