Massage as Social Touch by Matthew Rondeau
When most people think of massage, they most likely picture a quiet setting with white linens in which muscular pains are worked out and general relaxation is achieved. Some may know of the sports benefits or acupressure techniques or other specialties. However, people in general people may not recognize some of the larger social implications of massage. But today there may be more need than ever for massage to be incorporated as a healing mode of “social touch.” Through social touch, massage has the potential to improve human interconnectedness, regulate social emotions, and teach people more appropriate touch.
The modern world has placed mankind in an unusual state of disconnectedness. Whereas by nature humans are a very social creature that thrives through their connection with other humans, today we find ourselves more scattered and disparate. One reason for this may be technology. From the cell phone to the Internet, texting to the iPad, more and more we limit real person to person interaction in favor of these quicker, easier more fashionable modes. Some people in fact claim that the more they text on their phone the less they find to talk about verbally on the phone. Often friends can be physically in the same room but mentally attached to texting another person on their phone. Compare this high-tech trend to any Discovery channel show about early man sitting in small groups, grooming each other and touching affectionately.
Massage can be a tool to help remind people of the very basic physical connectedness of humanity. This is because for one hour, maybe two, the client is receiving contact from another person in a way they may not have felt ever or for a very long time. For some it may approximate motherly love or that of a close intimate friend or lover. For others, it may be a sort of kindness that breaks through old barriers or traumas. The client in the massage room, used to being hooked into his or her mobile device, has no choice but to be fully present with another human being and experience real connectedness. The more often they experience this, the less tapped in they will be. Hopefully this can translate to continued connection with others in their life.
Another trend in modern man is a tendency for many towards social anxiety, depression, and a number of other emotional states that bring us further out of touch with our natural state. People are nervous; people are tense; people are worried about concerns from so many directions, many of them entirely new for the human psyche. There may be many reasons for this phenomenon but I believe a large part of it is that many people are not in close contact with their own bodies. This can be seen in posture and movement patterns as well as noticed in breath. So many people are hunched over technological devices all day at work, at home, or even on subway rides. Results of this activity include inwardly-rotating shoulders, shallow breathing, and awkward positioning of the spine from sacrum to skull. All of this prevents the body from normal functioning, and according to mind-body theories than it is also preventing the mind from normal functioning. The smooth flow of the spinal cord and nervous system is inhibited.
An important means by which people can be reminded of their natural state is massage therapy. This tool can physically remind the client’s body where it should align more naturally and what is more comfortable. For those who suffer from headache, low back pain, or other chronic muscular-skeletal ailments, massage can ease the acute symptoms and teach the client of long term changes to prevent further trouble. For those with deeper emotional difficulties, massage can also have the effect of bringing out the emotions through touch and awareness of the body and holding patterns. Through touch they can reconnect with their natural alignment and help regulate their emotional state. Touch is also calming and reassuring, and if applied with knowledge and care can have a profound impact on human emotion. These clients will leave feeling happier and healthier.
There is another feature of modern man’s situation that is troubling, and that is a lack of appropriate touch. Some people don’t want to touch, others want to touch in unacceptable ways. Even children succumb to this as they fail to learn right touch from wrong touch. Younger and younger kids turn to sex as an outlet for human contact. Besides more concerning issues like that, there are still many people today who feel a certain level of discomfort with touch. This trend again brings us farther from our true nature which is as a social, physical creature.
Where massage therapy can help this phenomenon is by offering a safe zone to experience appropriate touch. Being in the professional setting of massage allows for a certain intimacy with no sexuality attached, which is something people may not often or ever experience. Massage can teach people how to experience their bodies more fully and become more aware of the structure and shape of their bones, muscles, and tissues. It may also teach them the underlying connections and relationships of their holding patterns or pain patterns. At its base, in any case, massage can allow people to relearn touch and safe human contact. The massage practitioner then becomes a teacher for touch and human contact.
Through time humans have become distanced from their true natural state and their fullest potential as physical, mental, and social beings. By improving human interconnectedness, regulating social emotions, and teaching appropriate touch, massage has the power to make great shifts in human consciousness. With time and public education, massage will have a great impact on social touch and on the human condition.