Bodywork Through Trauma, Insecurity, & Fear
How often should people receive massage? I get this question a lot, and the truth is that there's no single correct answer. It all depends on what you're hoping to accomplish and where you are on your journey to accomplishing it.
For newbies, massage can be scary in its intimacy and the vulnerable state it brings us to. This was definitely the case for me. On my first day of massage school, we brought out our tables and paired off to practice some very basic shoulder techniques. I'm not even sure that we undressed. But in my mind, even though I knew in my heart that this was the career path I wanted to be on, the very act of touching someone else so directly in a professional setting was practically terrifying.
I remember being overly concerned about my partner's feeling of safety. I blurted out that I was gay and that she had nothing to worry about, which, upon reflection, perhaps says more about how I perceived touch in that moment than she did. I tried to compensate for the toxic sexual culture we live in by massaging almost robotically, afraid to go too deep or stay too light, afraid to be repetitive or intentional or soothing. In short, it was a disaster.
Receiving was no easier for me in the beginning. I had several experiences while still in school where I had to get up and leave. Working with partners of either gender was difficult at times. I was uncomfortable undressing. I was worried about being exposed while on the table. I was keenly conscious of how the curves and larger shape of my body compared to most of my peers.
So why continue, right? Well, the body holds a lot of tension for us, whether it traces back to psychological trauma, physical exertion, or some other reaction we've frozen somewhere because we aren't quite ready to deal with it.
My intention was and still is in some ways to reclaim my health and my power from the trauma I've grounded around my body. For me, bodywork has been key to unlocking that journey. Yeah, the first time and a few times after that left me anxious and triggered, but after receiving massage regularly for several months, I saw the way my relationship to myself and my healing capacity was evolving.
I started learning to be comfortable with my body and acknowledging desires without attaching guilt or embarrassment to the pursuit of them. As a bodyworker, I'd like to think my technique has changed too. I feel out body stresses and tension. I'm mindful of maintaining healthy boundaries but not in a way that weaponizes healing arts in fear and shame.
I recognize that many of my clients are people on similar journeys to me, perhaps with similar pasts, or perhaps not. Either way, my studio is designed to be a place of healing that meets your body where you are.
Owning the Quest
One thing they teach us in massage school is the concept of transference. Put simply, it's when either therapist or client come away from the table witness to the profound effects of the work, and then transfer the power of what happened onto the therapist alone.
The truth is that while lots of us come to this work through healer archetypes that matter to our souls, the work we do on the table is ultimately a tool to aid the client on their own journey. To quote a midwife friend, "The Mother delivers the baby, we just sign for it."
I can tell you that bodywork turned my trauma on its head. Receiving regular massage opened the way for me to love and value myself, and to grow tremendously as a dynamic spiritual person. Giving and receiving bodywork is important for my soul's growth and my journey out of trauma, insecurity, and fear.
Honestly though, your mileage may vary. And whether you need massage once a month, once a week, or once a day is really something you and your body are going to need to hash out on your own.
Whatever you decide, I'm here to help.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to email@example.com