I’m not sure how the idea of Swedish Massage as “fluff” became so commonplace, but I’m here to say “Au contraire”, and set the record straight (for anyone who takes the time to read blogs on a business website – bless you).
Technically, Swedish Massage uses five different types of strokes: 1) Effleurage (the culprit of the misconception – a light to medium-light pressure, good for oiling and integrating other strokes, and for people who like a lighter massage); 2) Friction (a category of deeply penetrating strokes that are often done with the fingers, especially the thumbs); 3) Petrissage (a “milking” stroke, good for moving lactic acid out); 4) Tapotement (“karate chops”); and 5) Vibration (just like it sounds, but created by the hand for a short duration). An entire massage of Effleurage would indeed be frustrating and disappointing for anyone wanting more depth of contact (and if that’s been your experience, I feel your pain) but ordinarily, it’s just a fraction of what comprises a Swedish Massage.
I regularly use Friction for clients who want deeper work and most of my deep work is done with my thumbs. In general, I tend not to use much Petrissage, and Tapotement and Vibration only rarely. To me, Swedish is just synonymous with massage, but anyone using the term to describe their work, myself included, is probably only using parts of that modality, as well as incorporating others into their work. Further complicating the difficulty of pinning touch down in words, when they exist in two different realms (the challenge the front desk is tasked with in their matching each client to the therapist that best fits their needs) is the fact that we bodyworkers are all picking up each other’s tricks and tools as we receive work from others. After more than 30 years of receiving bodywork, and nearly that many giving it, the lines of the labels start to blur; for example, my Friction includes what I’ve taken in from others’ Neuro-Muscular and Myofascial work.
More important than the type of stroke and whether it’s done with the hands, or with the forearms and elbows (as are often used in what we call Deep Tissue) is the quality of presence and sensitivity with which deep work is done. When I’m working deeply, I like to think of it as finesse-ing the muscle to relax. Back when I was in massage school in 1988, at what was then called NMAMAHA (The New Mexico Academy of Massage and Advanced Healing Arts) our teacher had a brilliant way of showing us how to deftly penetrate muscle. We were given a bowl of a corn starch and water mixture and were first told to hit it. Our hands pretty much just bounced off a hard surface. Then we were instructed to set our fingers on that surface and sink, slowly. And down they went, deeper and deeper in. It’s much the same on a body. Finesse-ing deep penetrating touch requires that kind of patient sinking, combined with listening and following the openings you feel beneath your fingers (or forearms and elbows, if you use them, which I don’t anymore). It’s both a physical and energetic sensitivity that allows you to feel when and where to sink, when to let up, and the constant interplay of the two, as well as between the two hands. I had a client sum up the effect perfectly when she said, “you really get in there AND it’s so relaxing. I’ve so often had one or the other.”
Another thing to consider when speaking of “deep” bodywork, is the depths of inner connection that can happen when energies merge through touch between giver and receiver; whether the pressure used is deeply penetrating on the physical level, or not. Sometimes it’s the lightest touch, like that of Cranio-Sacral, for instance (of which I do my own version when it naturally arises within a massage) that takes a person into the deepest relaxation; the deepest into themselves. I like to give the baseline of massage, and incorporate subtly through an energetic sensitivity (with whatever pressure I’m using) and by employing the subtle modalities I’ve officially learned and sometimes adapted, as well as those I’ve osmosed from others (when that fits with the client).
For those clients who need someone to get in there with their forearms and elbows, you probably know who you are, and you are better matched with another therapist. High Desert has a wealth of talent to choose from. Some have their specialties, but my feeling is, everyone’s specialty, regardless of any modality used, is their own unique quality of touch. That’s mine – whether it’s deep or light or somewhere in between.
You can see me either downtown or at the Eldorado office. I look forward to it.
Magdelyn Brennan, LMT