The Philosophy of Touch

Before beginning this course, little did I know that massage – a form of physical therapy to improve health — is about communication, listening and getting feedback. Like personal relationships, a dance routine, or teamwork, it’s a two-way process in the sense that making it work is as much about the practitioner or therapist as it is about the patient or the receiver of the treatment.

Before using our hands, Gabriele Habashi, a reputed Cairo-based massage therapist and owner of Horizon center in Zamalek, Cairo, talked about privacy, trust, pain, skin memory and how considerate a masseur should be toward the people who allow him or her to touch their skin.

In the waiting room of the center, a friend and I sat cross-legged on the floor, which was dotted with warm-colored mats and large pillows. We were wide-eyed as we were given an elaborate introduction to the psychology of the body, its anatomy and its natural detoxification system. We sipped on hot aromatic tea, snacked on chocolate wafers, grapes and dates as Ms. Habashi spoke of the body’s stronger and softer parts, and invited us to experience the levels of self-awareness that go into the act [and art] of touching.

We were asked to explore different inanimate objects, like shiny smooth balls and stones, and to experiment with sinking in and “sinking up” with our weight against a door frame, to get the sense of what it means to have our own input in the process of touching. “We can communicate with an inner layer by knowing that there’s an inner layer. As important as technique is awareness. Touch different surfaces, and ask yourself, ‘does it become softer?’ Dwell on the depth of the touch,” she said.

“In our treatment, we deal with different layers of muscles and different types of tissue. You have to respect the tissue, be curious and open, not use a single approach to treat different muscles and tissues,” she added. “Sometimes, you have to stop applying pressure and wait. Stretch, caress, or stroke gently instead.”

Cupping a stone in the palm of my hand, I began to envision its anatomy — there are different densities and qualities to the things we touch and for all that comes in contact with our fingertips, and in turn our sensory receptors. An elaborate knowledge of surfaces is what an aspiring masseuse should start with.

Whether you’re doing it for fun, to treat a friend, a family member or your romantic partner to a sensuous massage, or as a prerequisite to rigorous training and certification, the journey begins with being aware of the feedback the surface you’re touching is giving you, and in your ability to have “maximum contact” with that surface.

“Am I aware of the feedback the skin gives me? Is the neck or back trusting or cringing away from me? Do I like touching it? How am I meeting the surface?”

As I meditated on these questions, I took in the sweet gentle smell that filled the center. I was told later that the relaxing aroma was of essential oils, pure naturally extracted oils that Gabriele revealed she used in both candle diffusers and in her homemade massage oils.

The atmosphere of the center was warm and serene, and it mirrored the temperament of the woman who was telling us about the philosophy behind a massage treatment. “One has to adore the moment,” she said at some point (reminding me that zen and stillness lie at the root of perfecting any technique). A mother of two, Gabriele is 48 years old, but easily looks like a woman in her late thirties — another aspect that made me trust her teachings; she obviously led a mindful, healthy lifestyle.

Before we began, she asked me and my friend (the only participants in this session) to sign a contract that confirmed we were taking this workshop “out of the best intentions,” that our touch is “non-committal” and that we respect the privacy of fellow participants. People come in with their scars, sensitivities and their own emotional and mental baggage about their bodies, and a masseur [or a course participant] should respect that, and keep any private information to themselves.

She explained that our skin has a memory; and that includes memory of abuse, and trauma. I probed deeper into the subject, inquiring if rape, school bullying, incest, or physical abuse can affect how people respond to a massage, or to others touching them, and Gabriele said that the “skin can get stiff as a result of being hit for instance. It can become resistant. Therapy can help the body get rid of persistent trauma, or trigger it if the person is treating you in a way you don’t like or if the massage is done by a person you don’t like.”

Gabriele makes no promises as to whether or not a massage can “heal” traumatic experiences. But she explained that regular massage treatment can help an abused or traumatized skin (in the psychological sense) to relax.

“The body has acquired patterns over the years and has learned certain reflexes that come out as a result of distrusting people, for instance. It’s that subconscious pattern that dictates movements, and it becomes apparent in the way we hold ourselves. Under stress, we fall back into our old patterns, and stress can feel like bullying. For a person who was bullied in school, stress feels like they’re back in there.” she said. “A good massage addresses these patterns, lets you reconsider old patterns, helps you let go of them, consciously.”

Once we started using our hands, and learning how to prop up a client for massage, the real challenge of the course began. The quality of your posture as a masseuse, how you carry your own weight, your mood and how clear your mind is are all parts of the equation.

Asking people to give you feedback during the massage is also valuable to the quality of the interaction; it helps you find out whether it is hurtful, nice or, for instance, ticklish. Making sure your client or your friend is comfortable, not too warm or too cold, and that their body is supported well is important.

“Before you touch, check the health history of the person. Check out their pain points. Hygiene is an important point, and it goes both ways,” Gabriele said.

Before beginning a massage, make sure your clothes and your surroundings are clean. Wipe away sweat from your client’s or your friend’s skin with a wet cloth if you have to. “If you’re going to touch feet, have them wash their feet,” she said.

You have to feel good about touching them, and not cringe away, feel disgusted or uncomfortable. “Treat yourself while treating others. Make sure you’re giving yourself a good time,” advised Gabriele.

When exploring skin, move your hands and fingers over protrusions, feel the hollows, buffers, the thresholds between bones, stay with “knots,” stiff tissue and muscle spasms, help the skin stretch until it eases in. “If I feel a lump here, is it better to wait on this spot, until the lump is more defined? Perhaps if I wait it will go away,” she said.

It’s not just technical, it’s a “feelings” affair– any “blockage” is sensed not seen.

In the first session, we were being trained on massaging fully clothed clients (and we were ourselves). Naturally, the practical part of the course is best illustrated by the instructor herself face-to-face as she guides you through the optimal use of your hands, and as she corrects and hones your posture, as well as that of your (imaginary) client. You slowly learn to become comfortable with using your hands, and making choices as you feel the skin: should you touch it with your whole hand, your palms, or your fingertips?

Before we left, we were briefed on the next part of the course in which we will learn about massage with oil. The instructor explained that you can easily make your massage oil at home, and that most ready-made massage oils bring together basic ingredients, like edible oil and essential oils, but could contain synthetically produced materials. “Olive oil, extra natural virgin oil, is beautiful for the skin. Cold-pressed sunflower oil, peanut oil, and almond oil are also good options. And you can get them anywhere. You can add a scent to it by adding a few drops of essential oils to the edible oil.”

Gabriele asked us to always check the properties of essential oils before using them. “For instance, geranium is a very relaxing oil, it’s good for the soul, but it’s sweet, so a man might not like it. Mint and eucalyptus can cause rashes for some people.”

The first session of the course left me in wonder — I reflected on our senses, how we use them (or not) and how much body and mind are connected, not just in receiving, but in giving.

The instructor kindly lent me and my friend two books to exchange and practice with until we meet again. I took home the “The Power of Touch,” which had a thorough explanation of the different types of essential oils (for calming, soothing tight muscles, warming, balancing or reinvigorating) and was full of visual instructions on how to self-massage and provide healing full-body treatments for others.

The course, which I highly recommend to readers, left me eager for more. The instructor also offers post-training consultations, and perhaps re-takes if need be, if one would like to revisit the technique, which I find very useful.

Skin can be powerful, in how it aches, relaxes, resists, surrenders and relays information about our past, present and deepest fears. I believe that repeated close encounters with it will add more to me than just skill.

Massage expert and reflexologist Gabriele Habashi gives massage treatments, and introductory courses in her center “Horizon” in Zamalek. For more details, and a price list, email her atele@horizon-healing.com. The same centre also offers Reiki “energy healing” training, Trager, which is a bodywork that raises body awareness, in addition to other courses like weight management with a nutritional expert. 

Original article published by Egypt Today Specials can be read here: http://specials.egypttoday.com/wellbeing/massage-the-philosophy-of-touch/

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s