What IS Mindful Medical Massage Therapy?
How Can YOU Benefit From It? And if YOU
are a Massage OR Bodywork Practitioner,
How Can You Successfully Integrate Mindful
Medical Massage Principles & Practices Into
YOUR Medical Massage Therapy Business?
What IS Mindful Medical Massage Therapy?
There are today many possible answers to that question. Many people do their own brand of what they call medical massage. They are all, for the most part, valid, within their own context. Some of them include mindfulness in their variations of methods.
Yet there are those who claim to be THE "Real Deal" in Medical Massage, as if THEY were THE only "true source" of medical massage theory and practice. YET, some of them use the EXACT opposite principles & practices of treatment than people like ME who ALSO claim to be doing "medical massage."
My point is NOT to discredit what they are doing & teaching. My point is only they do NOT have a monopoly on what medical massage actually is or is not.
So we will here attempt to give a generalized, yet highly relevant answer to the question. Then, we will give a more in-depth description of what WE think "Conscious, Clinical / Medical Massage or Bodywork Therapy" really IS, or more accurately, COULD BE, and how WE use it here with the DSL Method Of Yoga, Bodywork & Whole Health Practices.
The point is, there might well be many approaches to "Medical Massage," and no one has a lock on the market.
NOTE: We very often use the term Bodywork in place of the word Massage. Within the massage field, and among practitioners, the term bodywork generally implies more overtly therapeutic, more specific techniques than massage, which is generally thought of as more of a spa-style, relaxation focused modality. ...
However, there is a lot of overlap. And over a hundred years ago, Swedish Massage was considered to be highly therapeutic & wide ranging in its many techniques and applications.
Then, "massage therapy" went through a multi-decade period where it was associated more with purely aesthetic purposes or even prostitution. That, no doubt, was part of a public relations campaign from (so-called) "orthodox" (drug, surgery, radiation) medicine, to discredit massage as a valid health care modality.
Yes, massage DID have a less than savory element of sex-oriented practitioners. But that was NOT reflective of those many practitioners who were totally legitimate health care providers.
Yet the orthodox medical community was EXTREME in its efforts to eliminate ALL health care competition to whatever degree possible. So the reputations of the legitimate health focused providers, including homeopathy, herbology, osteopathy, eclectics, and many others were sullied along with the licentious, sexually oriented elements.
Today, Swedish Massage, in its general understanding, tends to be more associated with the spa-style, purely relaxation or luxury-oriented work. Yet to a great extent, the terms massage and bodywork CAN be used interchangeably, depending on the understandings of the people using the terms.
Is Massage Therapy an Essential,
or NON-Essential, Modality?
I want to point out there was long ago a quote from someone I could not find again, and it was (approximately) this:
The organization of [something] is the death of the idea.
Now that quote might be a little strong or too absolute, but here's the point I want to make. All too often, when we organize or define something — such as "medical massage" — too strictly, it can lose its validity and vitality. It can become so highly defined or "boxed in" as to choke the very life out of it.
It can become too narrowly focused and considered in too narrow of a channel. Just like when, after the alleged COVID-19 outbreak, massage & bodywork were deemed in most states to be "non-essential" services.
Even though massage & bodywork are very capable, in many cases, of helping prevent people from having to get various highly invasive surgeries or procedures, or get them off dangerous drugs, or give them enough relief from debilitating pain they could actually go back to work, and so on, they were still considered to be "non-essential."
Mindful Medical Massage Therapy Can Produce FAR More Results Than Is Acknowledged by Almost Anyone!
And even though mindful medical massage therapy has "medical" right in the title, there is MUCH skepticism in the orthodox medical community, and society as a whole, that massage related practices, even in the right hands (no pun intended!), can be so effective in relieving a LOT of soft tissue issues of the human bodymind.
And if people whom are biased against something, or not very familiar with it, are the ones regulating or defining something, its real meaning and usefulness can become very distorted or submerged. The benefits of medical massage are WELL documented in MANY medical studies. Yet the possibilities remain mostly unacknowledged or downplayed.
To be fair, there are MANY massage practitioners who seem to have little or no idea how much their skills could help a LOT of people with a LOT of problems. And a lot of yoga teachers are equally uninformed how much what THEY do can help so many people with severe soft tissue issues. They just do not know how to apply what they know or do.
So blaming doctors for not knowing about the immense potential value of massage or yoga is, admittedly, a bit unfair.
Someday soon, however, Mindful Medical Massage Therapy SHOULD have a Rightful Place in Modern Mindful Medicine, or a separate category all together. But as long as it is defined as "just" the stereotype that massage is just about relaxation and maybe a luxurious, pampering experience, it will be FAR under-utilized as the profound healing modality it is capable of being.
This is one of the problems with Scope of Practice in medicine and health care. Many people would argue a strict scope or range of what a particular health care practitioner can do is necessary to maintain high quality and safety standards, as well as effectiveness.
Related Aspects of Mindful Medicine Practices Should Be More Integrated
Yes, I believe specialization — and Scope of Practice — works up to a point, but I also have observed that certain health modalities are so closely related, they should be offered as packages of interrelated services that can or could be offered separately if appropriate. But they very often work much better when used together as an Integrated Whole System.
AND, when ONE Practitioner with a wide range of knowledge, skill and insight is using a bundle of related modalities they often have a much clearer picture of the Clients' or Patients' overall and specific conditions and responsiveness than if the work was splintered across several different practitioners and modalities. When no one therapist or physician is getting the Big, In-Depth Picture for a Client or Patient, important information and perspective can very often be missed or inadvertently ignored.
I'm not against Specialization per se. Brain surgery is highly complex and minutely specific in so many ways, it it is best for a few people to exclusively specialize in it. But I believe that in less intensely high-tech areas — such as treating the soft tissues for relatively common neuro-musculo-fascial & joint issues — a too narrowly focused practice can be detrimental to the Client's or Patient's long-term well-being, or at least have a diminished potential affect on their results from therapy.
Medical Massage Vs Deep Tissue
Just One Example of comparing medical massage with other modalities is this: The medical massage therapist, when exploring the soft tissues of a Client's body, MIGHT go VERY deep into the Clients muscles & fascia Sometimes all the way down to the bones.
Yet in many cases, the Clients' soft tissue issues are very close to the surface of the body, in the skin or superficial tissues. In that case, the Therapists might stay with very light pressure on the more superficial tissues.
So rather than being a "DEEP Tissue" practitioner, they are more focused on "WHICH Tissues" are most in need of attention. They could be VERY deep, or VERY superficial or anywhere in between.
If the practitioner is fixated on "going deep" (as in "Deep Tissue Therapy") they might well miss the fact that the more superficial tissues are in the most need of help.
Yogic Stretching versus Muscle Strengthening
For Another Example, in my view, hands-on, soft tissue therapy goes VERY well with yoga (AKA conscious stretching). Yet when a therapist is offering yoga stretching and hands-on muscle work, it's a more than natural fit to offer some integrated strength training, as well. Especially if the yoga and bodywork are closely coordinated with the exercise techniques to produce specific postural / structural balance and resolution of excess stress & tension in the bodymind.
Yet in my approach, many of my Clients are better served to NOT get involved in any strength training at all in early stages of therapy. Strength training can be very detrimental in some cases of high stress, trauma and/or injury. In such cases, it is better in the early stages of therapy to focus strictly on relaxation with NO strength training, which contracts muscles instead of relaxing them.
Yet at some point, strength training might well become a good idea. Who better to evaluate that then a therapist who has been working closely with the Client for weeks or months and has a close reading on how the Client is progressing?
The various modalities can all fit very closely together with mindful medical massage therapy, and use many of the same very basic science principles. Yet it is not always a good idea to start all of them right away.
What About Diet & Nutrition?
And then, fitting right into THAT overall muscle & fascia focused package is diet, nutrition & detoxification. That is the metabolic fueling of the various systems of the body. And for many people, generalized dietary knowledge without specific diagnosis and treatment would be perfectly adequate for their health care needs.
And of course, mindfulness can be simultaneously applied in all those modalities, as well.
I would bet that (at very least) 50% of the health problems of 50% of the people would just clear up if they were doing even a more or less generic yoga / bodywork / exercise / diet / detox regimen with some mindfulness bundled in. That would solve a LOT of the health problems so many people have WITHOUT getting into specific diagnosis and treatment which is legally restricted to licensed medical practitioners.
So now, we're going to take a broader look at what this thing called medicine is.
The First Challenge is to describe what the word Medical actually refers to.
What is "Medicine" in
Mindful Medical Massage Therapy?
In so called "modern" times, orthodox "medicine" is defined as, in Wikipedia:
Medicine is the science and practice of establishing the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness. Contemporary medicine applies biomedical sciences, biomedical research, genetics, and medical technology to diagnose, treat, and prevent injury and disease, typically through pharmaceuticals or surgery, but also through therapies as diverse as psychotherapy, external splints and traction, medical devices, biologics, and ionizing radiation, amongst others.
ORTHODOX is generally defined as: conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.
Interestingly, some definitions of "medical" make a distinction between "medicine" and "surgery," considering them to be in different categories. Yet most of us, when thinking about orthodox medicine, assume that surgery, drugs, and radiation are inherent components of orthodox medicine. Many of us feel like that's most of the whole medical ball of wax.
So for the moment, let's take a deeper look at the word medicine, and see if we can come up with a more useful and relevant meaning for what we are trying to accomplish here on this website. And historically, and etymologically, there is a great difference between various meanings of the word medicine.
Bridging A Gap Between Health Care Perspectives
A good place to start is the writings of the Great Physicist, David Bohm. Bohm did much work attempting to bridge the gap between modern sciences from a Western perspective, versus the introspective insights from the Eastern religions, such as yoga and Hinduism. (He also attempted to integrate Quantum Physics into his perspectives, although I'm not so fond of some of his conclusions there.)
Bohm spent much time with Jiddu Krishnamurti, the "Anti-Guru" from India who became very Westernized, yet maintained a very highly conscious, in-the-world point-of-view on many things related to the Mind and Self. He had very little or none of the mysticism permeating much of Indian, yogic philosophical and religious teaching, either.
It was in part Krishnamurti's work, combined with the ground-breaking innovations of Joel Kramer, that led to the development of my own system of DSL Edgework — yoga therapy and mindful medical massage therapy practice.
Meditation as Medicine
David Bohm described in some detail the differences between "Modern" Orthodox versus Wholistic Views of Medicine. He points out the difference between the Inner and Outer approaches to perceiving, understanding, and operating in the world, and in medical applications.
SPECIAL NOTE: On the word Medicine and the Big Picture of Yoga in Eastern & Western Thought:
The DSL Method takes a yogic* attitude toward the practice of “medicine.” As described by David Bohm in his 1983 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order*, the word medicine is derived from the Latin root mederi, which translates into: to measure, to moderate, to mediate, to meditate … and also medicine.
These interpretations bring a meditative or mindfulness element to the entire practice of medicine and various disciplines of bodymind health.
As Bohm states in his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order:
” … ‘to cure’ is based on a root meaning ‘to measure’. This reflects the view that physical health is to be regarded as the outcome of a state of right inward measure in all parts and processes of the body. …[T]he word moderation, which describes one of the prime ancient notions of virtue, is based on the same root, and this shows that such virtue was regarded as the outcome of a right inner measure underlying man’s social actions and behavior. Again, the word meditation, which is based on the same root, implies a kind of weighing, pondering, or measuring of the whole process of thought, sensing, feeling and being, which could bring the inner activities of the mind to a state of harmonious measure.”
The idea here is the root meaning of the word medicine is closely related to meditation, meditation, like mindfulness, being an Inner-Measure of one's own Self by way of self-observation.
Here is another excerpt from Bohm's book:
In this regard, measure was not looked on in its modern sense as being primarily some sort of comparison of an object with an external standard or unit. [Like a ruler or measuring stick. ~DSL]
Rather, this latter procedure was regarded as a kind of outward display or appearance of a deeper ‘inner measure’, which played an essential role in everything. When something went beyond its proper measure, this meant not merely that it was not conforming to some external standard of what was right but, much more, that it was inwardly out of harmony, so that it was bound to lose its integrity and break up into fragments.
One can obtain some insight into this way of thinking by considering the earlier meanings of certain words. Thus, the Latin ‘mederi’ meaning ‘to cure’ (the root of the modern ‘medicine’) is based on a root meaning ‘to measure’. This reflects the view that physical health is to be regarded as the outcome of a state of right inward measure in all parts and processes of the body.
Similarly, the word ‘moderation’, which describes one of the prime ancient notions of virtue, is based on the same root, and this shows that such virtue was regarded as the outcome of a right inner measure underlying man’s social actions and behavior.
Again, the word ‘meditation’, which is based on the same root, implies a kind of weighing, pondering, or measuring of the whole process of thought, which could bring the inner activities of the mind to a state of harmonious measure. So, physically, socially and mentally, awareness of the inner measure of things was seen as the essential key to a healthy, happy, harmonious life.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Routledge Classics, 1980
So all of these meanings are also the root of the term to cure, which, of course, what all forms of "medicine" are supposed to do.
The larger point Bohm was making is that medicine, in ancient times, was more about a Meditative Inner Measure, a more internally meditative, self-aware function.
Better Living Through
Technology & Chemistry?
Yet in "modern" times, technology was uplifted as the end-all, be-all of nearly every modern thing. (The old Dupont Chemical Company sales slogan "better living through chemistry," for example.)
"Modern," Orthodox Medicine is now more about external measuring devices (blood pressure cuffs, MRIs, X-rays, stethoscopes, EKGs, Apple Watches, etc.) versus our inner, meditative, more wholistic,* feeling SENSE of ourselves. The old "inner measure" is very often completely over-run or altogether missing from the modern medical “outer measure” with the machinery and diagnostic testing equipment.
This is not to say the modern, orthodox, "outer measure" approach is of no value or use. On the contrary, it is immensely valuable for certain processes and needs. Yet it is, ideally, an adjunct to our inner measure capacities rather than a replacement.
Bringing Inner & Outer Measure Together
This is only to say that the inner measure approach has lost much, or nearly all, of its value in the transition … and the translation!
* Wholistic is here written with a *W* rather than as in holistic. To some, the word holistic implies the terms “holy” and/or “holographic,” interpretations the DSL approach does not fully subscribe to in such cases. So we use the root word Whole.
Physical YOGA Therapy IS Mindfulness Applied to Physical Postures
Physical / Mental & Relational Yoga includes an Inner Measuring of a subjective sense of self, which includes how we relate to other human beings and our environment, with an objective of Optimal Internal & External Health:
Therefore, IF one ascribes to the term Yoga the meaning Awareness, in the "Inner Measure" or "Meditative" sense, then we see this ancient derivative of the root word mederi as the foundation of a more real, more complete medicine in a fuller, deeper, more humanistic and less mechanical way. We also see an ancient root meaning opening doors to yoga, yoga-based bodywork, and medicine as a physical, mental & relational system.
Yet internal mindfulness is not perfect. As I wrote in my reports on Yoga Injury Prevention, SOME people, when doing yoga, trigger a flood of neurotransmitters in their blood stream producing an intense sense of "bliss." That is good from the point of wanting you to do more yoga. ...
HOWEVER, sometimes that "sense of bliss" (the inner measure) is so intense the more subtle sensations of one's joints being excessively compressed and eventually damaged is not noticed.
SO, "inner-measuring" is NOT perfect or idea. It is only a PART of the Big Picture. Some people don't know their joints are being destroyed until they see an "outer-measuring" by way of an X-ray or MRI!
So a more informed yoga practitioner does NOT assume that just because they're feeling "bliss" in a stretch that everything is A-Okay.
Yes, it is an imperfect world. There are few, if any, perfect answers to anything. But we do our best with what we have. And the wider & deeper range of information we have access to from a wider range of sources, the better.
The job of a Whole Health Practitioner is to maximize as many of those sources as possible.
Mindfulness When Giving & Receiving Massage
So too, one can become more Mindful when receiving massage or bodywork. Sinking one's awareness down into their skin, muscles & fascia of the body while receiving hands-on therapy can significantly enhance the depth of relaxation resulting from the work.
This literally engages a wider range of nerve pathways giving the Client a deeper, more expanded sense of, and inner measure of, their own bodymind.
And, when a therapist is more mindful of their Clients' soft tissues when applying manual pressure or medical massage techniques, a deeper level of results can also emerge.
We believe, integrating mindfulness into a mindful medical massage therapy practice can give greatly enhanced results due to the heightened neurological activity of the involved sensory-motor nerve pathways.
The DSL Edgework Process is about a Client uncovering and learning to FEEL the NEXUS between their inner reality and their outer actions. When they learn to feel that their excess muscle tension, their C.E.M.&.N.T., is something THEY are DOING rather than being some "thing" stuck in their body, they start getting more control over their internal processes.
Mindful medical massage therapy benefits are greatly enhanced when Client and Practitioner are putting their minds down into their tissues and muscles & fascia. It's as if the minds' of Client and Practitioner are meeting where the therapists' hands meet the skin & muscles of the Client.
At that point, when the thinking mind slows down, and the meditative or mindful mind gets more engaged, a higher degree of precision responsiveness to changes in the Clients' tissues happens in the therapists own bodymind.
We discuss this in more detail describing the work of Doctor John Sarno. He had a high success rate in treating many forms of apparently physical pain strictly with emotionally-based work.
You can read about Sarno's work in two articles I wrote. One is about a podcast from Joe Polish and Steve Ozanich. This podcast describes Dr. Sarno's work in a very accessible way.
I also have a far more detailed article on my views of the inner workings of Dr. Sarno's emotionally-based therapy and how it interfaces with people who do more physically oriented therapy, such as what I do.
They are NOT mutually exclusive approaches to therapy, and CAN be used together, especially if the Mindfulness component is integrated into the physical work.
Rather than merely "delivering a massage technique" to the Client's body and muscles, the Therapist is using their skilled, perceptive touch to more fully and deeply FEEL the Clients skin, muscles & fascia, of their soft tissues. That heightened sense of feeling produces better results for the Client.
So too, the Client is feeling their own body at a much deeper level. THAT is where the MOST results happen.
As well, Exercise & Strength training can be enhanced with Mindfulness. Especially in injury prevention.
Finally, becoming more aware of what and how we eat, and the various sensations arising from different digestive "events" can be very helpful to the Client or Patient.
And reducing stress & tension levels in the body can improve digestive and metabolic processes.
We will discuss the sciences behind all that phenomena in other articles on this website or in the members training area.
And in further articles, we will describe the "medical" aspects of how we think about and mindfully work with the nerves, skin, muscles, fascia, and joints of the body.
I hope all this gives you a better idea of what we mean by Mindful Medical Massage Therapy. If you are a practitioner, you might get some new massage business ideas here. If You are interested in developing a medical massage therapy business, or new ideas on how to start your own massage therapy business, we can help you with that, on other pages of this website, or in our DSL Training & Coaching Programs.
Thank You for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net*
* Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System