Why Relaxation Massage Is Being Left Behind and Left Out -- Part 1

In the next two posts, I would like to address an issue that I’ve been seeing in the massage and bodywork community. That is, the trend of emphasizing medically oriented massage techniques almost to the exclusion of relaxation massage. The next post will talk more about this trend and how it presents in the industry as a whole. In this first post, though, I’ll begin by telling a story of my own to illustrate how it can affect the lives and practices of individual therapists. It has taken a lot of time and consideration to thoughtfully develop these posts, and I hope that others may benefit from reading my story and my insights.

Finding a Massage “Niche”

When I was in massage school, one of the most frequently repeated pieces of advice that I heard was to “find your niche.” This meant finding that one special area of massage in which you excelled and mastering it, whether it be a certain massage style or catering to a particular client set. The instructors constantly told us that, while the standard Swedish and deep tissue we were learning were great, those two styles alone were simply not enough to keep us going in the competitive world of massage. While they didn’t exactly phrase it in such a way, the overall gist of their statements was that “anyone can give Swedish or deep tissue, so you need to diversify your talent so that you stand out from the crowd.” Since I didn’t know any better and assumed that they were right (which, I should note that for the most part, they were), I constantly looked for my “niche” massage style. That one modality which would call to me and in which I had a natural gift that I could hone to perfection. Medically-oriented massage styles had been greatly emphasized, so I first started looking into those.

I investigated orthopedic massage and, while I was fascinated with the assessment techniques and results that such methods could obtain for clients with unique challenges, I simply wasn’t enough of a “puzzle solver” to feel that I could master it and still enjoy performing it. I looked into energy work, since I have had multiple people tell me that I have a calming presence, but I am far too much of a tactile person to ever do strictly energy work. One by one, the modalities slipped by – prenatal, shiatsu, sports, myofascial, lomi lomi, cranio-sacral, lymphatic, hospice, watsu, and more – and still I could not find that one modality that really called to me. Some interested me more than others, to be sure, but when I looked further into those, I still didn’t know if I wanted to specialize in them, even if I wouldn’t mind receiving training in them and offering them as part of my practice. For one thing, if I was going to specialize in a style, I wanted to truly enjoy that style. Otherwise, it simply wouldn’t be worth it. And I already truly enjoyed what I was doing, which was Swedish relaxation massage and deep tissue, with an emphasis on affordable luxury and relaxation.

Of course, while I looked into several of these modalities and even got basic training in a few of them, I was still honing my Swedish and deep tissue skills to be able to give my clients the most excellent massage they had ever received in those styles. But, I always told myself that that wasn’t enough. That I needed to keep looking for that one modality which would be my specialty and that without it, I wasn’t being the best massage therapist that I could be.

I didn’t realize the gift I already had and how I was ignoring it.

Recognizing My Already-Present Gift for Relaxation Massage

I would be lying if I said that the realization came all at once, but it did finally come to me, and I actually remember the moment that it first started to make itself apparent. I was driving home one evening crying in frustration that I did not love and could not grasp orthopedic massage better than I did. I had a fellow therapist and trade partner who truly was gifted at it, and he always astonished me with his ability to assess the needs of the body and treat it in the most unusual and effective ways. And yet, I knew that I would never be able to do what he did, much though I wished that I could. His mind simply worked differently from mine, and if I tried to force it to do what his did, then I would end up only giving a disservice to my clients. So, while orthopedic massage fascinated me to no end, I knew that it couldn’t be my “niche” massage. I had again failed to find it.

As I talked out loud to calm myself down and organize my thoughts into something more logical and less emotional, I remember saying at one point, “I don’t know. What if I’ve already found it? Maybe what I’m doing is my niche.” That gave me pause. Just a little, but it was enough. Because what if I was right? I had been told for years that Swedish and deep tissue weren’t enough, but what I was seeing in my practice every day told me otherwise. Rarely did I have people come to me looking for myofascial release or cranio-sacral therapy. They came to me simply looking for a Swedish or deep tissue massage which would work out some of their tight areas and help them relax for just a little while in their hectic lives. And, let me tell you, I could absolutely deliver results for those needs.

How My Gift Manifested Itself in My Practice

When I had first begun designing my space, I had taken into consideration everything that I myself would like as a client receiving massage, from the linens on the table, to the music played during the session. The result was overwhelmingly positive reviews from those who came to experience my touch and forget their cares for a while in my room. Again and again, I heard that it was the best massage they had ever experienced, and not just because my touch was excellent and I was able to effectively work on their issues. They complimented me on the music, saying that it was some of the best they had ever heard while getting a massage. They thanked me for the special warmer I used to keep their feet comfortable, remarking how no other therapist they had seen had ever offered something like that. They appreciated the lighting, the table on which to put their jewelry, the hooks on which to hang their clothing, and the robes and slippers I supplied should they need to run out in the middle of a session to use the restroom. All of it, they said, made my massages the “cream of the crop.”

And still, even with this evidence sticking right in my face, I could not see that I had truly found my niche already.

It took a move to Texas, a start in a new space, and having to begin building a clientele once more with only my original offerings of Swedish, deep tissue, and those few other modalities in which I had received basic training before it finally hit me. Even with all the other therapists in the area, people truly loved what I offered. My own calming energy, the feeling of tranquility they got as soon as they walked through my door, the little personalized touches I provided, all convinced them that I was worth spending their time and money to come see. And at last, I realized that I didn’t need to specialize in another modality. I had become an artist in the one area that so many people need and which some therapists don’t know how to really offer. I could give a relaxation massage like no other, and that was my true gift.

I won’t stop looking for other modalities and skills to potentially add to my practice, but I will no longer look at them in the same way. They will not be the “crown jewel” for which I was initially searching to make my practice shine out from all the rest out there. Rather, they will be accents of skill to make what I already offer even better for my clients.