When I went to school to learn massage therapy, my teachers and classmates had come together to share values and passion. We believed in reverence for the human condition, for all its aches and joy. We felt a certain love for each other and for our clients. How strange and old it feels now to talk about loving a career, or loving a person outside your family or innermost circle of friends.
Our school was not owned by a corporation. It was owned by a German woman named Heida Brenneke, who brought her European background of holistic health with her to the States. She was one of the first to be licensed as a practitioner and one of the first to open a school for massage therapy in Seattle, a leader in the movement of integrative therapies.
She taught us to honor the physical body inclusive of its ticks and tears. We wanted our clients to to do the same for their own bodies and spirits. We wanted people to regain hope. We thought it was a nice thing to offer the world.
Fast forward to several years ago when I worked briefly as an instructor in a massage school here in Boston. It was different. Times had changed. I felt students had been lured by easy loans and promises to make a lot of money in a few hours a week. No need to love your work.
I don’t hate the chain massage clinics as do some therapists in my field. It’s great that a lot of people are getting massage. I’m just nostalgic for the days when massage was not cranked out like Happy Meals.
When I thought to hire someone to work with me, I wondered how I could compete with the likes of Massage Envy, an employer offering fully booked work weeks, paid sick time and vacations.
I shouldn’t have worried because as soon as I placed my ad on Craigslist, I got a text from a young old person.
He was proud of his heritage as a healer, learning from his father who learned from his father before him. Out of his bag he pulled his tools of the trade, handmade, to show me.
Then he went flipping through his phone in the middle of our meeting and I thought, “Oh young people…sigh…well face it, Lisa, the old days are gone.”
When he showed me what he’d been scrolling for, though, I couldn’t help but smile. He’d saved the photos from four years ago, when he and his dad had crafted the tools they use for guasha treatments in their family clinic in Shanghai. I’ve only ever seen guasha performed with a nondescript white plastic tool that looks like a spoon, or actually is an ordinary spoon.
The owner of the photos was smiling too, and explaining, and I thought, Geez I was wrong. The old way, the pride in your work, it’s still alive. It’s right here in this bright young person with a smart phone and an old-world ethic. I hired him on the spot.
Some therapists and clients are horrified by the use of “ancient” techniques like massage cups and guasha because the skin turns red.
At the same time, many of my clients are now coming to me having received a treatment called Graston technique, increasingly popular in the modern world of pain relief and rehab.
If you follow that link, you will see a western description of the effects of scraping (which is what “guasha” means). And here again is the link I posted above, “Scraping Away Pain” that features a review of research for the use of guasha.
If you are prefer surgical steel instruments of the dentistry aesthetic, I encourage you to find a practitioner of Graston Technique. If you’d like a pain-relief treatment from the heart, using handmade tools and a technique boasting thousands of years of effective use, come see Benjamin Shi in my office and ask if guasha can help you.