Selecting a professional bodyworker to work on your body

Working with other people’s bodies in a holistic and integrated way is a demanding job which requires high standards of self-care. As part of my own self-care I receive hands on work from other professionals, some of that is from fellow Alexander teachers and some from other body/mind practitioners.

Each discipline has its own focus and its own way of communicating with students/clients. In addition, there are considerable differences between individual teachers, therapists and training schools as to how much to communicate verbally and how much to communicate through body language or with hands.

Some disciplines see themselves as an education and require the full conscious participation of the student having the session. Some disciplines see themselves as a therapy where the participation of the client is much more unconscious.

In 35 number of years of being a recipient of professional bodywork, I’ve found that the standard of work varies a lot. This is my attempt to articulate which standards matter to me and why. These are also the standards that I aspire to when I’m working with students.

Here’s my list:

  • Personally I like to feel that a therapist or teacher is kind, friendly and interested in who I am, as well as skilled at their job. If the professional doesn’t take time to build a relationship with you as an individual it could be an indication that they just see you as a body to be fixed.
  • The bodywork professional is well rested, energised and calm. Doing good bodywork is very demanding and without the highest standards of self-care, you can be sure that professional won’t have the energy or bandwidth to look after you. When I experience professionals who come across as tired, irritated or impatient it does not inspire confidence that they are on my side.
  • The bodywork professional takes time at the beginning of the session to understand what you want and what your current condition is. They invite you to share valuable information about yourself which enables them to customise their work to offer you the most beneficial session to meet your needs at this moment. Some disciplines or cultures rely on non-verbal assessments. That’s fine, as long as you understand the process they are going through. If the professional asks you to get on a treatment table without going through some kind of an assessment first, it could be an indication that they giving you a one-size fits all session.
  • The bodywork professional uses a wide variety of touch. It’s harder to make use of touch when the professional has a one touch fits all approach. Whether that is Alexander teachers who have a feather touch irrespective of who or where they are touching, to the massage professionals who believe that harder is better, it’s an indication that the professional could lack an ability to adjust their touch to individual needs and preferences. When someone touches you in a way that doesn’t completely suit you, you are going to need to make a lot of effort to make use of that touch. Sometimes their touch is so skilful you can feel that it’s still worth it.
  • The bodywork professional has a dialogue with you (not necessarily a spoken one) about how fast or slow their touch is if their hands are moving across your body. If a touch is too fast, it’s difficult for your nervous system to calm down, appreciate and enjoy that touch.
  • The bodywork professional shares an outline of their lesson/treatment plan with you (if you want this – some people are fine about not knowing) at the start of the session. You might have some important input about that, such as you can’t lie on your front today but you can lie on your back.
  • The bodywork professional has knowledge acquired over time about different aspects of how your body works. This might be some knowledge of the scaffolding of the body, some knowledge about muscles, bones and other systems in the body. If a bodywork professional has done a course that doesn’t require time and professional supervision, they’ll be unprepared for the diversity of people and conditions that walk through the door.
  • The room where you are going to have work done is clean, well ventilated, has enough space and is not too hot or cold. It’s really hard to enjoy a session when the therapist is bumping into the furniture or the room is not comfortable. It’s also hard for the therapist to do their best work and can indicate that the centre might not be fully supporting their staff.
  • Any equipment that is used is clean, strong enough to bear your weight and comfortable. If you are lying on a rickety portable massage table, with no props or towels to provide additional support, it’s hard to relax.

Thanks to Jill Banwell for her feedback and suggestions on this article.

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2018

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