Total Satisfaction Massage

Rich Ireland

Rich Ireland is a Hakomi student who has completed the advanced phase of the Institute’s training. He conducts a private practice out of the Oregon School of Massage in Portland, Oregon, which includes hands-on body work as well as psychotherapy. A number of massage therapists and other body workers have completed Hakomi training in order to increase their skills in dealing with emotional material when it surfaces in the context of their work. The following article alludes to that possibility toward the end. The main focus of the article, however, is an application of Hakomi principles to massage work itself. The principles on which Hakomi therapy rests have wide application beyond the realm of psychotherapy. The Forum is interested in dialogue with people who search to integrate those principles in body work, medicine, education, politics, economics, religion, etc.

Massage therapists have a wonderful opportunity to apply the principles of Hakomi therapy. Inspired by various training exercises, I have been experimenting with what I call "Total Satisfaction Massage".

The massage gets its guidance from the client. Clients need to be able and willing to maintain a mindful state of consciousness, which the masseur encourages with questions that require them to keep their awareness focused on live, present experience. "Go into your body… Let go of notions of previous massages and just notice what you are experiencing right now… What tensions or relaxations are there?… See if you can get in touch with what wants to happen first. It might be a touch, a holding, a deep pressure, warmer feet, less or more light, a moment alone… Whatever is the first thing… If you want to simply be massaged and not have to direct the experience, that’s OK. If you want to switch from one mode to another during massage, that’s OK too."

Once the person has identified their first need, the therapist goes for more precise information and keeps at it until the part gets exactly what it needs as evidenced by the person’s internal sense of satisfaction. "Is this the exact place?… right amount of pressure?… deeper pressure?… another sense of what might happen is emerging?"

When precision is accomplished, often acknowledged by a deep relaxing exhale, the masseur encourages the client to stay with and enjoy this feeling of satisfaction until it reaches an organic sense of completion, and the body begins to re-orient around a new need. This moment of "satisfaction attention" keeps people from spreading into their normal habit patterns and teaches them to listen to the inner wisdom of their bodies. When the work on the hand has been completed, for instance, it does not necessarily follow that the other hand is the next place to go. The body will seek its own sense of balance.

The masseur is maintaining a non-violent stance throughout, in the sense of honoring the organistic integrity of the client. Instead of "knowing" what is needed, we ask. Because of our training and skill we can propose doing particular techniques. When we do so, we keep the client mindful so that the technique functions like a probe, an experiment in awareness. If the client’s experience confirms that it is just right, fine. If it is not quite right, that’s OK too. The client can guide us, correct us, into what would be more precise. We remain guided by the client’s response.

This massage certainly changes the traditional role of the massage therapist. It definitely requires moving more slowly than normal as both therapist and client make the massage the focus of a meditative experience. Traditional patterns of treatment may or may not apply. I have found this procedure very effective for encouraging relaxation in the client, while requiring less physical work for the therapist, though more precision and skill. It is a creative, experimental way to work calling for hands, elbows, knuckles, words, changes in the environment; whatever is needed to bring satisfaction.

Not all people are able to participate in this type of massage. For some, it might take some gentle teaching to help them learn how to cultivate and use a mindful state of consciousness; to help them let go of the busyness and goal directedness of everyday, ordinary consciousness. The massage works particularly well with people who have already had a lot of body therapy. It helps them to get out of ruts and patterns and into the possibility of fresher and deeper experiences.

Sometimes this form of massage can lead into Hakomi therapy. This might occur when the client is encouraged to simply be mindful of what they are experiencing and various feelings and memories arise that they are interested in processing further. It certainly can happen if the therapist supports the person in searching out the meaning of various patterns of tension or satisfaction. The massage can drift between psychological therapy and massage depending on the client’s and therapist’s contract and comfort level while doing so.

The whole procedure operates out of the principles. Non-violence and mindfulness have already been mentioned. Belief in the body’s organic wisdom that will lead it to its own sense of balance is another basic underpinning. The whole process uses a mind-body interface, which of course assumes a belief in mind-body holism.