I had a longtime client ask me tonight about how I approach the body. He was curious to know if most of the techniques I do were specifically taught to me, or if I made up stuff as I go, to accommodate each client. It was a two hour massage, so we had plenty of time to talk. It took about 45 minutes for me to answer the question, because we are both music nerds who came up with several musical analogies to discuss the concept.
Guitar players, for example, are usually memorable when they do something innovative. Jimi Hendrix played with his teeth. Jimmy Page played with a violin bow. Slash bends strings all over the fret board. BB King uses his smooth trademark vibrato to sell every single lick.
These innovative guitar players have far surpassed typical routines and formulas to truly become artists. To reach this level in the massage therapy field, a therapist must be creative and brave enough to push some limits. Like music, which nobody will pay for if it doesn't sound good, massage can't push so far outside of the norm that people are scared or uncomfortable trying it. Back to BB King, his style is probably more accessible to more customers than Jimmy Page's bow solo here.
You have to push boundaries but not too far. There are rules to follow in music that act as the framework for creativity, to make pleasing melodies instead of just making noise. The same is true for massage rules- fascia responds well to heat, grinding an elbow into shallow muscle attachments is painful, pay attention to and work with the client's breathing pattern, go slow to relax and fast to invigorate muscles...the list could go on.
Not to disparage John Denver, who is a very talented guy, but his guitar playing is the opposite of innovative. He strums with one hand and holds steady chords with the other. Compared to Eddie Van Halen, John Denver is barely doing anything with his guitar.
So what's the difference between my massage and a more conventional massage routine? First, I try to see the body as the 3 dimensional structure that it is. Eddie Van Halen clearly uses every inch of his guitar and comes at it from every possible direction. He also uses a diverse set of skills, string tapping, for example, that allows him to get something done more efficiently than the average player can. I find that every CEU I take and every massage I receive gives me more unique tools in my technique toolbox. I need to mix and match everything I've learned from neuro-muscular, myo-fascial, shiatsu, stretching, sports massage, craniosacral, orthopedic rehab, and anything else I can get my hands on, to fine tune the perfect treatment for the specific client in front of me.
The answer to the question then, is that I have to draw from many techniques I have been taught first, and then, thanks to more than a decade of hands on experience, apply creativity to the basic techniques, to get the most possible therapeutic value out of them.
Just to drive this analogy into the ground, here is a clip from the movie August Rush, in which a musical prodigy plays a guitar in a completely unique way.