Massage is a common passive form of muscle manipulation. Jeff Schubert, an actor who is a licensed massage therapist of eight years, notes that while everyone can benefit from massage, "it can help unblock an artist and lead to discovery of new emotional territory." He likens his personal experience of massage to getting new glasses: "I had gone so long seeing not as well as I could that seeing poorly seemed normal."
And, like eyeglasses, there are various styles to choose from: Best known in the West is Swedish, along with deep tissue, trigger point, reflexology, and hot stone. Structurally based methods include Rolfing, neuromuscular therapy, and myoskeletal alignment technique. Other forms have gained popularity in the U.S. such as Hawaiian Lomi and Thai bodywork, which involves assisted stretching and deep tissue work.
The Fascia That Binds Us
Though massage can be viewed as a purely physical therapy, many traditions, particularly Eastern ones, have at their core a philosophy about the body's energy, using words like chi (Chinese for "life force"), chakra (Sanskrit for "energy center"), and prana (Sanskrit for "breath"). Chi, for example, is thought to run along corridors in the body called meridians, an idea that informs acupuncture, acupressure, some types of shiatsu, and chi nei tsang, or internal organ massage.
"Nobody really can be certain about [how the energy moves in the body]," says Gloria Provitola, a New York–based licensed massage therapist who practices chi nei tsang, Reiki, acupressure, and craniosacral therapy and will soon receive her master's in acupuncture. "We know that there are certain electromagnetic activities around acupuncture points on the meridian lines of the body." Like acupuncture, she says, internal organ massage works along these meridians that are thought to run through the body's connective tissue, or fascia, that "wraps around every muscle and every organ in the body, and it's contiguous."
Reiki is a more energy-based therapy, in which the practitioner places his or her hands on or above the receiver's body in a sequence of positions for at least three minutes each. "The Reiki practitioner is attuned to three different vibrations of…energy," says Provitola. "Some people feel heat, or sometimes people feel cold, or sometimes people feel a little shaking; there are all different kinds of reactions that people get." She says chi nei tsang "can feel very intense.... And sometimes, and with Reiki, people go into deep trance states with these types of therapies." Massage can have similar effects. "Deep tissue work can release emotional pain stored in the body," says Schubert. "Clients can cry on a massage table—not all the time, but it happens."
As far as the benefits for performers, "Reiki is gonna give them a centeredness; it's gonna quell anxiety; it's going to, hopefully, give them an inner sense of what they're about to do," extols Provitola. "It doesn't just work on a physical level; it's very psychological as well." Schubert confirms that thought: "The body and mind are synergistic; they are connected. When one is blocked, it affects the other."
'What a Person Needs'
Provitola says Reiki practitioners "have to stay out of the way. No matter what the person comes to you with and says they have, your intention is never for that particular thing. You're just a conduit for this healing energy to enter the person, and then the person's own embodied wisdom will take that energy and use it in the best possible way…. You never know what a person needs when they say they want to be healed. Only in their deep inner wisdom is that known."
To help that process, Provitola and Schubert agree that for massage you should find a well-trained therapist. "If you go to a spa you've never been to and you want a Swedish massage, ask which therapists are qualified to do deep tissue, then book it as a Swedish," offers Schubert, who works at the Sports Club LA on L.A.'s West Side. "Many spas will hire massage therapists right out of massage school. A deep tissue–trained therapist will have more training than someone who can just do Swedish." He says referrals are a good way to find someone, or if you're on a budget, you can seek out places like the Massage Place or the Massage Company. He adds, "Be very clear about why you are seeking out massage, what type of pressure you like."
In Reiki, Provitola notes, finding the right match has more to do with the relationship: "You have to find somebody [you] feel really comfortable with, 'cause you want to be able to not think and just let go…. And you want somebody who's open, who's not trying to control the situation."
Both therapists speak of their client sessions as meditations. Schubert relishes being the "favorite part of someone's day or week." And Provitola notes, "There's, like, a conversation going on. And the conversation is nonverbal. And that's a very, very precious thing; it's a gift. That's what they should be looking for." Who knows what you'll find?
For more information about Gloria Provitola, visit www.massagetherapyny.com. Jeff Schubert is the host, writer, and co–executive producer of the live Internet show "Filmnut" (www.thestream.tv/filmnut).