The Evolving Perception of Massage

by Alana Simler

time for me concept clock closeup on white background with red and black words

My grandma was a wonderful nurse and inspired my aunt to become one as well. Both had amazing careers and helped many people. Growing up around these strong women inspired me to begin studying nursing early on, but at some point in my studies I made the switch to become a massage therapist. It suited me; the hands on (pun intended), directly helping people and ability to be independent with my business all attributed to my career path diversion.

Well, when my grandma heard about this she was not so enthused. “So, you’re going to work in a massage parlor, huh?” was her way of letting me know just what she thought of my choice and you know what she meant by “massage parlor.” I knew there was no arguing my stance so I just said, “Yep.”

I also knew that she was coming from a different generation’s perspective on the profession of massage. Rather than trying to persuade her to understand the validity of this career path and convince her of the therapeutic benefits of massage, I would just need to be patient and show her over time.

I could have argued that there are evidences of recorded therapeutic touch dated back to 15,000 B.C., and that there are incredible amounts of documentation all through history showing massage to be helpful with the body and widely used throughout the world’s varied cultures. Unfortunately, massage businesses have also been used as a front for prostitution over the years. It seems for a good chunk of the mid-20th century this view of massage was prevalent in the U.S. Massage therapists have had to band together, set training standards and form associations to legitimize our profession. I don’t work in a “massage parlor,” Grandma!

We have made headway. Massage therapy has gained respect not only in the eyes of the general public, but in the medical community as well. We receive referrals, we bill insurance, and we work in teams with different medical professionals to give our clients well rounded treatment programs. The paradigm is shifting. Once my grandma saw my office and experienced my work, she became my biggest promoter.

Another common perception regarding massage is that it is mainly used as a way to pamper yourself. I’ve done a decent job with my clients in coaching them in the benefits of regular massage and that is what my clientele mostly consists of… regulars. However, I was recently reminded that not everyone gets the concept of regular massage.

During a conversation with another family member, I was suggesting the idea that massage would be very beneficial to her. She jumped on the suggestion and excitedly agreed, “Yes! I need a spa day!” Well, I believe a spa day is wonderful and has its own benefits, but that was not what I was going for.

I was going for the idea of making it a point to consistently feed your mind, body and spirit. I feel that receiving a regular massage has a different scope of benefits for a person. Mentally you get to look forward to each appointment, relieve stress, and quiet the mind. For the body it feels amazing, releases endorphins, soothes tired/achy muscles, helps your body communicate with itself, and quite honestly the list is too long for this particular article. Finally, spiritually it gives you the nurturing your soul needs, allows you to tap into your inner self and helps elevate your mood.

I’m speaking from experience from both a client perspective and a professional perspective. I receive a massage every other week. It’s amazing and I feel that it is something I simply won’t do without. I deserve it and so do you. As a practitioner I see the difference between clients who occasionally receive a massage versus my clients that make it a priority to come in regularly.

Life can sometimes get in the way with schedules and the money thing, but sometimes those are not as real as we think. Between my own experience and my regular clients, just making the commitment to habitually set aside time for yourself to rejuvenate is life changing. On the money side, well, most of us have a budget to work with so this may determine how often you are able to go in. A convenient aspect of knowing you’re going to repeat your business somewhere is the concept of a package discount. Most places offer some sort of multiple massage package deal. Just another reason to keep you going in. Bonus!

It’s nice to see that the general perception of massage in today’s world consists of a healthful and beneficial viewpoint. Now let’s see if we can’t shift that opinion a little further into seeing it as a way to tell yourself, “I matter, I’m important.” Dedicating time to focus on yourself fills you up so that you have more to share with the people you love in your life. If massage isn’t quite your cup of tea then choose something more fitting for yourself such as yoga, floating, biking, dancing or whatever your heart desires. I highly recommend it. Are you listening Aunt Chele?

Alana Simler is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Pilates Instructor. As well as owning and running a successful massage practice for 20 years, she has instructed massage therapy at Ashmead School of Massage and Whatcom Community College.