What I learnt from my first three clients

Adaptability and Versatility in Massage

It was 1977. I’d finished my massage training (all of 40 hours in those days), set up a room and made up business cards and leaflets for notice boards. I could replicate the standard massage that I’d been taught – at the standard pace, with the standard pressure and in the right order. So I was ready to massage the public (I thought).

My first three paying clients made a huge impact on me:

  • One told me to “slow down – I came here to relax”.
  • One told me to “back off – that’s way too heavy”.
  • The third completely threw me; she was wearing a swimsuit and said “ You can’t use oil on me – I can’t take it on my skin”.

These demands panicked me; my massage training hadn’t prepared me for this. But I knew I had to find a way to respond in order to pay the rent and eat. So, while freaking internally, I bluffed my way through those sessions and adapted as best I could. 

And then I looked at basic massage books I had for other strokes (this was 1977, way before the internet), I worked more slowly with the first client, more gently with the second and hoped that was OK, and I did a stumbling massage without oil (I cringe to think of it now). And those clients came back and let me ‘learn on the job’ with them, as I tried to adapt.

Responding and adapting to each massage client

So, although these demands threw me in the moment, in the long term, I thank these clients. They forced me to break away from a single routine and discover my own approach to massage and the necessity of adapting to each client. And made me hungry to develop my toolkit – not just learning a range of techniques, but also being able to vary the ‘flavour’/mood of each session (ranging from deep relaxation to the more invigorating needs of some clients, and from just doing ‘pure’ classic massage techniques to incorporating stretches and rhythmical work) . 

If I’d stayed doing the same massage-by-numbers routine, I wouldn’t have survived financially (clients wouldn’t have come back) and I would have quickly become bored with the massage. (I’m still excited to be teaching it nearly half a century later.)

I was lucky. When I entered the massage scene, it was opening up. More middle-class people had money, and wanted massage for a variety of reasons, So, as well as the need to reduce tensions due to hard physical work-outs (in sports and gyms), clients wanted pampering, stress reduction, to get more in touch with their bodies, to reduce back/shoulder pain, to supplement visits to chiropractors and physios, and to rebalance their body from desk-jobs (including, later on, the impact of computers).

And these clients also prepared me to have to adapt to other clients who made demands for which I hadn’t been trained – such as clients who needed to lie on the side (long before anyone talked about the ‘pregnant-massage’ position); clients who could only sit up to be massaged (including in wheelchairs) – before the first portable massage chairs were invented; and those who needed to be massaged with clothes on.

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