beer with Robert Gardner

What Makes a Good Bodyworker

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The artform I work within is unknown misunderstood and frankly exists as a statistical anomaly. I was watching Searching for Bobby Fischer and often wonder about various art forms and the people who push it to new heights and limits.

In music I think of Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Sun Ra and John Coltrane. In painting it’s Picasso, Van Gogh and Matisse and a host of others. In various arts people stand out. Cooking and the culinary arts have their heros and within our lifetime due to mass distribution we know of various chefs pushing the edges not just of fame but molecular gastronomy.

What about bodywork?

I mentioned this to a colleague during a podcast. If you’re Really into food you’re a foodie. There’s no comparable term for someone who geeks out about massage and bodywork.

Even the line between massage and bodywork is a massive blur. I tend to shy away from using the word massage unless I’m looking for youtube SEO. I don’t like it. I don’t think it adequately represents the art I teach and frankly if I must label what I do and make a box I will make one to my own specifications. If I live in limitations I prefer they be self imposed.

As I look back over the artists I’ve seen in my industry one thing stands out. Those that I’ve noticed aren’t just good at bodywork. They’re good at connecting with people which builds sales. Most of them have this uncanny knack something they can’t really teach and find difficult to explain to others.

In my own experience my first teacher did this. She tried and did well to explain some things but I got the bodywork the first time. I understood it and had to practice but I got the basics. Marketing? Eh, not so much. That I had to learn on my own by trial and error.

If I’d not gone into bodywork I likely would have gone into culinary arts. As a long time cook I was mostly self taught and relied on Good Eats with Alton Brown and a host of other food network stars to extract enough chemistry to get to work and start improvising. I think I was good at it just because I worked so hard at it and practiced.

Bodywork? It’s really the only thing I’ve ever been good at other than public speaking. Most would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy but I loved it since I was in my teens. I could command an audience verbally. Oration is a long lost art form. Not gone but well things have changed with the advent of tiktok. 🙂

Why did I become so good at this particular art? Pain. I don’t really think I’m gifted. I don’t feel like some anomalous autodidact who just could do the stuff. I remember family members saying, “remember when you were a kid and would rub my neck?” It was as if they knew what I was going to do from their vantage point.

Pain pulled me so deeply into my nervous system I just had to process it all. I had to stretch lengthen strengthen move things around develop balance coordination and do whatever I could to get the pain to go away. In that came the gift. I graduated massage school in 2002 and next year I realize it’ll be 20 years in my industry. I’m 43 horribly young and likely in some of the best shape of my life or at least pain free.

Focus and practice. That’s what made me a good bodyworker. That and a desire to set people free.

beer with Robert Gardner
enjoy your vices

I’ve seen it in clients. They just can’t believe someone could spend time with them and focus on them for 3 hours. Quiet? Sometimes. Chatty? Sometimes. Present? Sure and I meet up with my psychic stuff and meet up with the clients as well. I don’t think I’m special. I teach because I believe anyone can learn if they truly wish to.

Touch is so basic it’s overlooked. In a #metoo era where we find out how people are abusing power over others I see touch and a remedy. You learn boundaries barriers consent pressure and more when it’s part of your culture growing up. Much like sex education though we can’t quite figure out who should be doing the teaching. Family? or via school and government programs?

I’m direct to consumer in my approach. I’ve seen the prison Thai massage jam® the one at the school and the after Sunday service praise Jesus Mahalia Jackson playing version as well. The vision is there. It just takes time to build.

You change a culture one person at a time and I started with myself.

So what makes a great bodyworker? Mostly I feel it’s a desire to help people that’s crafted and honed through ongoing repeated education.

Many seem to think of a massage as a I learned it in school and I’m done affair like an oil change. Cars haven’t changed that much over the years so once you know you know. Bodywork and bodies though are so variable it’s hard to explain improvisation to students who are just trying to learn to use their legs and feet on a mat.

Communication and connection are two of the biggest factors. I relish the chance to connect with someone deeply across gender race creed and class lines to our basic humanity. Nothing seems more human than pain. Even when I do a verbal consult with a client and ask them about their pain I can see it in their face.

They lower their head, look away and have a harder time making eye contact. In a world with no cure for pain (morphine is temporary and yes I love the band) we’re not really encouraged to discuss it as since there’s no cure it’s hard to others to listen.

I often read into these verbal intakes just to see how the client is relating to their own body. The communication and bodywork you see starts long before we step onto the mat.

I think a good bodyworker does have some basics of anatomy but of the things that comes to mind currently I think compassion, a desire to help ease suffering in addition to communication and connection are key. Only when you mix those in the right percentages do you get the bodywork our communities desperately need.

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