People are like OOBLECK
Why I massage the way that I do.
I do NOT believe in “no pain no gain” when it comes to a therapeutic massage. The reason that I believe in a slow, firm pressure that gradually gets deeper and harder can be explained with OOBLECK.
That’s right, the stuff that is like slime but more fun. Oobleck is made with 2 parts corn starch to 1 part water.
When you hit the oobleck, or I have even seen people walk on it (which is a whole other level to this analogy), it is hard like a solid and supports the weight and pressure. When you gently push your fingers into the bowl of oobleck, your fingers slide in easily and the oobleck feels like a liquid.
When a person experiences pain their muscles are tense and guarded. If I massage too deep too fast and cause my client to feel pain, their body reacts to that pain and guards against me. If a body is guarded against me, I am no longer effective.
If I start out light and gentle, slowly applying more pressure as I continue the massage, then the muscles allow me in like the oobleck. When the muscles allow me in, I can be more effective in changing the muscles and the experience of my client.
When I am working with the muscles, I can lengthen and stretch the muscles the same way that you would pull apart the oobleck and play with it.
I have found that this method of massage is particularly effective with people who have muscles that are already guarded when we begin the massage.
People who experience chronic pain or have experienced trauma (physical or emotional) tend to have muscles that are guarded to protect them. This response in the muscles is part of the fight or flight response in the person’s body.
Fight or flight refers to the sympathetic nervous system response of the automatic nervous system when a body is responding to stress. The stress can be physical pain or emotional trauma; either way the body has tense muscles bracing the body to protect from injury or further trauma.
People who are in a constant state of fight or flight, with tense, guarded muscles, have a hard time allowing their bodies to relax. As a massage therapist, if I start digging into their muscles with a deep pressure too fast they remain in fight or flight because I am now the “predator” that is hurting them. Just like if you punch or step on oobleck.
I take a different approach to first help my client achieve a state of parasympathetic nervous system response, by calmly and soothingly talking them through good full breathes that help the body switch the stress response off and relaxation on.
When I begin the massage, I apply very gently pressure at first and work my way deeper if that is what the client wants from their massage.
Muscles are like OOBLECK.
I would even argue that people, in general, are like oobleck. If you want to be in a person’s life and have a healthy relationship, you have to go slow and establish trust.