Massage therapy is not just about soothing tired muscles – it gives you a unique opportunity to work with your therapist to help heal both your body and your mind, as we found out when we talked with our massage therapist Petrina Yeoh about her specific approach.
What is your unique style of massage therapy?
For me massage therapy is a useful tool for increasing body awareness, which helps you develop greater knowledge of how to better take care of yourself. It’s an invitation to work with a therapist to become more aware of how you hold yourself, how you move or don’t move, noticing when and how you might tense in resistance or defence in stressful situations, and also how you go about your daily life, and the way this impacts on your health.
I see the client as the expert of their own body and agent of their own healing, with myself as therapist there as a trusted guide and facilitator. I find that clients who are offered a 50-50 style of ‘engaged healing’, where they are active participants in the process, experience the best outcomes and more long-lasting change.
How do you ensure the person gets the most benefit from the treatment?
The session always starts with a conversation – finding out why you’ve come for massage today, what you hope to get out of it, and then exploring details about yourself to help me build a picture of how you’ve been and how you are right now. For example, if you are coming to seek relief from a long-term ache or muscular niggle, we will be exploring your lifestyle, what you do on a day-to-day basis, finding out about your relevant medical history, and any past situations that may have led to the long-term ache. Although I do rely on a strong foundation of physical knowledge, I also look out for emotional and mental factors that may manifest physically. This rounded conversation then helps to guide me in the best way to treat you.
What does a typical treatment session involve?
There is no ‘typical treatment’! In a single day, I could be dealing with a stroke victim through to a keen gymgoer, someone recovering from cancer, or someone working with deep depression. The range of physical and mental health issues that massage therapy can help with is huge.
What style of massage do you use?
I use many different massage styles depending on need, adapting my work to what the client most needs that day. Around 75% of my caseload tends to be issue-specific. I really like this remedial-style of working: it is precise, and focused. For example, if you’ve got a chronic issue in your lower back, I could be spending the entire hour’s session just exploring and treating one section of your body to find out where the problem is coming from, rather than doing a full-body massage, as in this case it would not meet the issue with the depth of clarity required.
How do you pick up from the body itself what it needs?
The initial conversation I have with the client tends to give me clues of where I think the problem could be originating from. I may then ask you more specific questions, or ask you to stand up and move around to give me further guidance about the best type of treatment for you. But also, more than half of the process is down to ‘educated intuition’ and attentive observation of your body responses.
How does massage therapy help with general healing?
Our brains are so geared towards protection, that when we’ve had something go wrong, it can often make us very overprotective of the body. Massage therapy can help retrain the brain, to think that our body is ok again, and to allow more universal healing.
I take inspiration from David Lauterstein, founder of the Lauterstein Method, who says that: ‘Any touch that consciously contacts both structure and energy with attention, care, and skill, can become a fulcrum, facilitating healing for the client’s structure and energy’.
With chronic muscular issues, the brain devotes a lot of energy to receiving pain signals from the body’s areas of discomfort. But in our day-to-day lives, we might be over-riding and ignoring those signals, just so we can get on with our day. So when muscular tension is addressed, it is very common for people to suddenly have a clear mind after a session, because the therapy has stopped these feedback signals, which are unconsciously so draining.
Massage therapy also returns blood flow to the area, which helps with the healing process, including reducing deep-tissue scarring.
What type of conditions has your treatment helped with?
Many people think that massage is just about a spa-type relaxation treatment to help with tired muscles. But it can offer so much more than that, especially when clients are actively engaged in their treatment. The issues I see are as varied as there are people.
For example, eczema – this can so often be stress-related. Massage therapy gives the client a deep sense of calmness and the mental space to think of other strategies for how to take care of themself.
Can massage help with more mental-health based conditions?
Yes, very much so. It can help still and calm the mind, which can rejuvenate you at times of stress, anxiety, depression and so on.
With emotional issues it is often about helping the person to get back in touch with a sense of what it is like to feel positive, and experience pleasure. When you are very low, you are often less able to focus on caring for yourself. Massage therapy gives you a sense of something nice in your life, and that you don’t have to give anything to receive that.
For example, I had a client with ME who was tired of always being tired, but also wired. In the sessions we had, it was about retraining her brain to focus on what therapeutic touch was like. It gave her brain something else to process that wasn’t demanding, and interrupted all of the pain signals that she was getting all across her body. After each session, she also achieved deep sleep.
How can it help feed back information about other things going on in the body?
Through this approach to massage therapy, it may be possible to find out about other deeper underlying issues. For example, I had a client with chronic neck ache that was not going away, and the treatment he received was giving temporary relief only. While he was seeing me he was also receiving treatment from a physiotherapist and a chiropractor, but still not finding relief. After three sessions with him, I realised it wasn’t just a neck ache and suggested he go back to his GP and ask for an MRI scan. It turned out he had degeneration of his vertebrae in his neck, which was irritating a nerve and causing the muscles to tense.
How long does a session last?
Most sessions are an hour – but some clients have longer, say 90 minutes, depending on what they are having treatment for.
How many sessions will I need?
If it is for something that is a long-standing chronic condition, it is often worth having a series of five sessions, ideally once a week or fortnight, to start off with. That can be a great way to effect significant change. You can then move on to maintenance sessions, once every four to six weeks, say.
But it is completely down to what is best for you. Some people only have a treatment once a year, some once every three months – it is part of the conversation I will have with you at your first session, to find out what works best for you.
What do I need to do to receive the most benefit from the treatment?
Healing is a joint endeavour between yourself and the therapist, as you are the one who holds your body’s power of healing. People come to all types of therapies, and simply hand themselves over to the therapist. Quite often in a massage they will completely switch off, and disconnect, and go straight to sleep, because they have assumed that the therapist will do everything. But to really benefit from the healing that massage can bring about, there needs to be a conscious engagement of your brain. However, it’s ok to drop off as tiredness is a very big factor in stress! It’s also almost never a true sleep. People tend to reach that state just between wakefulness and sleep, in which we can achieve deep meditative states as well, because you are still present and aware of what is going on in your body. So it is about us working together on this.
How can I find out more or book in a session?
I am happy to speak with you if you want more details on what massage treatment could do for you, and also to see if I’m the right therapist for your journey. Or if you want to book in now, please call the Alma Vale Centre on 0117 377 1186.