Soft music, candles and hogwash

Paul Adamson
February 16, 2017

A friend of mine used to say that a bad pizzeria would turn the music up so you wouldn’t notice how bad the food was. Since then I’ve always been suspicious of restaurants with loud music. With therapists the opposite is true. When I enter a room with piped birdsong or water lapping over stones, or any kind of soft ‘relaxation’ music, I am irritated before I’ve got down on the table. I ask the therapist if they wouldn’t mind turning the music off. While they’re at it, they can blow out the candles and take away the incense. Alright, alright, I’m a killjoy, I admit it. But such trappings of the therapy room do not make me calm and relaxed – they do just the opposite. I don’t like clichés and these are the banalities of the wellness world.

Most of my clients come to me because of some kind of muscular problem and often there’s some discomfort for them as I work on the muscles. Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t believe in the efficacy of torture – so I always ask my client to tell me to ease up if the discomfort of the massage is too much for them. The adage ‘no gain without pain’ is nonsense. As I have written in another post, there is bad pain and there is good pain and any therapist must know the difference. I had a female client yesterday in Islington with a very tight QL (quadratus lumborum). I stretched it and worked on it and it was a bit uncomfortable for her. Shall I ease off? I asked. No, she said, go on, it’s fantastic – just so tight!’ I told her I could put on some soft music, if she wanted, but the pain would be just the same.

Recently a client at my Highbury practice asked if I would put on some music during the massage. I'm there to give the client what they want when I can and so of course I agreed. I asked the client if he could only spare me 'relaxation' music. I put on a CD of the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili playing lovely simple melodies by Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Grieg and others. And you know what? It was great to listen to it while I massaged, it actually altered the way I worked, and both the client and I felt remarkably rested by the time we said goodbye to each other. It was a pleasant surprise to me. But no, before you ask, I'm not going to go out and buy some incense and candles.

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