The Massage Artist

Nurture Session Creativity

By Anne Williams
[Classroom to Client]

Great massage therapists are both analytical and creative. They use their analytical skills to evaluate clients through a health history intake process, visual assessment, and tissue palpation. Their technique is informed by the sciences of anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. But the smoothness of their hands and their ability to transition smoothly from one stroke to the next give the massage its flow and fluidity. This ability to tap into natural rhythms and graceful movement over the body is the artistry of massage. Both types of skills and thinking are equally important in the massage therapy room, but sometimes the artistry can be lost or forgotten along the way.
Art-based learning activities that use painting, dance, and music are currently popular in the business world and a great way to develop (or reinvigorate) your massage artistry. Business leaders believe these methods unlock breakthrough ideas, encourage risk taking, increase self-awareness, and help people persist through chaos and change. Analytical thinkers benefit from art-based learning as much as creative thinkers, and it’s a perfect exercise for massage therapists developing their hands-on skills.

Explore the Painting
One of the best ways to learn or review muscles is to draw them directly on a practice body with grease pencils or body paints. To create the drawing, you must palpate the edges of the muscle, identify the muscle’s origin and insertion, and determine the muscle’s fiber direction. The action of drawing and coloring the muscle directly on the body helps you remember details about the muscle later.
In art appreciation classes, participants often learn how to look at and interpret a painting. The visual observation skills that allow a person to think critically about art are the same skills that help a therapist assess a client’s posture and think critically about treatment plans. If you can learn to look at a painting effectively, you will build skills that support your assessment of clients. Go to an art gallery or peruse art books and use these questions to look at the art critically.
•    First, look quickly at the painting, photograph, or sculpture, and then close your eyes. What can you remember and describe about the art with your eyes closed?
•    Open your eyes and describe, aloud, what you see. What movements are happening in the artwork? Where do figures hold tension or express freedom?
•    What moods do the colors, shapes, and lines of the artwork suggest?
•    What emotions are the people in the artwork experiencing (if applicable)?
•    What do you think the artist is trying to tell viewers?
•    How does this piece of art make you feel? What does it make you think about? Are there parallels in your own life to the feelings and activities represented in the image?
Now, try conducting a posture assessment of a client using the same questions you used to assess the artwork. Journal about what you learned from this exercise.

Explore the Dance
Dancing your way through a (practice) massage can dramatically improve the rhythm and flow of your strokes, especially when you play music you love. Practice with a classmate and play your favorite songs during your sessions. It doesn’t matter if it’s alternative, jazz, hip-hop, punk, or rock. Cut loose and really dance. Sway your hips, bounce up and down, roll your shoulders—and keep massaging. What does this energy and these movements of your own body bring to the massage? What components of this experience can you bring into a client session?

Explore the Song
Explore the massage session music you use. Constantly search out music that clients will enjoy, but that also inspires you. In some spas, specific strokes are choreographed to a preplanned (legally procured) soundtrack. This is a fantastic way to build a unique and inspired massage routine. Put together an hour of massage music you enjoy. As you massage, think about bringing the quality of the song into your strokes. An upbeat rhythm might inspire tapotement strokes, while the sad, haunting melody of another song might cause you to drop into the tissue and work very slowly over the deeper structures of the body. A change in a song might fit well with a change in body area or a change in technique. By connecting with music, you are more likely to be present in your own body and apply strokes with fluidity.
Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When massage clients come to us, we have the opportunity to help them leave everyday life behind, if only for an hour or so. When we connect to our own bodies and pay attention to the colors, rhythms, sensations, and shapes of our environment, we transcend dull routines and infuse every massage stroke with inspiration, enveloping the client in the art of our craft.

Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012) and Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014). She can be reached at