Deep Deep Massage

What a difference a day makes 24 little hours …

Well, what about a year? With more than 8,500 hours passing?! This was the dawning realisation I had as I stepped into the first day of a 4-day course this August. I was actually returning to complete the Deep Massage course I completed last year, along with a few colleagues and friends from 2015.

The tutor is a chap called David Lauterstein who, after 30 years in the world of philosophy and music composition, came to bodywork and massage through various avenues including Zero Balancing, Rolfing and Crania-Sacral Therapy. He is an eloquent speaker, engaging tutor, brings anatomy alive and would occasionally pick up his guitar to accompany us whilst we worked! He teaches a course called Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method, which might sound like ‘yet another modality’ to those in the industry, but to my mind his philosophy transcends all forms of bodywork. In fact it was this very attitude that first drew my attention to his course in 2015 - I had been emailed a flyer which contained the following quote:

If you touch the tissues in a manner that causes the nervous system to relax and energy to flow, you will have the optimum therapeutic benefit. ‘Deep’ is not about pressure; it is about cultivating the individual touch interface that optimally responds to dis-ease, dis-position and destiny. ~ DL

What does this mean from a client’s perspective? Well, actually it reflects something I had long believed - that it isn’t just me as the practitioner who is doing the work. Rather, the client is actively engaged in what is going on, even if they believe they are ‘just lying there’. Indeed, “healing is done by the client with help from the therapist.” ~ The Deep Massage Book: How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork by David Lauterstein, p. 43

Several years ago, I spent eighteen months doing lots of CPD courses - I referred to it as my ‘splatter-gun’ approach. I went on initial courses for Anatomy Trains, Zero Balancing, Myofascial Release, Pregnancy Massage. Whilst I always take something from each course I do, I decided not to pursue the Anatomy Trains and Myofascial Release syllabus (at the moment!). I completed the full pregnancy massage certification with Well Mother, and still love doing this work today. But Zero Balancing was a strange one …

What is Zero Balancing?

The work is done with the client lying fully clothed on a massage couch. It involves very gentle touch with no manipulation of bone or massaging of muscles … the core of Zero Balancing concerns the relationship between structure and energy in the body. zero balancing: touching the energy of bone by John Hamwee, p. 20 and 23

The key to this work was less about what was done, and more about the way in which the client was touched … the quality of the connection, the contact. Zero Balancing (ZB) is about conscious touch. Learning to drive is exhausting, it takes so much concentration to work the gears, pedals, maintain awareness of other road users and then to figure out where on earth you are going! Yet once you’ve been driving for a while, it is easier to drive whilst having a conversation, sing along to a tune or enjoy a radio programme: to some extent the driving becomes unconscious.

I remember raving about ZB for ages after attending my first course, but I had a slight reservation … it seemed to miss the squidgy bits! As a massage therapist, I have a deep love and respect for our soft tissue: all those hard working layers of muscle, tendons, ligaments, our fascia and the indefinable mush that moves around within us, enabling us to grow, repair and move forwards. I went back about 18 months later to complete the second core ZB course, but knew that for me, it some how didn’t ‘fit’ within the way I work.

And then I received the flyer for the Deep Massage course.

What is Deep Massage?

Firstly, please don’t confuse the term ‘deep massage’ with ‘deep tissue massage’. Indeed there is quite a lot of confusion around the terminology used to describe modes of massage, and the industry itself doesn’t help. But that’s another article (rant?!) for another day.

As with any activity that is performed on a regular basis, it is possible for some of the actions involved to be performed without one’s full attention. Remember the driving analogy? Well, have you ever had your haircut by someone who is paying more attention to what they are saying that to you? Or to your hair?! Those appointments probably didn’t result in you having a great hair day! The same is true for massage.

The course I revisited in August has, in essence, two parts which are taught in parallel. The first is the protocol (please note the use of the term protocol rather than routine … again, another article to come me thinks!): this recipe guides the practitioner in the order in which the client’s body is addressed, and the basic outline of what will be undertaken at each point. The second is David’s philosophy regarding the manner of a massage therapist’s engagement with their client.

We are waking up from a spell, or what I would call a central myth, in massage and bodywork: the believe that massage therapists relax and release clients’ muscles through soft tissue manipulation. In spite of how common-sense this appears on the surface, the fact is that muscles don’t originate relaxation. They don’t relax themselves any more than lights turn on without electricity. It is the nervous system that tells the muscles to relax … We engage in nervous system communication. Mindful Bodywork: Bring Awareness to Your Touch by David Lauterstein in Massage Magazine, July 2016

You can perform the protocol til the cows come home, but without understanding and compassionate touch, a client will likely only ever experience a massage by numbers.

Massaging the client

When I chose my initial massage training, I deliberately selected a syllabus that emphasised the importance of my role as the practitioner, not to satisfy my ego, but rather to help prepare me for a long and fulfilling career. Self care was highlighted but I look back now and recognise that my tutors introduced so many concepts regarding presence, awareness and the quality of touch that what I am about to say is second nature to me. However it bears repeating because my massage education is still quite unique in the industry.

I was taught to massage my client, rather that the body of my client. Nearly all of the massage therapists on the Bristol Massage Therapy team were taught at Bristol College of Massage & Bodywork, where the primary focus is to teach practitioners to meet the needs of each individual client, adapting our work to care for the whole person.

Several years ago a new client request a deep tissue massage, with the words “do what you need to do, you can’t hurt me.” I felt such sadness for this person who believe that their body needed beating up, and on taking a full consultation I realised that their high stress levels meant this approach didn’t feel very appropriate for their body. As David wrote in another article for Massage Magazine:

The false assumption underlying bad and common deep tissue work is that to get a great therapeutic effect, therapists need to apply a lot of pressure.This is false - in fact, it is as naïve as assuming that for music to be effective, it needs to be lout - because the relaxation of muscles is largely not a result of pressure; it is the result of the nervous system turing off the message for the muscle to be tight. More isn’t Always Better: The Problem With Deep Tissue Massage by David Lauterstein in Massage Magazine, June 2016]

This second part of David’s teaching focuses on what affects the quality of touch between the practitioner and client. This philosophy has come about from more an 30 years of receiving and teaching massage and bodywork and provides a means of qualifying that which we know instinctively. “The touch of a person who loves and cares for us is so very different from that of someone who is angry.” ~ Intuitive Acupuncture by John Hamwee, p. 64

So why do the same course again?

The first time a practitioner attends the course, they complete DM I. The tuition model is such that attending the course a second and third time, practitioners still experience the basic course again whilst practitioners are introduced to new ‘techniques’. The heart of the course is the same. It is quite simply fundamental and essential. I like this concept. It reinforces the importance of the Deep Massage philosophy, which in someway transcends just the field of massage, and could be applied to all touch therapies.

Then there’s the delight of experiencing something you love again. If you've ever been to a restaurant and ordered your favourite dish again, you know what I mean. It doesn’t matter how enticing the menu sounds, there is something indefinable that you would like to revisit and experience again. I found the same thing with the Deep Massage course. I knew that by revisiting David’s teaching a second time I would pick up on aspects I had forgotten, new insights would be revealed and my understanding enhanced. Which is why I have already put my name down for the course next year.

… [the] experience of education is to keep on learning more; more facts, more concepts, more techniques. But with something that is an art and a skill, expertise is not so much about learning more, but about learning to use the basics better. A master joiner uses the same techniques of woodworking as a skilled apprentice, but the furniture he produces will look right, in some indefinable way, feel better to use, and last longer … Zero Balancing is an art and a skill, and the master does what the novice does, only with a different quality of work, and the results are more profound and longer lasting. zero balancing: touching the energy of bone by John Hamwee, p 121&122

Over the next few months, I am sure that I will write more about my thoughts, feelings and experiences about Deep Massage, the philosophy of touch, and the role of attention rather than intention in my work. As a challenging year draws to a close, I am once again refreshed and revived having attended a massage CPD course which has inspired me. As a massage therapist, business owner, and a human being.


Lauterstein, D (2011) The Deep Massage Book: How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork
Hamwee, J (1999) zero balancing: touching the energy of bone