Massage of the Belly, Breath & Deep Relaxation

by Gretchen Cole

I have a strong desire for every massage student to develop the skills to confidently and compassionately perform bodywork with clients’ abdominal area.  I lobby continually for inclusion of this often neglected area, reminding students there are many ways to prioritize on time in their sessions and still include touch, breath and  awareness to this core area.

This vision of  truly inclusive full body sessions stems directly from my own personal experience.  I had a “lightbulb-over-the-head moment” when I received platonic, non-judgmental touch in my abdomen.  For me this was my very first experience with touch —  I hadn’t even had a full body massage yet!  I was attending  a one-day seminar at a respected Seattle-area massage school, and though we were all absolute beginners with technique, they chose the abdomen for our first experience in working with each others’ bodies.   What a brave choice, I have always thought since then.  And one that changed the course of my life, for sure!

Not realizing this was typically a “loaded” area, I and the other attendees blithely went along with the short program the instructors walked us through.   As I received the massage work to my belly, I realized the softly swirling strokes felt good to the skin and the muscles just underneath the surface.  As the work continued, I breathed as my partner’s hands translated body weight into gentle pressure, and things moved in a way that they didn’t on their own.   I realized that it felt good!

After I got up off the table, I had the thought, “If someone can make this area (often judged, never in shape “enough”, either neglected or overworked, rarely touched in friendship) feel good, then think what this massage stuff can do for the rest of the body!!”  And that was the beginning of my interest in exploring the multitude of worlds associated with bodywork, the self, and awareness.   Almost 20 years later, I’m still interested!

Later on, I would come to realize the feelings I experienced that day are the same ones I get when I’m floating up to my ears in water, lazing and floating in the sun with just the movement of small waves making my body sway and rock, body parts pulsing in the supportive water and softly swinging, out of earth-bound gravity for a while…  Those moments where it feels like you are outside of the everyday experience, where the flow of “normal” time is irrelevant, and all that exists for you is the “now”… and when the now feels good, life is good.

When life is good, our place in it seems so much more gratifying.   It seems to me that this is what bodywork is all about — to bring to our clients a deep sense of ease within their own bodies, such that their experience of life in enhanced.

Bellies are in need of ease the world over, and breath is often trapped – so let’s free them, together.