When First We Meet – Massage and the Nervous System, Part I

Georg Meissner

Meissner’s corpuscles were discovered by the anatomist Georg Meissner in the 19th century.  They are located in the skin, just underneath the epidermis.

These are the main receptors uniquely designed and located to detect specifically light touch*.  So these are what our clients first sense with when we lay our hands on a body.  When we are doing “conscious” bodywork, then, we pay attention first of all to this sensing of life on the surface of the self.

From the standpoint of psychology and Asian anatomy, these constitute the first tangible boundary of the self.  So it is vitally important that we consider what touch associations we create through this first layer of kinesthetic sensation.

Do we touch with warmth?  Too slow so it creates a lack of clarity?  Too sudden or hard so that we don’t respect this first layer but go immediately into pressure (a whole other layer of the nervous system)?

The vast realm of our associations and responses to psychophysical contact begin and end with light touch. If we stay conscious there, of the meanings we may create, of the communications we begin, then we engage the bodymind with the deepest respect, honoring of boundaries of the self.

* From Wikipedia

Any physical deformation in the corpuscle will cause an action potential in the nerve. Since they are rapidly adapting or phasic, the action potentials generated quickly decrease and eventually cease. (This is the reason one stops “feeling” one’s clothes.)

If the stimulus is removed, the corpuscle regains its shape and while doing so (ie: while physically reforming) causes another volley of action potentials to be generated.

Because of their superficial location in the dermis, these corpuscles are particularly sensitive to touch and vibrations, but for the same reasons, they are limited in their detection because they can only signal that something is touching the skin.