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I used to only teach advanced massage therapy courses, dealing only with students who’d already been through the basic courses. So if you were to ask me to teach you what the basic massage techniques were, I’d probably be able to show you, but I won’t be able to tell you the actual terms, nor describe how each technique would be done.
But when the local college asked me to take over the massage program two years ago, I suddenly found myself with over twenty students on the first day of class, all of them from all walks of life, each one a massage newbie. Most of them wanted to do this as a career, a few of them simply wanted to learn how to give family members a good massage. Yet regardless what their reasons where, I was suddenly the one they were turning to to learn this craft.
Suddenly I found myself having to return to my roots – if I could even find where they were. I had to learn all about the history of massage, its founder, and the different techniques that officially developed through the years. I had to relearn how to break the moves down, how to teach the students proper body mechanics and talk about the benefits of massage itself.
But then I had to learn how to adjust the teachings according to each student, to recognize their learning style and meet them halfway. I also had to tailor the standard moves with their own limitations – knee replacements, spinal fusions, or simply arthritis that prevented them from standing in the way that the textbooks stated was the ‘ideal posture’ to fit the ‘ideal height’ of the table.
Most of all, I learned to listen – not only to what they were saying to me, but what their bodies were saying to me as well. For massage – or learning massage – is a life-changing thing. It’s a time where one is vulnerable especially when one is learning all about appropriate touch, nurturing touch, healing touch.
Soon, I became their mentor and two years later, the students from that first class or other classes that followed enthusiastically tell the new students who now study under someone else about the way I teach, about the way I helped them grow. They still text me their questions about work, or what to do about the state certification process. They tell me how I’ve changed their lives and how they’ve learned so much because I listened.
It’s weird. It’s also uncomfortable at times. But I guess they consider me their mentor, and more than once, they’ve told me that. Sometimes they gush to new students, especially after the newbies under the new teacher tell their horror stories about being screamed at for having fallen asleep in class and ordered to do jumping jacks, or how she slams the thick textbook against the wall if she sees that they’re not paying attention. Sometimes they tell me how, when they complain that they can’t lunge lower than they’re comfortable doing, she tells them to do it anyway. Or lose points if they don’t.
I never used points. I never screamed.
But maybe I do it that way because that’s how my own mentors did it.
I’m simply passing on what I’ve learned from them. For in the end, we’re all mentors, really. Every one of us.