Soft Focus Is An Important Stepping Stone From Human To Animal Massage
By Sara Light-Waller, MA, LMP, LAMP, SAMP
Published in Washington Massage Journal
Word Count: 723
On any given day a massage therapist welcomes a wide range of clients—young and old, male and female, short and tall, but almost all on two legs. The new Animal Massage Practitioner endorsement in Washington State may change that. In the future, some of those clients may be four-legged. What will you have to change to accommodate them?
Many of the techniques used with animal massage clients are similar to those used with human clients, and the goals of the massage may be similar, too. But as an animal massage practitioner, you’ll need to make some fundamental shifts in your thinking or the result may be an uncomfortable experience for both you and your furry client. To create a successful massage that is beneficial to the animal, the first shift you’ll need to make is in your intention.
Intention is the ability to focus the mind on a particular purpose or goal. In human massage, focused intention is critical for a grounded and solid session. It’s the kind single-minded, “hard focus” intention that carries us through a difficult treatment protocol while keeping us in touch with our client. If you bring that same hard focus intention to your animal massage clients, you may find your quiet animal client growing restless. You can try this on your own pet. Instead of simply petting him or her, turn the full force of your massage intention on them. It’s the rare animal that doesn’t become agitated under such sharp focus.
Animals are very astute at reading our intentions, and they are extremely sensitive to them. All you have to do is think about taking your dog out to the park and he may be two steps ahead of you, grabbing the leash and waiting by the door. When a horseback rider thinks about asking their mount to change gaits, a trained horse frequently anticipates the request and changes gaits anticipates and reacts. One reason animals are so attuned to intention is that they are practiced in using it to hunt. Predatory animals like dogs and cats first focus on a target and then go after it. Prey species like horses are intent at being watchful in order to protect themselves from the intention-filled gaze of hungry hunters. When a human (a predatory species) focuses their intention on an animal, even when it is for beneficial purposes, the animal can feel caught in a hunter’s gaze.
Another reason animals are so sensitive to intent is that their main method of communication is non-verbal. From a very young age, animals develop the ability to read the most subtle nuances of body language, a necessity in communicating effectively with other animals around them. When an animal lives with people, he/she learns to understand us without spoken language using nonverbal skills. Human massage clients withstand focused intention because they’ve been given a verbal introduction to massage and they understand the context. Animals only receive our body language, often at full volume, and they respond instinctively.
Is there a way to keep your animal client comfortably relaxed while you start their massage? The answer is “soft focus,” keeping your mind on the goal but without the razor-sharp and unrelenting plan of action involved in “hard focus” intention. Idly petting or stroking your animal is an example of extremely soft-focus intention. Working with soft focus in animal massage is like allowing yourself to see using peripheral vision. It encompasses more and highlights less. Here is a soft focus exercise that I use with students in both my small and large animal massage classes. Try it with your pet.
Begin by grounding and centering yourself. While keeping your breathing slow and deep and your mind as quiet as possible, lay one hand on the animal. Close your eyes and allow your soft hand to feel the animal’s body under it, using not just fingers but also the heel and palm. Allow your mind to drift while assessing what you feel. If you feel your animal starting to get restless, drift more and assess less. Continue this process until the animal is comfortable and begins to relax. Once the animal relaxes you’re ready to start a massage.
Soft focus is an important stepping-stone between the worlds of human and animal massage, an essential tool for helping your animal clients feel and perform better.