Years ago I took a leap forward in my cooking skills when I took a class from a friend who had studied cooking in India. I went from macaroni & cheese to tamatar kabli chana. Some of the things he taught me about what makes a great meal remind me of the elements of a great massage.
A great meal delights the eater with a variety of tastes and flavors, some subtle, some bold. From start to finish, a great meal includes a variety of textures and temperatures. It compliments hot foods with soothing foods and beverages. There are supporting foods and headline foods. Complex flavors may be followed by simple ones. And the dining experience is often characterized by a pleasant ambience, attentive service from the staff or host, and a combination of getting what you ordered and being surprised by what you didn’t even know you wanted.
A great massage unfolds in a similar manner. Great massages I’ve received have been in a pleasant environment. I like to be reassured that what I’ve requested has been understood and that the massage therapist is confident in his or her skills. I believe a great massage includes a variety of strokes, some long and flowing, others specific and targeted. There is a variety of speeds, a little jostling here and firm compression there to round out the kneading strokes and deeper strokes. Massage, like fine cuisine, speaks to the nervous system. The different amounts of pressure, the quality of a therapist’s touch, the atmosphere of the room can restore the nervous system that needs to be soothed or stimulate the one that needs to be boosted. The aromas, colors, and tastes of a great meal satisfy the brain as much as the stomach. And in both contexts the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Today I got a wonderful compliment from a client. It was the first massage I had given her. Before the session was even over she said, “I can’t wait until my next massage.” Satiated and anticipating the next meal at the same time. Since my experience in my friend’s cooking class, I have often thought about how the elements of a great massage are similar to fine dining. I trust my clients benefit from me mulling this over for years too.