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Under Pressure

Is pressure a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Can good pressure be bad? Can bad pressure be good? Oh how I love a deep metaphysical question. Especially if symbolizes what it’s like to work with other humans for a living. These quandaries are perplexing and have layers and twists and turns that are a sign of any good thought provoking concept. And I have answers. First, though, I want to direct your attention to tennis.


Recently, Coco Gauff won the women’s tennis champion title at the US Open. After she won, she was asked how she handled the pressure of performing at such a high level. Her answer was exquisite. She said, “I realize in a way it’s pressure but it’s not. I mean, there are people struggling to feed their families, people who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, people who have to pay their bills. That’s real pressure, that’s real hardship, that’s real life. I’m in a very privileged position, I’m getting paid to do what I love and getting support to do what I love. That’s something that I don’t take for granted.” And I love this for so many reasons.


Mainly, though, I love it because it speaks to perspective. Whether we are talking about the pressure filled moments during our first years as a practicing bodyworker when the weight of all the newness becomes particularly heavy, or we are highlighting the question of how much pressure a client wants implemented during a session, gaining perspective is a handy tool. It is not a groundbreaking science that we need to take an advanced course in to understand. It is a basic truth that most of us know but might have forgotten somewhere along the way. It is all too easy to get caught up in the details and forget the foundations that we can lean on in order to make progress. 


Making decisions about how much pressure to apply to soft tissue issues - a trigger point, an old scar, a recent injury, a tense muscle, a weak muscle - requires that we understand the difference between good pressure and bad pressure. This is a “pressure-filled” responsibility in and of itself and recognizing that we are fortunate to be in this position because what we do for a living is, well… awesome, can alleviate some of that. But also, as the implementor of pressure, getting to know when the pressure you apply tips from “good” to “bad” for our clients simply requires the understanding of some basic principles.


Principle #1: Check in with your client. I know, I know… Duh, right? But just to be clear, this is never a “yes or no” question. Ask pointedly if they want more or less pressure and if the direction of your pressure is accurate or if could it shift a bit. Your client is your best guide.


Principle #2: Check in with your client. Again? Yes, again. Pressure on the back can feel completely different from pressure on the shins. And pressure with your thumbs can feels worlds apart from pressure with your elbows. Never assume all pressure is the same.


Principle #3: Have your client check in with themselves. Give them some guidance towards changing perspective. Once the session is over, have a check-in conversation with your client about how their muscles responded. Send them a text later that day or the next day or even the next week. Stay in communication with them. Offer them a couple of reminders to drop in and feel how things might have shifted internally. This offers up a whole lot of information you can both use moving forward.


Most of these “principles” you probably already know. If you don’t know them, get familiar with them and begin harnessing their power today. But if already know them, and you still crumble a little under the weight of it all, you just need to put them into practice. This is all about getting your client to shift their perspective and, like icing on the cake, helping us to gain perspective at the same time. As Big Bird likes to say, asking questions is a good way to find things out.


Pressure is whatever we make it out to be. For your clients, the pressure on a sore or tense muscle can be eye-opening. Being in a session and feeling the work is one thing. Stepping back into their usual routines and still being able to observe their tissues is another. And for ourselves, the pressure to know everything about anatomy, how it might go sideways, and what we can do to “fix” it can also be bewildering. Pressure is about perspective. And perspective takes time to understand. Be patient with it… with your clients and with yourself. Like Coco, we are so lucky to be doing what we love for a living. 




“Can't we give ourselves one more chance?

Why can't we give love that one more chance?”

- David Bowie & Freddie Mercury




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