After taking the intro to Swedish massage course (read about my experience here), I got to sit down with our fantastic teacher, Dominique Champagne, and what a pleasure it was. With over 30 years of massage experience and 20 years of teaching experience, I was blown away by how much passion and enthusiasm she still has for the art of massage therapy. We spoke about the importance of details, the skills it takes to help clients feel comfortable, and the joy she finds watching her students grow during professional the professional 400-hour Swedish Massage course.
So, Dominique, I’m curious: what makes someone choose a massage therapist and stay with them?
The connection a client has with a massage therapist is really what brings them back. But what makes this connection is very personal. It could be that a client loves the massage therapist’s touch, or maybe they like their personality, it could even just be that they feel comfortable with this massage therapist. It’s very important for clients to feel comfortable. Someone can massage very well, there’s a great connection, but then maybe the client feels cold for the whole massage, and you never see them again.
I guess the details really matter.
Absolutely! Many things can make a client uncomfortable. Maybe the massage therapist always puts on the same music and it’s annoying. Maybe a client is put off because it always smells like pachouli. The massage therapist could be great, but you just hate pachouli! It makes a difference. The massage therapist needs to be conscious of these things.
It seems you’ve really got to communicate with your clients as a massage therapist.
Yes. You have to ask questions: ‘Is there a place you don’t like to be touched? Are you ticklish? What type of pressure would you like today?’ And not only do you need to ask your clients about their needs before a massage, but you have to encourage them to tell you what they need. Open the pathway of communication and let your clients know it’s ok to talk to you. It’s as easy as saying ‘Tell me if it’s too warm,’ or asking, ‘is the music okay?’ You must help the client let you know what they need.
But you also need to strike a balance, right? Some clients want to just let go and not be asked too many questions.
Of course. You’ve got to have some common sense and be very aware of what your clients need whether they say anything or not. You’ve got to learn to listen with more than your ears.
Oh, I love that! Can you tell me more about “listening with more than your ears?”
Well, you have to be very present and sense if your client feels comfortable or not. A good massage therapist not only listens to what their clients say, but also to what their bodies tell them. What do you feel in your hands when you touch a client?
We learn many techniques in the professional Swedish massage course, and often students think they have to do as many maneuvers as possible. But when you feel there is tension, you need to be able to trust what you feel and make the decision to stop and just stay there.
Sometimes, I’ll be giving a massage and think ‘wow, it’s a long time I’ve been working on the shoulder.’ But with my experience I know that I’m not there for nothing. There’s a reason. It’s intuition, it’s instinct.
Then, after the massage, a person will tell you ‘Hey you know when you stayed on my shoulder for such a long time? Wow that felt so good. Thank you, so much.’ You’re listening with your body—with your cells. It’s very particular to massage.
That’s beautiful, Dominique. But can you learn to feel that tension or is it a natural talent?
Your sense of touch develops as you practice. Some students have it right from the beginning, but with practice everyone’s sensitivity improves. The more difficult thing is trust.
I always tell my students, ‘You have to trust your hands. Your body knows.’ So often, they worry that they’ll forget or do something wrong. But the body remembers. You have to let go and trust. Your hands will know where to go, they’ll feel it.
I love the power of intuition, but technique is still important, right? You need both don’t you?
Of course. Technique is very important at the beginning. This is how you build intuition. Take a classical musician, most don’t just pick up a guitar and know how to play. You need to start somewhere. You learn the scales, the techniques, the positioning of the hands, and then improvisation comes later.
It’s the same with Massage therapy. You need to learn how to position your body, transfer your weight, and do the different maneuvers. These are the scales. Then, with practice, you start to bring it all together. These technical aspects are what allow you to use your intuition.
That reminds me. One thing I noticed during the intro course was how much your movements looked like tai chi.
That’s crazy that you say that! Yes, Swedish massage is very tai chi; we try to use as little energy as possible. The movements are super fluid, and I never force. I always tell my students that massage is relaxed, just like tai chi. And so, there’s no need to try so hard.
I hear you, but wow is that easier said than done.
Ha! Ha! Yes, it’s not so easy. But it’s so fun to watch the student’s progress. They start off trying so hard, and they have real difficulty letting themselves be lazy and letting their body go. It’s incredible when you see how much more they’re able to relax by the end of the professional 400-hour course.
I love how excited you get when you start talking about your students. Tell me, what’s your favourite part about teaching the professional Swedish massage course?
You know, these classes are a safe space. People feel very open talking about themselves, and a sense of family becomes very strong between the students. They’re touching a lot, joking, hugging, everyone working together. It’s so fun to see from beginning to end.
This is why I love this job. To see students loving their jobs. To see them grow individually and together as a group. They have so much fun and become so open with one another. There are deep friendships that develop. And these courses change people. Really, there are some whose lives completely transform.
Dominique, if someone is thinking about taking the Swedish 1 course, but they’re not sure, what can they do to figure out if it’s right for them?
Thanks so much Dominque, it was a pleasure talking with you.
You’re welcome, Joe. Any time.