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Facing It

by Clare Maxwell-Hudson(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 95 - January 2004

It is late afternoon. The long rays of the sun fall onto the massage couch where John Polides is lying is deep repose. My hands sweep across his forehead in gentle repetitive movements. There is a feeling of focus in the room – we are like one being – for a brief moment time stands still.

At the end of the massage John tells me, "It is incredible – I've just seen the solution to a business problem that has been worrying me for weeks. I can't believe it – it just popped into my mind and I wasn't even thinking about the situation!"

I am used to remarks like this. I see face massage as my most powerful tool and for years I have converted therapists who have trained with me to the realization that there is more to face massage than beauty. People often assume that face massage is about making you look good, which of course it is – but there is much more to it than that. I have found that, if there is a conscious or unconscious resistance towards relaxation during a body massage, applying sensitive touch to the face can overcome it in almost every instance.

Touching the face can begin a chain reaction that goes right through the body via the skin system, the senses and the respiratory and digestive systems. Physiologically we know that a large part of the brain is occupied with the face. The sensory feedback from the face and head and neck to the brain is extensive via the cranial nerves.

The senses of smell, taste, hearing and seeing all begin with structures relating to the face. Interestingly, in the early stages of the embryo, the skin, nervous system and lining of the mouth and the brain develop from the same layer. This contributes to some of the many reasons why massaging the face is so beneficial.

There are many other examples of nerves that originate in the head, face and neck and which communicate with other areas of the body. A good example are the nerves that exit from the cervical vertebra and feed the diaphragm, and the vagus nerve that travels in the neck. Tension in the neck can restrict nerve impulses to the diaphragm, influencing not only our breathing but also the functioning of our visceral organs.

As well as the physiological benefits of face massage there are many psychological ones. I have a poignant story about one of my regular clients who had to face a terrible dilemma. The doctors wanted her to have a major operation but, as she didn't heal well and her bones were crumbling, it was very risky. The pressure on her was enormous – should she have the operation or not? One week I asked her whether she had made the decision and she said that it was so difficult for her that she couldn't even think about it.

We started a face massage and I massaged her forehead and, for the next half-hour, I focused on her brow with holding techniques.

As I worked I noticed the muscles around her jaw relaxing. When the massage finished she told me that it had given her such a sense of security and safety that she was now mentally strong enough to decide to go ahead and have the operation.

Another interesting client was a well-known painter and theatrical set designer who came to see me whenever her creative imagination got blocked. She found that, during the treatment, images would come clearly into her mind's eye and she would leave with a new set design for the Covent Garden Opera House!

And another client who was in tremendous pain following numerous operations after she had broken her kneecap remarked, "How come massaging my face takes away the pain from my knee?"

I have always found it fascinating that in the animal world, particularly amongst mothers and their young, facial stimulation is very important. In my facial work – rather like the way a lioness washes the face of her young – I use a combination of the lightest of touch with strong stimulating movements. The initial movements are very strong and staccato which forces the muscles to let go. Once the client is in a relaxed and dream-like state the movements become softer and more rhythmic.

There are many different approaches to working on the face and, as a therapist, it is important to get as many different 'tools' in your hand as possible so that you can have the right tool for each occasion. At my school we teach five different face massage courses. As well as the main facial training, we teach Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage for the face, Facial Acupressure, Facial Reflexology and a unique Muscle Energizing Technique facial, taught to me by a physiotherapist in the sixties.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe it is in the attitude of the beheld. If you feel good, you look good, and conversely if you look good, you feel good.

Some years ago there was a fascinating research project done in the psychology department of an American university on popularity and confidence. It featured a girl who was both unattractive and unpopular. Her classmates were told (unknown to her) to treat her as if she was the most beautiful and popular girl in the class. By the end of the term she actually had become more beautiful and her popularity was genuine!

As therapists, we are in the perfect position to help our clients feel good about the way they look and feel. We can boost their confidence with our hands by erasing the areas of tension which spoil our faces. Anyone who has done any form of face massage knows that afterwards the face opens like a flower. By working on this most intimate of areas we break through the barriers, allowing the real and inner beauty that we all possess to shine through.

Therapists are always looking for new skills and techniques to help their clients. I am convinced that the many systems of face and scalp massage that are becoming so popular are some of the most useful tools of all.

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About Clare Maxwell-Hudson

Clare Maxwell-Hudson is considered to be one of the most interesting and practical authorities and writers on massage alive today. She has achieved international recognition for her contribution to the health sciences. Her six best-selling books sell in their millions in 22 countries. Established in 1980 and situated in a quiet location off Baker Street in London's West End, her school The Clare Maxwell-Hudson School of Massage offers a wide range of courses with the best tuition available to prepare the student for a rewarding career in the fast growing field of complementary therapy. She can be contacted on Tel: 020 7724 7198; admin@cmhmassage.co.uk; www.cmhmassage.co.uk

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