I originally trained in Aromatherapy and subsequently furthered my skills and expanded my experience with short courses learning Sports and Remedial Massage, Aromatherapy and Pregnancy and 3 courses in Aromatherapy and Ayurveda followed by Ayurveda Massage. There was specific focus during many of the courses on Lymphatic Drainage, which is part of a very effective lymphodema treatment recognised in hospitals internationally. I studied ‘End of Life’ care with Aromatherapy and then specifically in cancer palliative care. I studied further in Australia undertaking a diploma in Remedial Massage which involved Swedish Massage and specific courses in Visceral and Myofascial Release and this focus re-connected me with my initial connection to the subtler communications of the lymph and connective tissues of the body. I worked in one of the first wellness centres in the United Kingdom, which was directly attached to the Oncology Department of a major hospital. The importance of these holistic centres is now starting to be recognised here in Australia by some of the major hospitals. The centre I worked in ran many information sessions and talks given by doctors on how cancer treatments work and how we can all support each other for the holistic wellness of the patient. Every doctor who presented was very clear of our role as part of an integrative team, how our gentle massage could help with lymph flow, oxygen circulation and scar tissue as well as the benefits of alleviating stress which was showing clear signs in the research of complicating illness and disease in the body. The major focus was on function but the psychological benefits were becoming more and more known and accepted.
During two of the courses with recognised training facilities in the UK and Australia I was taught breast massage. They were part of the course and not the sole focus of the course, and we discussed how breasts are perceived – as part of the body for the sole use of sexual pleasure / abuse, feeding babies and to give shape to your clothes, ‘make me more attractive to boys/men’ etc. The focus in these training courses however was on the physiological benefits of massaging such a high-density lymphatic area as well as the psychological consequence of such a large area of the body being untouched during a full body massage… almost becoming a taboo area. It makes perfect sense.
My experience of breast massage
The first time I experienced training in ‘Breast Massage’ was in the UK on an Ayurvedic massage course. There were only women learning on this one and we were given the choice as to whether we did it or not, it was not compulsory. We talked about the importance of taking care with how we approached the massage and how it can be misunderstood. We were told to be aware that the massage could be misinterpreted as sexual and to avoid the nipple area at all cost – to be committed in your massage techniques and if you felt embarrassed, the recipients were likely to also feel embarrassed. There was a great deal of fear around it being openly offered as part of what we did… even though the premise for learning was so clearly physiological. All the women who received the massage swaps from other women agreed that the connection was more than just a physiological exercise and experience but none of us could say why. The training practice itself was very clinical, open plan style, towel etiquette was to avoid embarrassment. Many of us discussed if we would ever do it, there was a mixed response and the largest agreement was around the likelihood of others misinterpreting it as a sexual thing. There was unanimous agreement that no-one wanted to receive a breast massage from a man – whether we couldn’t get past the sexual association with the breast area or that we were not sure that they couldn’t, I don’t know. We had all received many aromatherapy and remedial massages from the men.
I did not do many breast massages, my reticence was clouded with all the fears we had been warned about on the course, but I was intrigued and men were far more open to being massaged and experimented on by me! What I found was important though, men craved the touch on their chests just the same, I understood the tissue and the lymphatic make-up yet there was the same tenderness and vulnerability that women had. As I write this I am reminded of seeing a woman in the clinic who had had a mastectomy and she was desperate for me to massage her scar tissue, to massage around her chest area where her breast had once been. She felt it was numb and could not connect to it being part of her body anymore. The connection that woman felt with her breast area after a couple of minutes of massaging the scar tissue has stayed with me to this day. Why do we talk about it as if it is something that is wrong?
The second course which offered breast massage as an optional experience was in Sydney during the holistic massage component of my Remedial Massage diploma. It was a similar experience to the above except there were men and women on this course. Again the focus was on the importance of recognising that this is a large lymphatic area and to see it as anything sexual is simply a distraction. I was uncomfortable with the setting for this group and we were again given the option to partake or not. I did do a swap, it was very different to my previous experience. I could feel all the hesitation in the practitioner and all her anxiousness. It was quite a functional experience and there was no connection at all.
I have since been offered breast massage as part of a Hawaiian massage in a local clinic with a male practitioner – I did not try that one out. Not because I felt there was any impropriety but because I feel that when you are working with breast tissue you feel very vulnerable. It is important to feel confident there is nothing else going on – no possibility of misunderstandings. Up until this point I had had experiences of breast massages being both a connecting experience and a disconnecting experience – both with women. I did not feel to take a chance in that situation.
My experience of Esoteric Breast Massage
From my very first Esoteric Breast Massage there was a clear difference. The flyer was totally out there – it told me what it was, why it was important. That it was done by and for women. I spoke to my practitioner before I went to see her and she explained again how it could support me and what to expect. The room and towels were warm, the oil and cream were warm. Because I had had so much training it took me a few sessions to stop thinking about what she was doing and where she was going but even though I was doing that to start off with I still felt something come alive underneath it all. We talked about what I felt and what I didn’t feel and what memories it brought up. However hard it was to feel large areas of my breasts being cold and hard, I felt more deeply in touch with myself by the end of the treatment. I could feel that I was tender and delicate underneath the hardness and tension that I had held in the body to “go hard” and “do more” in the way I had been living for a long time. There were physical challenges as well… my arms were above my head. This reminded me of uncomfortable breast screenings, so lying on my back with my arms in this position had the potential to leave me feeling very vulnerable, yet I felt totally supported, totally safe. My practitioner supported me and in time I didn’t find it such a physical or emotional challenge. There were towels to support my elbows and if they got uncomfortable the practitioner helped me lower them. I once again felt the level of connection I had touched on with the very first few massages with the women in England and the total support of the practitioner standing beside me. I realised over time this was my connection with me, my relationship with me and with my breasts as a most beautiful part of my body. It was far beyond a lymphatic massage or physical support or release, yet I could feel the support of that process as well.
As a medical history I have had a number of issues with cysts – I was not surprised as my mother and my sister both have them. According to the specialist it is something I will have to live with for the rest of my fertile life. I might have agreed once – being cursed by such a throw away comment, but not anymore. After working with my connection to me I found there was a pattern with the women in my family…. the most obvious ones being that we were all emotional and great multi-taskers – stress being high on all of our lists. So this was where I decided to start.
Why is the EBM and their practitioners such a different experience and why would I choose this over any other form of breast massage or healing for this particular issue? I mean, if it was just stress then surely dimmed lights, soft music, candles and incense and prayer would do the trick… Instinctively I knew this was important. Yes, it is true, I did not have cancer but I have lumps in there that shouldn’t be in there, how could I just accept that – who was to say they would always be cysts and not turn into a tumour? I also had numb parts in my body that I couldn’t feel – that really hit home… someone was touching my breast tissue and I couldn’t feel it – why not? I wanted to ask questions, to take responsibility and keep listening before my cyst became a tumour and I had a more complicated medical road. I didn’t want this to be about finding a solution, I wanted to know why they were there in the first place, why I was hard, why I was numb, and to do that I knew that I wanted to be working with practitioners who were integrative, who worked with all we have to offer and did not see themselves as alternative.
Recently there has been some media interest and coverage over Universal Medicine’s practice of the Esoteric Breast Massage, such as ludicrous claims of men practising the modality and even more bizarre claims that it can cure cancer.
Upon reading these articles, I wondered what, if any, research they had done. All my memories of those initial fears regarding people’s perception of breast massage came flooding back, ie. “Men will see it as sexual, they will see it as a great headline and in all honesty, truth will not be what they are looking for”.
The very easily researchable (Googled even) fact is that we, as a society today, are teaching breast massage as a part of many massage courses in many mainstream colleges throughout the world. None of this is new – it is out there, accepted and common and practised by both men and women. Universal Medicine, as far as I am aware, are the first ones that have made it a modality for women, by women only and solely to support women.
We are massaging women’s breasts, and our integrity when undertaking this modality should be second to none. Any college that teaches breast massage should be willing to do so openly and support their practitioners by teaching them about the importance of self awareness and self responsibility – what they themselves bring to a treatment. Yet in my experience there has never been any follow-up since I completed any of the other courses and there were no special instructions or self responsibility discussed in how we lived or what we did outside our treatment rooms. No one has since checked if I am still working in any form of integrity. My governing body has only ever been interested in my continual professional development hours and that they should be done through a recognised body and that we shouldn’t do anything to bring massage into disrepute – breast massage would have broken all their rules! It seems everyone is most worried about being sued or misunderstood rather than knowing that what they do and offer is full of importance, has a purpose and is practised with full integrity.
From my starting point I have observed with interest the growth of the Esoteric Breast Massage modality. To see how different or similar it is to the training I received. There can be no comparison. This modality is out in the open, its sole purpose and intention is to support women to re-connect with themselves and a deeply nurturing and caring relationship with their breasts.
The practitioners undergo training and have a peer support network that is second to none, they are assessed regularly throughout the duration of their accreditation years, both energetically and practically. They meet monthly to talk through the issues coming up with clients and themselves. They, like all of the practitioners training and working with Universal Medicine, are members of the Esoteric Practitioners Association (EPA)*, which has a higher code of ethics than any I have been involved with to date.
We should welcome a school of learning that is so open, we should welcome an association that works with its practitioners to the level of the EPA. Yet why is the first thought of some to wonder 'what are they hiding?' – surely, that says more about our society and the eyes we are looking through. I welcome it – as we all should.
Lucy Dahill, Diploma Remedial Massage, Aromatherapy, NCC, ITEC, SPA, EPA
* The EPA (Esoteric Practitioners Association) is a branch of Universal Medicine. It was instigated by Universal Medicine to monitor and accredit the modalities that were founded by Universal Medicine.
** First Published on the Women in Livingness blog www.womeninlivingness.com