Detailing "Great Hands"

I wrote "Great Hands" in response to a student's comments and questions after she graduated from massage school. She reported that her teacher, after the final hands-on test said, "You have great hands and good transitions." The student longed to know if the compliment was true, and if so then what was great about her hands? Could I tell her?

After thinking about how candidly she asked, and how important feedback is, I wrote Great Hands. It is a composite sketch of what I value, track, teach, and regard as "great hands." The writing is specific enough to show landmarks of accomplishment as well as the mind-body conncetion.


Your touch has the full range of desirable pressure from a few ounces to about thirty pounds. Changes of depth occur slowly enough that I can adjust to them without hesitation, and swiftly enough that you seem confident rather than tentative.

Your mid-depth pressure is easy to melt into because it's within my range of comfort and you use repetition in an informed way. People readily recognize familiar rhythm patterns within three seconds. Therefore, when you introduce circle, circle, circle I follow along effortlessly.

I fill what seems like an intentional pause with an intentional inhale and exhale, as if you opened a door of perception for me to go through if I want to.

Circular strokes are improvised on my left shoulder and the accents and flourishes that you toss in have a casual elegance that is spontaneous and uplifting, not haphazard.

As you circle my shoulder blade, I feel the edge of your hand apply pressure adjacent to the wing-like edge of my bone. I now know that the maximum depth I want can be delivered. Thankfully I do not feel poked, a common error. Then, with flawless contrast, your hands relax fully for an instant, and in a poised manner, your palms that I perceive as "wide" glide over the wide plateau of my shoulder blade.

My perception of "like meets like" at the physical level, catalyzes my sense of "like meets like" more globally. My mind wanders to nature, to people and places, to creative ideas. I feel connected and take another conscious breath.

When you stretch my arm for the first time, I am happy you ask, "How's the stretch?" I reply, "Good" and then say, "Far enough but not too far." Very importantly, the stretch was gradual enough for me to say "stop" if necessary and that builds trust.

I imagine that if I had said "enough" or "stop," you would have decreased the pressure in an unruffled way and asked, "How's that now?" It would be incongruous for you to reply, "I was barely pulling. How could that have hurt?"

With no rough edges to your hands-on work or communication, I feel a privacy of place and being that invites the rough edges of my life to smooth out. Individual words here, okay, grateful replace whole sentences as I drift deeper into sensations I associate with tranquility and rest. With no resistance I seem to sink down as if heavy and simultaneously experience the uplifting feeling of floating.

Students who are told they have great hands but are not given specifics are curious to ask:

What is great about my hands?
What percentage of the time are they great?
Are my hands great for a beginner, or do I seem expert?
Are my hands great enough to earn money?
Can my hands help people heal?

Answers to these questions come primarily from:

  1. People that give feedback in a kind, insightful, and useful way.
  2. The "carbon copy" experience of receiving massage from a colleague whose work is so similar to one's own that it feels as though the colleague's hands are one's own.
  3. To some extent, the practitioner's assessment of his or her own work, however, there can be blind spots, or assumptions that are not true for others. For example, a common error is to turn the client's head too far sideways when working on his or her neck.

Copyright 2003 Cinda Mefferd