This work that I do tends to attract the interest of, and yet fall just outside of, two major groups of practices. One, and the one that I tend to try and cultivate more, is the psychology/therapy side of things. I think of RSM as a kind of body psychotherapy, in fact, and group it as a therapeutic technique which, while body-centered, is focused on the health of the whole person. I don’t see RSM primarily as “bodywork,” like massage, Alexander technique, yoga therapy, or other things that don’t tend to deal overtly with the emotional content of sessions. But neither do I tend to bundle it in with the other major set of practices and interests that tend to be attracted to this work: energy work, like Reiki, cranial sacral, zero balancing, and other practices that have a somewhat more esoteric, New Age bent.
Often, people who are interested in energy work will approach me, curious about this energy work. While I think many kinds of energy work are valuable and effective, I like to be clear that RSM isn’t actually energy work – at least, not overtly. While a couple of the 18 principles of RSM address the idea of energy directly, I feel like it’s important to differentiate RSM from modalities that chiefly address the body’s energy field.
First, it’s important to note that for some people, energy simply can’t be sensed, or they don’t understand it in that way. And for people who do have a powerful relationship with energy, Reiki and other straight-up energy work modalities will probably be more comfortable and effective for them.
Second, RSM tends to work in a realm that can feel quite opposite to much energy work, and even much bodywork. Namely: RSM sessions ask the client to stay in their bodies, in the present moment, and often to answer questions. I have noticed that Reiki and other energy sessions tend to promote a “floaty” feeling and a sense of reaching out to something larger than oneself, an experience that is mainly spiritual and outside the body. Even massage, which is an incredibly embodied experience, sometimes even to the point of being painful, is something that can allow the client to “zone out” and experience the sensation without much reflection. (It is worth noting that while one almost always feels better after a massage or chiropractic session, one often finds oneself going back again and again, as the habits that led you there in the first place haven’t been changed.)
But I believe the most important difference, and the one I want to highlight here, is that RSM is about engaging the client with his or her own bodymind, rather than about the practitioner removing energetic blocks or adjusting chi or any of those things that some people simply don’t engage with, as they remain esoteric and unproven. Everyone has a body, and everyone’s body has a story to tell. The practitioner’s role, in RSM, is to teach the client how to listen, and to help the client learn his or her own story.
A client may experience the sensation of energy moving through her body – waves, shivers, tingles, spirals, spreading warmth – I’ve encountered any number of somatic sensations that could be described as energy. As a practitioner, I also receive sensations in my hands at times, things that are hard to describe as simply bodily sensations. Talking about energy is a useful way of quantifying these sensations. But others might call it emotion, or muscle tension, or nerves firing. But what you call it is secondary to the information that it is conveying. Energy workers work explicitly with the energy itself; RSM practitioners work with what it is saying.
Example: Joyce feels tired and run down. She goes to have a Reiki session. During the session, she feels warmth, tingling, and the sensation of well-being flowing into her body. She relaxes as the session takes place, bathing in the attention of the practitioner and the image of white light healing her. Afterwards, she feels better, but doesn’t really know why. Next month, she’s tired and run down again.
The same hypothetical Joyce goes for an RSM session. During that session, she feels some of the same nurturing sensations she felt in the Reiki session. But in addition, she discovers that her shoulders are held tightly into her body, even when she doesn’t feel particularly stressed. She experiments with conversing with them, finding out why they are holding so tightly. Perhaps she finds that she felt safer being invisible in school, where she was bullied, and so curled in around herself; her shoulders retained the habit even though it is no longer useful and is now in fact harmful. Or she has a memory of her father pushing her away, when she grabbed him by the arm, trying to stop him from leaving when she was twelve. Maybe she even finds something simple and somatic: she’s been working at a computer desk for ten years, and her habitual body position is causing her pain and stress. On the table, she might learn some strategies for holding her body differently, and, while in the suggestive state of the healing trance, create some triggers for reminding herself to be conscious of her body during her day-to-day life.
The point is, while for some people, talk of energy is useful, for others, it can put them off and make them feel you’re talking about something that isn’t “real” and therefore doesn’t affect them. Addressing the physical body directly, and recognizing the ways it echoes and internalizes our thoughts and emotions, is what this work is truly about. The spiritual aspect of RSM is important, but it relies on differing ideas of spirituality that can vary from client to client, and energy work unfortunately tends to fall under ideas of spirituality rather than ideas of science at present. Thus, I tend to shy away from calling RSM “energy work,” though in some respects it is. Primarily, though, RSM is bodymind work: talk and touch combined, counseling that takes the body as its chief resource for information, support, and healing.