As promised, I’m beginning my series on the Classic Sequence of moves in a Rubenfeld Synergy session. The first move is a gentle touch at the head, and in this post I’ll describe the quality of that touch, the reasons we do it, and what we’re attempting to determine from it.
A word on the first touch, to begin. The first time a Synergist lays hands on a client is, of course, a moment that requires tremendous awareness of boundaries and a previous establishment of trust. Even when I’ve been seeing a client for a long time, I will still always ask before the first touch. Especially for clients who have experienced significant trauma, it is critical that the client have their safety continually reinforced, and part of this is placing the control of the session in their hands. It may seem like overkill to some, but I’ve watched master Synergists repeatedly ask a demo client whether they may touch them, throughout the session – and I’ve watched the client visibly relax and appreciate the constant reaffirmation of consent.
The head, too, is a very intimate place to touch. My hairdresser confided to me once that he felt that the reason people tend to talk so intimately with their hairdressers is because of the intimate contact with the head and neck, which rapidly evaporates a certain social barrier in a safe, understood way. In RSM, it’s important to recall that many people coming into it aren’t familiar with how things are done, and so the extra time to adjust and extra requests for consent become extra important.
Once consent is established, the Synergist very gently approaches the client (who is lying face-up on the table), and places the fingertips of both hands at the base of the client’s skull. The placement is right where the head meets the neck, called the occipital ridge. This area is rich in nerves which connect to all points of the body. For this reason, it is both a place that massage therapists and other bodyworkers address frequently, and a place where martial artists strike to cause immediate blackouts. Point is, it’s a vulnerable spot, and a gentle touch there tends to “wake up” the nervous system.
The purpose of this touch is a kind of “saying hello” to the person; the goal is not to hang out there for a long time, but rather to establish contact, get a sense of what the person is experiencing as you make that contact, and then move on. I personally find that this initial touch, for me, serves to either reinforce or establish what is going on with the client overall in this moment. If a client is in a state of numbness, this touch may confirm for the Synergist that the client is feeling “nothing.” If a client is relaxed, the touch will likely intensify that sensation as well as make the client more aware of it. If a client is nervous, this touch may increase that sense of alert; sometimes, if I feel a client is fearful, I will go straight to the feet first, rather than the head, about which more later.
The point is, we are saying hello and touching people where most of them literally live: in their heads. The head is where many Westerners locate their sense of self, and beginning here honors this reality even as we are ultimately working to get clients to live from their whole bodies.
Next: the head roll.