A Deeper Look at ‘Deep Tissue’ Massage

There is nothing better than a good massage with just the right pressure – not too deep, and not too light. As you lie there, the pressure is such that you find your tensions melting away as they surrender to the skilled touch of the massage practitioner. Without the need to wince or hold your breath, you feel the ‘knots’ and stress areas fully revealed, layer-by-layer, until they have been released.

Pain and discomfort are very personal perceptions, and the art of massage includes being able to find that ‘fine line’ between keeping the massage experience pleasurable and finding and chasing away the areas of discomfort. Sometimes these areas are few and far between, and sometimes they are everywhere. They may be on the surface, and sometimes they are very deep indeed.

‘Deep Tissue’ massage, when done properly, can produce longer-lasting results. Very few people want to leave the massage session after paying good money with the same stress and tension that they carried into it, yet that is what can happen if the massage is too light and superficial. Yet very few people will return to a massage practitioner if they were bruised or forced beyond their tolerance levels.

When we think about what ‘Deep’ implies, we should see it is much more that increased pressure. Deep refers to our very core, our longest-held memories, our past trauma, and places we may not even be aware of. Deep takes us to underlying muscles and connective tissue, including those that work overtime for postural support and in cases of ‘guarding’ or protecting vulnerable areas and old wounds. Deep can also take us to places outside our comfort zone, which can bring up long-held fear and resistance. Deep may take us places we never knew we were holding within us.

Deep also describes the connections that may or may not be present during the massage. If we feel our practitioner is truly sincere and focused while working on us, this depth of caring infuses our being. We are ‘deeply moved’ and things surface from our deepest awareness, enabling them to be released and restored at last.  Sometimes we may become aware of our connection to spirit; for some this manifests as an overwhelming sense of hope, joy, and comfort, or even feeling the presence of angels, ancestors, or loved ones that have since departed.

After 30+ years of massaging, I have learned many ways of going deep in a non-intrusive manner. It involves balancing myself on that ‘fine line’ and never pushing too quickly or deeply, while being perceptive enough to not fall back or get distracted. In this way, I keep a little window open for the client to pass through … or not. I establish trust and connection with spirit, warm up the tissues, and help move their stresses and discomforts out of the way. Then it is up to them to take the next step when they are ready. Never do I want them to recoil or slam that window shut in pain, nor force my agenda onto them. It is their unique healing journey, and I am simply there to assist them.

Some Ways to Go Deeper

The challenge is to gradually go deeper, layer-by-layer, without excessive force  or causing any collateral damage on either client or practitioner. Here are some of my favorite ways to accomplish this while giving them a fantastic experience on my table:

1.           Pule (prayer) – When I become quiet and connect to Source in spiritual reverence and humility before I even start, my intuition leads the way. Also, I am ‘protected’ from absorbing any discomforts and energies that may be released from my client. My hands seem to have a better understanding of what I am doing than my head does. I often become aware of the presence of healing angels, ancestors and celestial beings. The energies in the room resound with forgiveness, effortless ease, and a deep peace beyond understanding. Pure intention becomes the guiding principle enabling both client and practitioner to move beyond the normal day-to-day limits of time and space. This is how the Hawaiian healers did ho‘oponopono (forgiveness) of past hurts over the generations and long-distance healing over the miles.

2.           Aromatherapy – I regard this as a wonderful way to work ‘inside out’ while I am massaging from the outside in. The use of high-quality essential oils or fresh medicinal plants penetrates their bodies effortlessly. Healing molecules directly enter the nose and fill the lungs and the limbic system of the brain, while the skin absorbs them into the blood stream and nerve endings. Fresh medicines applied directly on the skin can likewise be very effective in soothing pain, reducing inflammation, and detoxing the tissues. The chemical constituents have very real effects on the functions of the whole body, mind, and spirit of the client, which makes the client becomes more receptive to the massage.

3.           Listening to the Body – While every body has certain universal ‘spots’ where tension collects, everyone is different. It is essential to listen to them, rather than tell them what they should or should not experience. We do this not with our words, but through palpation—the skilled informative touch of the practitioner’s hands. The way they respond tells us if we are on or off track. For example, responses like a deep sigh and feeling the tissues slowly soften and ‘let us in’ tell us we are getting good results. The deeper we go, the slower we go. This requires great patience, and usually takes multiple sessions to work through all of the layers. Remember, it is not a contest and you do not need to hurry at all. Let the client set the pace.

4.           Hot Stones – Tight tissues are no match for the irresistible warmth and penetrating energy of warm basalt stones. Using the combination of heat and Earth energy from the stone, our touch automatically penetrates beyond physical barriers. The heat not only increases circulation and softens the hardest connective tissue, it soothes in a deep and comforting way. Clients melt into that ‘zone’ of utter relaxation, while the practitioner finds the restrictive layers of tension no longer block or resist the deeper massage techniques.


One of the reasons that lomilomi is so unique is often held up in our intention. That is our willingness to be there physically to help any given client “pass beyond their past” and to let go of long-held tensions and issues that may hold them back from forgiving and healing themselves. We, as massage practitioners, are not there to do the healing; that is up to the client and to Akua (or God), but it is through the physical channel and medium of massage that this wonderful experience can occur.  Deep tissue massage is an important part of this process.