The power of asking questions

I was working in the student clinic, doing another intern massage. The client assigned to me was someone I had worked on previously. She works at a desk job.

The first time, she had complained of neck pain, and she had said she didn’t want to be poked with fingers or knuckles. So I rubbed and kneaded her neck quite a bit and didn’t do any of the deep massage strokes that I felt could have been so helpful had she not had this aversion because many involve “poking”.

On the client evaluation, she said I didn’t spend enough time on her neck!

So when I got her again, I was determined to get a better result. I brought her back to the bay and asked her if her neck was still bothering her. She said yes.

I asked her to show me where her neck was hurting and gave a little demo by putting my hand on the back of my neck and asking, “Is it about here?”

She said, “No, more like here,” and she ran her hands across the tops of her shoulders.


Just to clarify, I said, “So you’re not feeling any pain or tightness here?” again with my hand on the back of my neck.

She said no.

And of course, I was professional, but meanwhile I was thinking,

Girlfriend, that’s totally your upper trapezius — the top of your shoulder — and not your neck.

Many people’s knowledge of their own anatomy has big blank areas.

I asked if there was anywhere else she desired special attention. She said her lower back was bothering her. She also said not to work on her abs or her hands.

So I went to work. I spent a lot of time on her back, with focus on her tight upper traps and her sacrum/lumbar area. When I thought I had probably done enough, I leaned down and asked her if that was enough or if she wanted me to work some more on her back.

She said to do what I needed to do. I guessed from that that she assumed that the students in the massage clinic have to follow a routine, and that if she wanted more back work, it was out of the question. Not so.

I told her I could work on her back some more if she liked. I told her I could spend most of our hour together on her back if she liked.

She said she’d love some more back work.

So I worked on her back for about 40-45 minutes of our hour together. I palpated and explored. I repeated strokes, did them slowly, and emulated deep massage with my palms to avoid the poking of knuckles and fingertips.

I pulled her scapula in and up to shorten her tight upper trap and asked her if that gave her some relief. She said it did.

I wrung, lifted and rolled, and kneaded. I rocked her torso. I came at areas from many directions. I even gave her tapotement (like drumming) after asking if she’d like it, which I think is the first time I’ve done it as an intern.

When I finished her back, I redraped it with sheet and blanket and just pressed her glutes and backs of legs and feet. I rocked her body from the heels and had her turn over, asking how she was doing. “Fine,” she said, with a look of bliss on her face.

I like that look.

I pressed the fronts of her legs and tops of feet and rolled her legs, just to loosen up the hips and make the legs feel included as parts of the whole body.

I skipped her abs as requested and just worked on her pecs, giving pressure to her arms so they felt included, avoiding her hands as requested.

Then I did some more upper back work from underneath, rubbed and kneaded her neck, and stretched her neck.

I ended with massaging her scalp and a fulcrum/stretch of the back of her head.

(So okay, I know some of this is massage geek talk, but I’m sure you get the big picture. If not, come get a student massage and see for yourself. $35, no tipping.)

That massage was so off the books from the routines I’ve learned and yet so rewarding because I used my resources to clarify what she really wanted, and then I got to be creative, continuing to ask for feedback and giving her more of what she wanted.

She was very, very happy with it. She gave me a fabulous evaluation, especially for taking the time to really find out what she needed.

The upshot is that questions are very, very powerful tools. If you know what you want but aren’t getting the results you want, ask questions. It’s all in the communication, baby.

There is great personal power to be had literally just for the asking, especially if you ask the right questions, to get the results you want, to get another person to open up to you, to get insight into someone else’s map of reality, to create something that’s satisfying.

It’s so simple, yet almost like a secret. Have you asked anyone a real good question today?


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