Ian Soutar, a 35-year-old technician, had been quarreling with his employer at an Ottawa high-tech electronics firm so often that he became alternately angry and tense. He also suffered from a chronic upset stomach. Then, six months ago Soutar remembered that a massage he had undergone had given him great relief from stress. As a result, he began undergoing regular treatments at several registered massage clinics. Now,
Soutar has changed jobs, his stomach feels better, and he is more relaxed.
Soutar is one of thousands of Canadians—most of them in Ontario and British Columbia—who have begun to use massage to function more effectively.
Said Soutar: “It allowed me to cope with people without exploding into anger. It is better than a two-week holiday.” The willingness of growing numbers of Canadians to shed their inhibitions, lie naked on a six-footby-two-foot table and submit to a stranger’s touch is a result of a growing conviction that massage produces positive results.
That new acceptance is in marked contrast to massage’s earlier, shady reputation when, unlike in Europe where it has a long and honorable tradition, most North Americans associated the practice with sleazy body rub parlors or exotic awareness groups. But in the past decade the boom in fitness and anti-stress programs in Canada and the United States has created an unprecedented demand for registered masseurs skilled in manipulating sore muscles, treating athletic injuries and encouraging relaxation. As a result, in Ontario and British Columbia the number of provincially approved schools has grown in the past 10 years to four from one, and the number of legitimate massage therapists across Canada who have passed provincial government exams has jumped to 1,000 from 350.
The movement to the massage table is not as noticeable in the rest of the country: there are only five registered masseurs east of Ontario and only six in the
Prairie provinces. Still, Ann Ruebottom, a Toronto massage therapist, says that she is convinced that the practice’s increasing popularity in Ontario foreshadows widespread acceptance across the country. Declared Ruebottom: “In puritan Ontario, I touch people.” Ruebottom uses two different styles of massage. The most common method, and the one she most frequently uses, is
the Swedish technique, which relies on combinations of direct pressure, friction, kneading and stroking to relax knotted muscles. At the same time, the Chinese and Japanese practice of Shiatsu massage, which requires pressure at specific points on the body to relieve tension, is also increasing in popularity.
As well, many doctors are now recommending massage for patients suffering from chronic pain. Indeed, Ruebottom’s 1982 Ontario survey revealed that doctors had referred 18 per cent of the 132 clients questioned to massage therapists. British Columbia has been the only province to pay for massage under its health care program (up to a maximum of 12 visits annually). And Ontario residents visiting the pain centre at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital may soon receive a massage on medicare
if their doctors recommend it.
In Ottawa senators and MPS have known about the benefits of massage since the federal government hired masseurs for their use 35 years ago. The list of clients since that time includes »Senator David Walker, minister of public works under John Diefenbaker, fe rmer prime minister Pierre Trudeau, former House Speaker Jeanne Sauvé and Opposition Leader John Turner. MPs and senators pay for treatment, which some receive twice a week.
The parliamentarians, like thousands of ordinary Canadians, accept the theory that massaging muscles and other soft tissues improves circulation and helps to flush out carbon dioxide, lactic acids and other bodily wastes which cause stiffness. For her part, Vanessa Harwood, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, says that s tie often suffers spasms in her right side after dancing the lead in Sleeping Beauty. But a massage every three days allows her to continue performing. And David Rivard, a Victoria chartered accountant and his wife, Louise, a secretary, say their monthly visits to a massage therapist reduce stress. Added Louise: “ 1 have gone in with headaches, and they ease up by the end of the massage.”
Although the Rivards’ monthly sessions are paid for by the B.C. health insurance plan, many Canadian companies recognize that subsidized massages can improve worker productivity. Such firms as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Dofasco Inc. and MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. now offer their employees group insurance policies that will reimburse them for massage treatments each year.
Clearly, at those firms at leas:, employers and employees alike are convinced that a drugless experience that offers a better sense of physical wellbeing, increased alertness anc. less stress is a valuable tool. Declared Christine Sutherland, a co-director of a Toronto school teaching massage techniques: “People do not have to l ake a Valium to relax their bodies, and their brains are still functioning.”^
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.