The Skin: Superficial? Really?
By Educational Partner: Megan Ayrault, LMP, L/SAMP of All About Animal Massage
All too often, I find myself neglecting the importance of the skin when doing bodywork. And I don’t think I’m the only one. So I’m writing this to remind myself and all “bodyworker types”, whether professional, amateur, or student, to appreciate the surface of the skin as much as what lies underneath….
As beginners, I think we have a natural tendency to pay much better attention to the surface, to the skin. That makes sense, because that’s all we’re really aware of at that stage. Then we start learning about muscles, bones, joints, nerves, organs, fascia,… and we forget where we started. We get obsessed with all that lies under the skin as we learn to “do” massage or bodywork (an unfortunate verb in this context, “do”, but that’s another topic).
One teacher I’ve had the privilege of taking a couple of classes from (so far), is Deane Juhan. Here are some insights about the significance of the skin that I’ve gotten from him, which I may as well just pass along in his own eloquent words….
“The skin is the surface of the brain; to touch the surface is to stir the depths. I cannot touch an organism’s skin anywhere without arousing that organism’s entirety.” (From one of his articles, which you can find at his website:
What Juhan is referring to when he says that “the skin is the surface of the brain” is not just metaphorical, and not even limited to the communication between the two via nerves. A fun fact to consider is the close physiological connection they share. In his book, Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork, he summarizes…. “All tissues and organs of the body develop from three primitive layers of cells that make up the early embryo: The endoderm produces the internal organs, the mesoderm produces the connective tissues, the bones, and the skeletal muscles, while the ectoderm produces both the skin and the nervous system. Skin and brain develop from exactly the same primitive cells. Depending on how you look at it, the skin is the outer surface of the brain, or the brain is the deepest layer of the skin.” (p. 35)
I love thinking of that as I work with a client (animal or human). At least, when I remember to think of it!
So, you may be thinking, when doing bodywork with a focus on muscles, joints, etc. (also very useful, of course!), we do “touch” the skin in the process, right? Only technically, I would say. While we’re focusing on layers beneath the skin, and on tissues other than the skin, we will not be engaging with the skin in the same way. Certainly, there will be many benefits for the skin in the process. And we can be engaging the brain and the mind in very significant ways. Just not in the same way. (Again, another topic, but note that the brain and the mind are not identical terms, the mind being more than just the brain.)
Here’s my suggestion for you, along with the techniques you already use or are in the process of learning (or will learn in the future!): Take some moments during every session, or even an entire session at times, and keep your mind and focus on connecting with the skin and brain as a unit. Temporarily forget about the muscles, bones, even fascia, and just think about the engaging the brain via the skin. This could be as brief as a second or two that you acknowledge the skin as you “sink” into other layers or aspects of focus, whether that’s different tissues, or different forms of energy. Of course, I do recommend playing with this for more than a second or two here and there. Have fun, and see where it takes you!
And I’d love to hear your comments about what you discover, or have already discovered, with some of these ideas!