This article is the author’s opinion, and Oleg Bouimer, LMT, CMMP, deserves to have his say, and we should listen. I have known Oleg Bouimer since 1992, and I continue to be fascinated by him professionally and personally. 

He is an exceptional athlete, educator, and sports therapist, and this article IS for therapists, especially those new to the profession. Since I have known Oleg, I was always puzzled by his physical and intellectual abilities, which he can mobilize, concentrate and use with exceptional effectiveness. This article explains ‘why’ and ‘how’ he does so and how we can enhance our practices in our careers and lives.

Dr. Ross Turchaninov, Editor in Chief 

USING CHI FOR SPORTS MASSAGE

by Oleg Bouimer, LMT, СMMP

Based on my professional experience as a sports massage therapist and a CE instructor for over 35 years, I have observed how many massage practitioners stay stuck in their heads long after massage school training is complete. These practitioners were more natural and intuitive, working within their physical body BEFORE learning “all the right stuff” at school. As students, we concentrate and tense up while learning new material; however, therapists must transition back to their original (yet enhanced) natural connection to their physical body to stay professionally active for years to come. Witnessing this challenge for many therapists struggling with long working hours or executing energy-demanding techniques such as kneading convinced me to write this article.   

I am sure you have heard this phrase at least once: “Learn a massage protocol and let it flow….” This should be the formula for success and longevity in massage practice. Still, it is easier said than done. Even learning body mechanics at massage school is too mechanical and rigid. It is good to remind ourselves that we are not robots and should not act accordingly. Instead, get out of your head, learn how to tap into and control your energy flow, and combine correct body mechanics with an efficient way to use gravity to increase your efficiency and longevity as a massage therapist. Clearly, it is essential to acknowledge the difference between working from your head while relying on your skeletal muscles to deliver pressure with your massage strokes and working from your lower abdominal area while allowing your energy (Chi) to engage as a major driving force. 

Chi is a controversial subject in Western culture–it is the foundation of Chinese medicine and Eastern philosophy. At the same time, its numerous opponents call it pseudoscience since there is no scientific proof of its existence. I strongly believe in the critical importance of the Chi concept because I use it daily in my life and see tremendous benefits for myself, and I would like to share my views with other therapists.

The Eastern and Western sides of the world share many of the same concepts and beliefs while calling them by different names, creating endless division and misunderstanding. Everyone agrees that the human body is a self-efficient electromagnetic machine and that our body produces and projects an electromagnetic field. We can record this field on an electroencephalogram (to register fluctuations in brain activity), an ECG (to register cardiac events), etc. In these cases, electrodes are placed outside the body and can register and predictably interpret electrical events that happen inside the body.

Chi relies on the constant interplay and interaction between Yin (male) and Yang (female), or positive and negative energies. In a healthy body, Yin and Yang are in perfect balance. 

Looking at Western science, we find an astonishingly similar and universally accepted scientific concept of the autonomic nervous system (electrically driven, by the way) that nobody challenges. The autonomic nervous system controls all body functions, and it does so via a constant interplay and interaction between its sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. I think the Yin/Yang and sympathetic/parasympathetic concepts are two sides of the same coin. Simultaneously, we can compare Chi with the constant flow of electrical impulses through the autonomic nervous system. My point is that therapists have two choices when working with their clients/patients: use pure muscular force or start each stroke from the lower abdominal area–your energy center and source for endless strength and vitality. 

Using sports as an analogy, athletes have the same two options—purely physical or energy-based/physical. Performing from a strictly physical perspective is more primitive yet more accessible since our skeletal muscles, tendons, and fascia are easy to train and use. While this way of sports training is very successful, the athlete’s chance of injury increases, and they are more limited in optimizing their performance. It comes down to how much an athlete can push themselves and how long they can last. The energy-based/physical is more sophisticated and time-consuming, as it takes some practice to tap into and control Chi (the life energy) ‘s balance. However, this route is more rewarding in the long run, as it is a more natural and efficient way to open, mobilize and optimize the athlete’s hidden potential with fewer physical limitations. Like athletes, massage therapists face similar choices, and choosing the correct one is the preferable way to practice. 

DISCLAIMER: I use the terms’ primitive’ and ‘sophisticated’ here to contrast these two ways of physical performance. In reality, the skeletal muscles and Chi-based physical activity support ALL our physical movements. The question is how much of our Chi gets consciously and subconsciously involved in each physical movement by the athlete or therapist. Even though Chi is readily available for us to use, and it is easy to experience a quick connection to it, it requires more time and effort to develop the skill of maintaining that connection during both physical exercise and sports massage sessions. 

Aside from the advantages mentioned above for therapists, working from the energy perspective has another exceptional benefit. Any human-to-human interaction (a lover’s touch, a friend’s hug, a teacher’s encouragement, etc.) is an exchange and interplay of energies. Generally speaking, during a sports massage session, your body radiates a stronger electromagnetic field than your client’s, who is in a relaxed state receiving the energy. As a therapist, if you can’t control a healthy interaction between both components of your own Chi, you cannot project a healthy electromagnetic field or Chi onto your client. That deprives the client of the necessary elements of therapy. 

Growing up as a very sickly child, I had numerous physical limitations–relying solely on my muscles and physicality was not even an option. To become an athlete from a very young age, I had to internalize my sports training, making my physical movements more efficient for high performance in sports by using an energy-based approach. Years into the future, as a young adult starting my life with a wide range of health issues, I earned the prestigious title “Master of Sports of the USSR.” Eventually, I became the Ukrainian Champion in various Triathlon and Pentathlon competitions. 

           The same approach of staying “energy-based” in my physical body led me to a successful professional career in sports massage. I started in Arizona working with Pittsburg Steelers during the XXX Super Bowl in 1996, moved to California with the Indiana Pacers during their 2000 NBA Finals, and continued to work with elite professional athletes and several Olympic teams–it’s been a fantastic journey, to say the least!  

I credit my ability to actively use Chi within my body for all my sports and professional achievements. 

For those readers who do not know me, here are a few bits of info: Age- 59, Height- 5’10”, Weight- 148. Main tool in delivering pressure during massage – my hands and thumbs (NOT my elbows). My fitness routine consists of “energy-based” cardio workouts and isometric strength training. No weight training; I only use my own weight.  

           I work on very demanding clientele all day–some days consist of 10-12 one-hour appointments, sometimes seven days per week. I can manage my workload by engaging my inner energy. 

           It is no secret that sports massage is high-intensity work where the therapist uses a higher speed of massage strokes while slowly submerging deeper into well-developed athletic bodies. Sometimes, the challenge is even more apparent when you work on the massive bodies of NFL or NBA players. Other times, it is not the size but the density of soft tissues compacted over years of “pushing themselves to the limit,” as seen in professional figure skaters or gymnasts.  

           Another challenge is the time you need to deliver your set of skills. For example, the therapist works all weekend to address each team member and provides 11-12 hours of sports massage daily while maintaining the necessary speed and pressure of sports massage strokes all day long. It tests both the therapist’s mental and physical conditioning. 

           To maximize your effectiveness as a sports massage therapist (regardless of your age or body physique), a therapist needs to learn how to apply a variety of kneading massage techniques (attributing to at least 50% of a sports massage session). Kneading is the most energy-consuming and body-challenging technique when done correctly. The therapist must work efficiently on athletes or sports enthusiasts without getting work-related injuries or experiencing quick career burn-out. Based on my life experience, “Chi-based” physical movements are superior to “muscles-based” ones. It is equally valid for sports, sports massage, and life. 

Tai Chi, Aikido, and Qigong are the most popular systems many top professional athletes use to learn how to connect to Chi to enhance performance. I highly encourage therapists to consider these practices essential to their sports massage training and work. For therapists looking to explore Chi further, I recommend reading “Ki In Daily Life,” by Koichi Tohei, as it perfectly presents the idea of using Ki (a.k.a. Chi or Qi) in your day-to-day.

To wrap up, I would like to share key daily training concepts to engage your inner Chi (Part II of this article will offer a more detailed description):   

Step 1—Empty your mind. 

            Unfortunately, it cannot be done by simply commanding yourself to empty it. Instead, there is a process that starts with you deciding to stop paying attention to unnecessary thoughts coming into your mind. You can’t make a difference in the client’s body or prevent yourself from injuries and exhaustion if you are thinking about what you will get for dinner during the session.

Step 2. Pay attention to your breathing.

Breathing is not only a vital necessity, but it becomes a powerful tool of connection to our inner selves. 

Step 3. Concentrate and connect to your energy center or Lower Dantian point in the lower abdominal area. 

The ability to concentrate your inner energy in the Lower Dantian point is a critical step in engaging Chi, and it will slowly transform you and your practice. 

 Step 4. Make sure you generate all your physical movements from the Lower Dantian point. 

Working from the Lower Dantian point gives you unlimited power. It secures professional vitality while giving you a chance to connect your Chi to your client’s Chi to guarantee long-lasting therapy outcomes. 

       After reading Part II of this article in the next issue of JMS, I hope you can tap into your unique “Chi” and make it an essential part of your work and every aspect of your life. 

About Author

Oleg Bouimer, LMT, graduated from the State Institute of Physical Education in Ukraine in 1985. Currently, he has an extensive private practice in Los Angeles. Among his clients are celebrities, famous politicians, and sports stars. The NBA, NHL, and NFL widely recognize Oleg and the system of Russian Sports Massage. He teaches nationwide and has founded a Medical and Sports Massage Club in Los Angeles. Oleg is the author of many articles in American and European professional journals. He can be reached by e-mail: oleg@olegrussiansportsmassage.com


Category: Sport Massage

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