Watching 42-year-old Steve Rizzuto move makes me feel like a shuffling hunchback, though I’m 15 years younger than him. He is a certified practitioner and teacher of Swedish Massage and Touch for Health in Chapel Hill. In addition, Steve has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and a masters in Education.

Steve does regular workshops locally and has taught in Alabama, Washington, D.C., throughout North Carolina, and most recently, at the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship conference in Greensboro, N.C. 

[This is the second in a three-part series on massage. In last month’s SUN, Farra Allen and Libby Outlaw were interviewed. Next month, we’ll print an interview with Stewart Walker.]

— Priscilla Rich


SUN: On what do you base your work?

RIZZUTO: Seeing a person as a totality, in terms of their natural state of health and well-being, how they move and how they interact with other people. The expression wholistic is getting to be a cliche, but that’s more along the lines of what I mean. I’m basically interested in how people move and walk around. Movement is an integral activity in the life of every cell and, therefore, in every more complex system. So, motion rather than tightness in the body is what I’m interested in promoting. The opposite of motion is rigidity. Taking that rigidity to the extreme turns into rigor mortis, which is obviously not a desirable state. So, what I am looking for when a person comes to me is where are there places of too much tightness or too much looseness, because what can make the body too tight in places are other places that are too slack, an idea suggested by the chiropractor Dr. George Goodhart. One can imagine the spine, for example, as being the mast of a ship with the guide wires going out to either side and up and down, and if some of the guide wires get loosened then the slack is taken up by muscles that tighten too much on the other side. There is this kind of fine tuning tug of war, this balancing and unbalancing between pairs of muscles that work not against each other, but work, in a sense, in opposition to each other. When the biceps tightens to work the elbow, it can only do that if the triceps on the other side will rest. As a result of too much tightness or looseness, our posture tends to change over time with gravity being the counterbalance. And if everything is too tight, then that restricts the motion and when motion is restricted, blood circulation starts to decrease. The lymphatic system starts not working so well. Or, if you’re into the Chinese acupuncture ideas, when the meridian flow of energy gets clogged up there’s an excess in one place and not enough in another place.

SUN: Would you explain that?

RIZZUTO: The Chinese theorize that there are corridors of energy that flow through the body and they call them meridians. The theory is that one meridian surfaces and goes into the interior of the body at different points, so it seems like a broken-up series of fourteen, but it’s actually one. Energy flows through there, and if at any time it’s blocked, there could be too much energy in one place and not enough energy in another place, like a hose squeezing down. When that blockage happens, energy surfaces at different places on the skin and it’s palpable. These are so-called alarm points.

The sum total is that nutrition doesn’t spread evenly into the different parts of the body and then we get into bodies that have, maybe, lumpy parts or too large parts and too small parts.

There are divisions in the body. We can divide ourselves left and right, back to front, in half at the waist or in other places. And so, one can see where bodies are developing with a consistent pattern of too much or too little. And a lot of that has to do with personality and interaction with people.

We’re taught from the time that we’re little children, “Don’t run around and scream because Mommy or Daddy is resting. Don’t climb the tree, you’re apt to fall off and get hurt. Don’t go out without your galoshes,” and so on. So, from the natural free-form little human being that we’re born as, we begin to learn to inhibit motion. We lock up the spontaneous freedom of our body and our voice and our laughter in our muscles and so we have a nice isometric exercise going by keeping the emotions in with the tight muscles. We develop these lovely tight places, but they’re actually the enemy of the total self and freedom and health.

We’re taught that pain is our enemy and not our friend. If it were not for the pain when we put our finger in the fire, we simply wouldn’t know that the finger was burning. Pain is a signal that “I want some attention, do something different, and hopefully, do it quickly.” There’s also the message in there that “If I’m in pain it’s because I have done something wrong, and, then, I can feel guilty.” So, there’s this whole overlay of “I hurt. I did it wrong and now what?” You see a tendency to avoid or ignore the pain in the body, rather than looking into it and really appreciating the message that the body is sending. There are pain receptors in all the different parts of the body and therefore pain is natural. What’s important is what do we do with the pain after we find out it’s there. Do we try to avoid it? Do we get more uptight? Or do we do a series of things that have to do with relaxing and inquiring about the pain and see what it has to say to us? The yogic idea is going to one’s limit and that limit then becomes the teacher-edge that we can mine information from, and after the awareness, the learning, then the change.

Since none of us really wants to feel guilty, we just kind of block the whole thing, And one of the ways we block it is by becoming shallow breathers. We can anaesthetize ourselves very successfully by simply not taking a deep breath, because in order to take a deep breath, we must activate the array of feeling/sensory areas from literally our pubic bone all the way up into our throat, and therefore, into our head. And so, when we are deep breathers, we are more in touch with feelings that have to do with open-heartedness, and that can be grief and sorrow, as well as love and joy, We’re more aware of our gut feelings, our romantic-erotic feelings, our tendernesses. It’s very easy to be hard-hearted in a business world and throw the widow out of her home, or what have you, by simply not taking a deep breath.

SUN: That’s interesting to me, because I’ve been trying to practice being more present, just doing what I’m doing, and whenever I remember, my breathing opens up. I become much more aware of breath moving in me.

RIZZUTO: I think that’s one of the keys to motion. And, of course, breathing is a cycle and it helps the body, at least the torso, into regular rhythmic expansion and contraction, and even the basic cell, because that’s the cycle that the cell goes through.

SUN: People become so accepting or are duped about pain and disease. They seem to think that as they get older, it’s just natural to stiffen up and experience the variety of ills that plague society.

RIZZUTO: The body is always in the here and now. It can never be in yesterday. And it certainly can’t be in next week. However, our mind can be either in the past or in the future, and a lot of times that’s with anxiety. So, getting the body and the mind to be congruent and in the here and now is a way of being aware of the total self. When I work with a person, I’m working with the body and calling them to be here in themselves and with me now to observe and see what’s here. I hope to help people take the deep breath and with that be more with me and with themselves and with the pain signals. Not that there’s a whole lot of pain in what I do, because I don’t do anything that nearly approaches Rolfing.

SUN: Where do you place yourself among all the types of body work being done in this country?

RIZZUTO: Well, I’m somewhere along a continuum, somewhere between the extreme of Rolfing and the extreme absence of body work, which might be Gestalt therapy, something that works simply and exclusively with the emotions and the mind.

Rolfing seeks to forcibly alter the myofascial tissue that surrounds the muscle parts and, then, forms the ligaments and tendons. This tissue shrivels and contracts with each emotional crisis, and if there isn’t something done to loosen it after the crisis is gone, we begin to lock up and further constrict the muscles. The muscles are free-form and free-flowing; they expand and contract rather easily. This collagen or connective tissue forms its own system throughout the body and the myofascial tissue is part of it. For the most part we don’t even see it. If you were to look at a corpse, it would almost be transparent. It’s in the gristle in the meat that we eat. Sometimes, we’ll cut across the muscle as we’re eating a steak, and we’ll see this fibrous material, this sheath that is very hard to chew and digest.

The collagen tissue apparently responds very well to vitamin C. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of collagen diseases that probably occur simply because the body does not have any way of manufacturing its own vitamin C and so must take it in the form of food.

And so that brings us into another area, the extreme form of which is “You are what you eat.” A lot that goes wrong within the cell is not so much because the brain and the emotional self originate things and the body kind of willy-nilly follows after. Many things happen simply because we have a cut or a bruise or a broken bone. The way that does or does not heal helps to shape our personality. And, the things that we eat are also included in this whole business of how free we are to move.

SUN: What are your recommendations along those lines?

RIZZUTO: I don’t have any background in nutrition except what I’ve read and what I do for myself every day. In addition to being basically a vegetarian, I also make sure I get a full complement of vitamins, and, periodically, I will take extra vitamin C or vitamin B-complex. The B-complex is supposed to help people who are under a lot of stress and C is one of those vitamins that is becoming more understood and the range of things that is known of what it can do for the person is increasing by leaps and bounds.

I do take vitamins every day. How much I take depends on what’s happening in my day or my week or my year and how much work I have to do. So, I change the amount that I take daily or weekly.

One of the interesting things about the stomach environment seems to be that it is for the most part alkaline, that cold germs and flus and viruses don’t seem to want to live and thrive there and vitamin C, being an acid, will create a reaction in the body which amounts to an alkaline solution in the stomach. So those kinds of common sense explanations impress me more than all the kinds of research, because research has a tendency very often to cancel itself out. You literally can prove anything you choose to prove.

I never deal with a person symptomatically, simply because I have no medical background and, therefore, I can’t and also I don’t choose to. When a person comes to me, if something is going on in their body, the things that I bring up for discussion include their posture and asking them to take a look at how the muscles interplay, and where, in relationship to gravity and motion, they seem to be more tight and more loose. I also ask them questions about and get them to take a look at the business of breathing. I also inquire into what they eat, hopefully, to have them begin to be more thoughtful and more intentional. For me, the word intentional is an important word. Much of what goes on in a person’s life is unconscious and unintentional and I want to bring into awareness the things that we are doing. I also ask them to consider doing things like meditating.

We talk about balance and harmony in the body. Part of what we’re talking about is the activity of the brain — the hemispheric activity, the inner activity between hemispheres. I don’t think it’s any accident that most of us, about 90 per cent, are right-handed and, therefore, left-hemisphere dominated. And what that means is that the language centers and the analytical processes that we need to survive in a business, mechanical world are the centers activated in the left hemisphere. Therefore, the right side of the body gets a whole lot of attention, motion and nurture. Our right hemisphere, which has more to do with our music, our intuition, our poetic aspects of self, and, therefore, the left side of our body, doesn’t get as fully developed. So, not only are we talking about function in terms of what the centers do, but we are talking about how that reflects into the body and how one part of the body can appear to be starved for affection. It doesn’t get the attention that it needs and deserves.

SUN: What do you mean by that?

RIZZUTO: One part of the body could be the whole left side. A lot of people who do body work talk about the anima/animus in all of us. That’s a Jungian term. They talk about the male/female aspects of the self. We tend to have a side of us that we identify with characteristics and traits that we usually consider masculine. We also do the same thing with the feminine, which is typically symbolized by the left side, regardless of whether a person is right-handed or left-handed.

Because the analytical business-type world leaves behind the emotional self, leaves behind a lot of the poetic, perhaps even the heroic, and simply deals with the grind, we look at ourselves as being machines. At eight o’clock in the morning we go in and turn on the switch, whether we’re ready or not and we go until five or six o’clock. Then, we turn the switch off. Instead of being able to fight or run, when we are under stress, which is what we used to be able to do back many hundreds or thousands of years, now we have learned to sit there and take it, which is part of the breathing pattern and everything else. And when the body wears out, we take it to the people we view as hospital mechanics and ask them to plug in a new part. So, among other things, that means that health no longer resides in the self, it resides in other places and in other people’s hands. When we get sick or broken, we go to the “doctor mechanics,” the people who have health and they give it to us. We then go back into the world and we’re healthy again.

SUN: How did you become interested in all of this?

RIZZUTO: About ten years ago, I had a friend who was going to have surgery and she was allergic to pain-killers. The post-operative care would have been minimal; she would have had to take an aspirin substitute, since she was also allergic to aspirin. At the time, I had one or two books and a passing interest in hypnosis. So, I learned about hypnosis and used it with her with a good degree of success. And as I did more reading and more research and used hypnosis a little bit with friends, I found out that as a person started to relax, they became aware of the pain in their body and very often that was interrupting or interfering with the hypnosis session. I started to look into what that could be all about. So, I stumbled on massage, and then got my first massage with some fear and trepidation, I might add. This was a new experience and I didn’t know what was going to happen or what to expect.

So, I switched over into working with the body, and, therefore, the mind and the emotional self to a greater degree, because I wanted people to be aware of what was going on inside, so that they could be better choosers.

In a way, I see that my work with hypnosis, at least in concept for me, has continued. And I do use the information that I’ve learned for further understanding a person’s total behavior. Very often I will teach people self-hypnosis or use suggestion, particularly of the relaxing type and breathing suggestions. So, I still do a little bit of both. I do not hypnotize people anymore as much as help them into altered states of consciousness for their own good, whatever that means, but certainly for their own ability to be flexible and choose what they want while they’re there.

When other things that I was doing seemed to be sterile — I was working as a graphics designer — I decided that I wanted to work more with people. When the men’s section of the Chapel Hill Athletic Club (now the Spa Health Club) opened about four years ago, I went to the owners and told them I felt proficient in massage and wanted to be able to work there. After about a year of negotiating, I started to work as their masseur. I did that until the first of this year, when I decided that I wanted to have my own office.

Working with an all-male population, I found that I couldn’t have a very large business. Men, typically, don’t get massages and, if they do, they invariably wait until the aches and pains are pretty large and then they want some therapeutic or remedial work. Women, on the other hand, and I always did have a private practice, women will come and get massages regularly. They’ll come as they come to a hairstylist or to anything else. I feel that women are better balanced and they will do things for their emotional selves in a way that men won’t.

SUN: Which techniques have you studied?

RIZZUTO: I have studied both Swedish Massage and Touch for Health. One of the important things about Touch for Health is the idea that we’re responsible for our own health. Medicine deals with a diseased body and cures it. This concept deals with a well body and maintaining health and well-being. It’s a system of working with the body that doesn’t rely upon drugs, that lets us be aware of where we’re tense and where we’re loose and provides the means to do something very specific about that immediately.

Touch for Health is an amalgam of eastern and western ideas. It is being used under the named Applied Kinesiology by chiropractors today. It’s the best that western anatomy and physiology has to offer, as well as a lot of the Chinese ideas, plus it brings in the work of the chiropractors. Touch for Health is intriguing and it looks very much like magic to a lot of people who see a demonstration.

A little bit of the background on that: The Chinese in their meridian theory, of which acupuncture is a small part, theorize a flow of energy throughout the entire body. Incidentally, with our more sophisticated machinery, thermal and electrical and so on, western medicine has been able to verify the existence of these corridors of energy, and indeed, the acupuncture points. They’re all right where the Chinese have always maintained that they are. If the Chinese theory that there’s one flow of energy and it surfaces at fourteen different places sounds like a lot of hocus pocus, consider that there’s one blood flow through the body, from the heart and back into it, and it has several branches. So, we have the vegas artery, and we have the femoral artery, and then we have the venous system going back and so on. They are considered to be branches and smaller bits and pieces, and they all have their names, but there’s also only one blood flow.

SUN: What do they call the flow of energy?

RIZZUTO: Chi is one of the names, but almost every one of the different disciplines, whether it be the martial arts or what have you, has a slightly different pronunciation or spelling of the word. But it comes out to be the same basic idea: that the body is interrelated and, if there is an excess of energy in one part or not enough, that will influence everything that interrelates with that system.

Now, western medicine developed the muscle test some time ago. It’s something that every doctor and physical therapist knows how to use. It’s simply placing a body part in a position where it will isolate a particular muscle and then testing for the relative strength of that muscle. Touch for Health substituted that muscle test, which is very reliable, for the Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, which is very complex and takes a student maybe five years of sensitive awareness to learn.

The muscle test is elegantly simple. It is easy to learn and grosser, of course, but very effective. So, one tests a muscle, and if it is strong, well and good. If it is weak, then it shows, perhaps, the possibility that the body may be in trouble. A signal will go to the unconscious part of the brain saying, “Help, let’s get to work down here.” Then, a reflex point is selected for stimulation. Now, a word about the reflex points: In the 1930’s a Dr. Chapman did some research and discovered that there was a relationship between certain points on the body, that we’ll call the reflex points, and the endocrinal system. There is a book, which many psychiatrists I’ve talked to are familiar with, called An Endocrine Interpretation of Chapman’s Reflexes. It appears, then, that by stimulating a reflex point, what is actually being stimulated is a part of the endocrinal system. So, hormones, adrenalin or what have you, are secreted and that then influences, among other things, the lymphatic system.

Now, the lymph system is responsible for carrying one-third of the protein to the different muscles and body parts. It also performs some sewage function, carrying away toxins and waste particles, finally into the venous system in the neck for further filtration. So, if we’re not getting that one-third protein and we’re not getting the collection system going and we’re not getting the build-up of the white corpuscles — the white blood cells are also, in part, being manufactured by the lymphatic system — then, the body in an important way is being deprived of nutrition and waste disposal. That, all by itself, can weaken a muscle. Stimulating these points stimulates this part of the system and also, among other things, the muscle can be brought back to the relative strength of the rest of the body. That’s one way in which this Touch for Health system works.

Basically, the idea was that by stimulating certain points in your body, you could unblock the energy for that particular system. In Chinese medicine, muscles, internal organs and function are related in a system. It can, therefore, according to this theory, test a muscle, like the deltoid muscle. If it is strong, then it suggests that everything along that system is also strong. If it’s weak, it suggests that some other things are also weak and dysfunctional. The deltoid muscle is related to the lung function in the body. It’s not related to the lung in the sense that if it’s weak, your lung is weak. That’s not what they’re saying. Every cell in our body reflects the needs and workings of the entire body. So if our entire body needs a heart function and a lung function, so too does every cell. This is used in a metaphoric way. It is possible that if our muscles are weak, something is going on that is blocking the function of the rest of the body, in that sense. I can test a muscle, and if it’s weak, there are places where I can stimulate that part of the body. Then, it can be made strong. With this, our posture can change, we can feel as if we are in balance, and we can feel ourselves strong and invigorated.

I’ve seen a line of five people touching each other. The person on one end took a puff (of a cigarette) and the muscle of the person on the other end was blown immediately.

SUN: Do the endocrine glands secrete into the lymphatic system?

RIZZUTO: They secrete into the blood stream. The lymphatic system works at the level of the muscle and the tissue and the capillaries. There is an interstitial liquid that goes into these tissues and then flows out again. There’s a constant ebb and flow and imbibing from the lymphatic system. So, it goes from the tissue and capillary beds into the direct corridor of the lymph and the lymph nodes and the whole chain that represents the system.

SUN: Is there anything we can do to ourselves without having another person around?

RIZZUTO: That’s what I’m working on. If you know the positions to test the muscles in, you can conceivably put yourself in those positions. If they’re weak, you can stimulate the points and do something about that.

There are five ways to work on a particular muscle to bring it up to the relative strength of the rest of the body. These include working with the neurolymphatic system, which basically is a line of points along the front and back of the body. The neurovascular points, which work with the blood supply. They are, for the most part, located at different places in the head. Working with the acupuncture meridians, being able to trace them out. That can take all of thirty-five seconds. Working with the specific acupuncture points to strengthen or weaken a muscle system. The last way is to work with the origin or insertion of the muscle to either strengthen or weaken a muscle.

One thing that we can do with the muscle testing series is test food allergies or a reaction to cigarette smoke, and so on. Sometimes, it works with a person simply holding an unlit cigarette in their hand. Certain studies done with rats show that there is a direct relationship between the mouth and the brain, which sometimes bypasses all the other internal systems. So, in order for cigarette smoke to have an effect on you, it doesn’t even have to go through your system. All it has to do is get in your mouth. I’ve seen a line of five people touching each other. The person on one end took a puff and the muscle of the person on the other end was blown immediately.

SUN: I’ve seen tests done when substances have just been put on someone’s back, perhaps with their not even knowing what it was.

RIZZUTO: You can do the same thing with something like vitamin C. You can take an amount and put it in the aura, in the energy field, and keep increasing the amount until the point where that’s the useful amount for that body. If you put anything more into the system, then, that will blow the muscle, too.

SUN: What is Scientific Swedish Massage?

RIZZUTO: In the 17th century, a Swedish gentleman fencer became interested in the body and its health. He developed the series of strokes that formed the beginning of Swedish Massage. He probably borrowed extensively from the ancient Greeks. That form of massage started to be used more and more by people in that country. The Europeans picked it up and did some research. They found that it was effective in influencing different parts of the body. So, it comes to us in this country with their particular approach to health and well-being. It’s the form of massage that is typically taught to physical therapists and is used in the hospital setting and in the rehabilitation centers. It’s called scientific because it has been researched and some specific things have been found out about using the strokes on body parts and how they influence the circulation of the blood and the lymph and how that helps distribute nutrition and how that helps rejuvenate injured muscles. Tests have shown that if an injured body part doesn’t get very much activity or massage, the fibers will repair with a sticky yellow substance. But, if certain kinds of circulation or massage, in the larger aspect of manipulation, are applied, then it heals more nearly like it was before the damage was done. Therefore, muscles will rejuvenate quicker.

Swedish Massage confines itself to four or five major strokes, depending upon the school, and several variations. One school in Ohio says seven strokes and forty-eight variations. We won’t quibble, but they are basically long strokes going along the length of a muscle group, stimulating the flow of lymph and blood in the direction of the heart and the head. In other words, away from the extremities. They are the kneading, the rolling, the wringing strokes that work across muscles for specific stimulation. They include friction strokes where one or two or three fingers are working on a specific body part in a rotary fashion and, then, the percussion or tapotement strokes. All of the basic terms are French. The hacking stroke is the one that you’ve seen on television or in the movies. It sets up a very mild irritant or counterirritant in the body.

SUN: How do you deal with your own energy flow when you’re giving a massage? Do your hands get tired or did they at first? Is there something you do to make it easier?

RIZZUTO: All of the above. The typical massage that I give takes between an hour and an hour and a half. I am using a certain degree of strength in a fine tuning way. Depending upon the age of the person or their sex or their relative body build, I will be using more or less strength. Also, I am constantly heating my hands during this time and am concentrating upon this other person. The point is that it is not necessarily the strength of my fingers that is consuming my energy. I do try to use my entire body. I move and I flow around the table, flowing from one stroke into another, moving from one body part to another.

I do some things to take care of my energy. I do meditate every day for twenty or so minutes, at least once. I do the things with diet and with yoga that I think will work successfully in keeping myself limber and whole. I get the good rest and all of those other things. I also do not try to do more than four massages maximum a day. That’s all I can handle in a day in and day out pattern.

SUN: Some people say that you should shake your hands or wash them in healing practices.

RIZZUTO: I wash my hands before and after every massage. I use the time between massages for composing myself and checking myself out and thinking about the person who is going to come to me, if I know them, and I know the kinds of things from past experiences that might be going on in their bodies. There are some people with whom there’s a really nice give and take and I feel energized at the end of the massage. And there are some people who can literally drain you. Sometimes I feel numb up to the elbows. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know that it is.

SUN: What is the purpose of washing your hands?

RIZZUTO: It carries a great deal of symbolism for me. Among other things, I am a Cancer — a water sign — and so go naturally to cleansing with water. Also, the skin is an important organ of the body and if I am using my hands, not only are my toxins coming out into the skin of the hands, but their toxins are getting onto my hands with the releases that they are having. So, it’s both practical and symbolic.

Our attitudes toward our bodies are basically poor. The typical way we touch people is either in sexual contact or violence.

SUN: What type of meditative technique do you use?

RIZZUTO: For the most part, I simply concentrate on my breathing. I use that as an induction technique. Very often I will simply count from one to four and repeat that and, then, as I get deeper into myself, I will repeat certain key phrases of health. Emile Coue’s famous expression — one of the hypnotists from the early pioneering days — “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” I will vary that expression to include healthful comments: “Every day in every way. I am getting better and more healthy, full of energy and using my energy efficiently for the health and well-being of people.” Again, it’s taking something that is very often left in the unconscious and bringing it to the intentional level.

SUN: How do you deal with people’s attitudes about their bodies? Do you come up against much embarrassment?

RIZZUTO: Yes, I do. Our attitudes toward our bodies are basically poor. The typical way we touch people is either in sexual contact or violence. There doesn’t seem to be much in-between. As a matter of fact, we shrink from touching other people in elevators and so on. I’m convinced that this has to do with a self-effacing attitude. Be that as it may, we simply don’t go through life touching other people. Inasmuch as we don’t touch ourselves, of course it’s pretty risky to touch other people. And so, we have this awkward attitude toward our own bodies and our own selves. The other part of the attitude is that we expect our body to perform like a machine. The industrial revolution has had an important effect on our consciousness. We think that there is something wrong with us when we can’t perform or function. Doing and performing seems to be the big thing in our lives.

I discuss clothing, typically on the telephone, before anybody ever comes to my office. I let them keep their privacy in whatever way they choose. People wear more clothing during a massage than they ever wear at the beach. I see that they are fully clothed when they come in, then they change into clothing suitable for a massage. For women that means a halter-like top which is very ample and boxer-like shorts. I offer alternatives, including leotards. For a man, generally it’s OK to tuck a towel around the waist. When a person changes, I leave the room to wash my hands. Then, I knock on the door and ask permission to get back in when the person is ready. This avoids embarrassing situations. I am always clear with men and women that they are to supervise their own privacy with respect to clothing. I have given and occasionally do give massages when a person has all their clothes off.

SUN: Do most people want to be covered or do you get people who don’t care?

RIZZUTO: Without exception, every person who comes to me for a first time will be clothed, partly because that’s the way I choose to do it, and partly because if somebody wants to tell somebody about what I do, then that’s the message that will be communicated. Thereafter, if a man or woman sees some benefit in having a body part massaged that would normally be clothed, and has a good reason, I will entertain that as a possibility. Very often, a person will have a full bladder and there will be escaping gas or a man will have an erection, so generally I want people to be clothed. Also, because of the taboos in our society, it becomes very important, say, for a woman who has been taught that you only get seen with no clothes on by your husband and, certainly, you are only touched by your husband when you have no clothes on.

In order to be able to strip away some of these taboos, there is a certain amount of risk-taking and a certain amount of feeling-out that “I want to be able to confront myself with what’s really important.” It’s the same thing that has people being sky divers and climbing mountains. There is a certain excitation that happens again and again; it’s not sexual. So, it can be important for somebody to take the risk and go through it and learn how much they trust themselves and to be dependent upon oneself. Occasionally, if somebody approaches me with that idea in mind, I will cooperate, making strict contracts to exclude sexual activity.

People come to me who simply want to feel good and they know or they think they know that they can get that. And, they feel a certain amount of trust in themselves. One can never trust another person. Trust begins and ends with the self. In my ability to be a good chooser in my interactions with another person, I then trust my choices. I can’t know another person enough to trust them. So, before I have enough motivation to enter into an activity, I do some checking out at the data level. I ask some questions and, then, I decide whether the risk is small enough to take, and at the same time, to have some sense of assurance that I’m actually going to get what I really want. Since I can only trust myself, I am always responsible for myself and I can never give myself into the hands of another person.

SUN: How do you deal with your sexual energy during a massage?

RIZZUTO: That’s a very good question. There are really two questions here: Will my sexual energy be aroused in the process of giving a massage, and will the sexual energy of the person receiving the massage be aroused? Both are potential. Our health and our vitality have a great deal to do with the sexual energy that runs through our body. I’m not talking about sex in the sense of intercourse; I’m talking about the excitation that comes to the skin in the form of pleasure. For example, we feel healthy when we exercise.

Our emotions reflect what is happening in the muscles. We say “uptight.” We mean tight muscles. When that kind of emotion is released from the muscles, it goes to the skin, to the mouth and to the genital area, which are parts of the surface of the skin, as far as I’m concerned. So, men will occasionally have erections. I frankly don’t know what happens in women. There is the possibility that they can feel some titillation or sexual arousal when one uses the lighter or more feathery strokes. When I work, my energy comes from my chest or heart chakra. I am feeling, caring and nurturing. I place a lot of the emphasis on this giving, open-hearted kind of feeling. It’s more likely for me to experience some sadness or crying energy with the person, than it is for me to be feeling sexy. Besides, I’m in a business. If I get sexy with somebody, that could ruin my reputation and I don’t get to collect my fee at the end of the massage. So, there are some very good negative, as well as positive reasons why that doesn’t become an issue for me.

People benefit from massage because it takes time. Time to relax, to meditate, to be in an alpha brain-wave pattern. Some people will begin to hallucinate or dream. They’ll have a visual component to their experience. They are experiencing mixed alpha and theta brain waves. We’ve discovered with biofeedback that this is a very soothing and, indeed, healing, in the larger sense of the word healing, mental state to be in. That kind of day-dreaming has the larger benefit of being able to break up the tensions and the anxieties and help with the sense of physical and emotional wellness.

Certainly, a lot of people got touched as little folks, growing up in the tender years. It was part of the natural care that mother and dad were able to give us. So, I see it as a very normal and natural outgrowth of who we are as human beings.

The difference between me and the typical person who is interested in giving a massage is simply one of confidence. I feel OK about touching myself and I feel it’s OK to touch another person. I belong doing this. I don’t have any ego about this. I don’t cause either the soreness or the pleasure. That’s already in the person’s body. In a sense, I’m a catalyst. I simply help them discover what’s going on in the body, so I don’t get upset when somebody says, “Ouch.” I treat the pain and the pleasurable sensation as friends to be explored further.