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From Pain to Peace: Mahalo Massage is Transforming Lives Through the Art of Touch

After 17 years in the massage therapy business, Mahalo Massage Owner Bob Gallagher sits down with BK Reader to share her journey
Bob Gallagher, owner of Mahalo Massage NYC

When was the last time you had a massage? I’m not talking about the 10-minute foot massage that comes with a pedicure or the three-minute shoulder rub from your significant other. 

I’m talking about a 45-minute, face-down, deep-tissue massage where you lose track of time, fall alseep and are awakened by the sound of your own snoring! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?

Bob Gallagher, a Williamsburg resident, massage therapist and owner of Mahalo Massage NYC in Union Square, says fewer people are choosing massage as a form of therapy. She's noticed an overall decline since the COVID-19 Pandemic, as people have gone back to pre-pandemic work schedules while trying to make ends meet. 

But, says Gallagher, massages should not be seen as a treat you indulge yourself in every now and then. Instead, it should be viewed as something you can’t afford not to do–  as essential to your physical and mental health as exercise and as necessary and routine as brushing your teeth!  

After 17 years in the massage therapy business, Gallagher sits down with BK Reader to share her journey: how the art of touch can inform how you view your body and self and also transform your quality of life.

BK Reader: After almost two decades of working as a massage therapist, it’s obvious that it’s something you’re devoted to. What brought you to this type of work, and with such a fickle market, why do you choose to stay?

Bob Gallagher: Massage therapy has been a part of my whole life, really. My mother was born with birth defects that gave her chronic pain. She had many operations and lots of trauma within her. So I began massaging her when I was five years old. And then when I was a teenager, I experienced my own chronic pain from poor posture. So my mom took me to get massages because she didn't know what else to do for me. Because of my back pain, I learned Pilates and yoga-- disciplines where the body follows the mind.

Then, I later took an improv class one semester with Lin Manuel Miranda and became even more aware of biomechanics, emotional expression and physical awareness. Still, I was doing this thing with my life and doing that thing with my life, and realized I wasn't doing anything with my life that I loved. All of my friends somehow were massage therapists. So one day, I was like, okay, let me go to an open house at the Swedish Institute College of Health and Sciences. And yeah, that was it. I was like, I gotta do this. 

BKR: What’s your specific approach to massage therapy? I understand that you offer a blend of massage techniques such as Swedish and deep tissue. But do you have a special approach or technique that might resonate with people who have specific needs?

BG: For me, it’s about having a conversation with your body and reconnecting with self. So all first sessions with me, there's a 30-minute initial consultation just to figure out, you know, lifestyle, physical activities, stress levels, like, what's going on. … And that tells me how you move through the world, how you treat yourself; and how much care, let's say, needs to be brought into the session. I don't have a standard technique that I use on every single person. I mean, there's a certain pattern that I'll go through on the body, because it keeps it in order for myself. But sessions are very custom. 

With my clients, really, it's about holding space and holding them, right? And the medium by which to hold them is what we know as massage. There’s intention behind the way I approach touch. I’m trying to do for you what you can't do for you. It's like transferring pressure energy. I'm just a conduit, I'm just a stimulus-- an outside stimulus to bring your awareness to what's happening within your body. I’m connecting you to yourself and allowing you to communicate with yourself again. Basically, what people view as massage is only a third of what I do.

BKR: Then, what is the other two-thirds of what you’re doing?

BG: I’m really good at addressing pain. A lot of people are in pain, and I use touch to bring that out. Pain is the body's nervous system signaling there's something wrong, right? Not that something needs to be fixed, but that there's something wrong. So instead of, let me fix this pain, so it will go away, it’s more like, what's causing this pain

I do not feel comfortable necessarily telling clients that their pain is emotional. Like, I can say, “It sounds like you're really stressed out, and it's translating to the back pain you’re experiencing,” versus, “You've got some unresolved shit and it's manifesting your body.” So much of it is like making sure you are seen. It’s like what you experience with me as a friend– not to say all these clients are my friends, but it's just like … connecting. 

BKR: But what if somebody wants to come in and doesn't want to connect and just wants a relaxing massage? What if connecting is not really their thing?

BG: Then I meet them where they’re at. And in a way, that is part of connecting too. I make sure the client can feel something; can get into their body for that moment in time. So, for instance, someone who could really benefit from massage might be someone on the spectrum or, you know, an autistic person. They're not going to give you that emotion– that connection that you often feed off of to be able to inform your approach. But I still have to be present in the moment of what's happening.

But the essence of massage and bodywork is being able to hold safe space for the physical being, and tapping into that feeling is where sometimes the emotions that do not need to be named reside and are able to come to the surface. So the goal at the end of these sessions is for the client to walk away and feel in their body; a greater sense of being and a sense that they've been taken care of. But also important is knowing they have shown up for themselves to let it happen.

BKR: So, essentially, are you saying that you don’t have to be in pain or even need to be stressed to treat yourself to a massage?

BG: A treat is the notion that you don't deserve something unless it's your birthday or it's a special occasion versus, “This is what self care looks like.” It's great that we can take care of ourselves, and it's also great to be taken care of! We are social beings. We are not meant to do any of this alone. It's like being hugged. You're letting something else outside of your physical boundaries embrace you. 

Tech is fantastic, but when we're always on social media and we're not with the people that are right in front of us, we get used to being disconnected. I think one of the reasons people congregate in cities is because they're so desperate for connection. They believe that being in a high concentration of people increases the likelihood of it happening. Yet, we still don't necessarily know how to make the connection happen.

Massage is one way. Like, this is about cultivating relationships, about creating connections. It’s about listening to and understanding your body. As long as my clients trust themselves enough to show up for themselves, I'm going to continue to show up for them as much as I can.

I believe this so much, it makes me want to cry. ... Okay, wow! Apparently, I really love massage.

Mahalo Massage NYC is a LGBTQ+-affirming business. To book a session, go here