Over a lifetime of back and neck issues, I’ve been to dozens of massage therapists, an extremely talented Rolfer, and several physical therapists—and along the way have learned to spot those who are truly good at what they do. David ranks way up at the top. This is thanks, in part, to his deep knowledge of the body—he’s on a familiar, first-name basis with each muscle, joint, and segment of connective tissue. But best of all, David is curious. He truly enjoys puzzling out the root of a problem: the source of pain, or the cause of misaligned posture. Because of his focus on problem-solving, our sessions are profoundly transformative in a way I had previously experienced only through Rolfing.
In the past, I’ve encountered too many massage therapists who conduct their sessions by rote—varying things very little, even when I come in with specific concerns. There is nothing rote about David’s sessions. Each can be radically different from the others, because he pays keen attention to what’s going on with me that particular day. The sessions also build on one another; over time he moves through the body, probing and correcting, level by level. Once my lower legs are loosened up, for instance, we can focus on aligning my pelvis, and then later get to my rib cage. A session focused on arms leads seamlessly, the next time, to one focused on shoulders, then later to one involving my neck. (David once joked that a full-body massage, from him, means he might briefly touch all four of your limbs on the same day.) It’s like being taken apart in order to be put back together, refurbished
In the past, I’ve had countless “relaxation” massages whose benefits seemed to fade as soon as I got up off the table. David’s work is different. Our series of sessions has moved me farther and farther away from the issues I first walked in with. He has carefully evaluated the problems with my posture—the ways I’m out of alignment, twisted, or fighting gravity—then worked in a targeted, precise way to get at the source of the problem, sometimes loosening up scar tissue that has been there for years. I leave our sessions feeling transformed, because my body truly has new options. After one session, my rib cage might be able to expand in new ways to allow my breath to go deeper, blissfully relaxing my back; after another session my head might be balanced effortlessly over my neck and shoulders, eliminating the neck pain that normally plagues me.
David also makes sure to suggest proactive things I can do myself, between sessions. He has suggested specific modifications to how I swim laps in the pool, for instance, and how I carry my heavy bag, to help me change the habits that create lopsided tension along my spine and shoulders. This is part of what’s empowering about working with David: He doesn’t want me to believe that I can only feel better, or make progress, when I’m lying on his table.
To women who are hesitant to see a male massage therapist, I would say this: You can be completely comfortable with David. He is low-key, kind, personable, and extremely respectful of boundaries. He thoughtfully, and thoroughly, covers up whichever parts of my body he’s not working on at the moment. And if something has the potential to be unsettling for a client (like if he’s working high up on an inner thigh muscle) he explains exactly what he’s going to do before he does it—and even raises questions his other clients have asked him (like, “How high are you going to go, exactly?”), just in case you’re too shy to ask them yourself.
After a session with David, get ready to act a bit out of character. You may find yourself wandering 10 blocks out of your way just to enjoy the new mobility in your pelvis, the freedom in the swing of your legs, or how the weight of gravity settles differently in your feet. During one session, for instance, he analyzed my walk—and offered tips about how to make it more effortless. As I strolled around, switching between the “old” way and the “new” way, the old way felt so wooden, so preposterous and effort-laden, that it made me laugh at the sheer absurdity of what I had been doing. The new way felt so freeing that I would laugh again out of happiness. People passing me on the sidewalk surely thought I was nuts. But I was just gleeful, and grateful, to be enjoying something “new” in the body I’ve inhabited my whole life.
During deep connective-tissue work, David likes to keep the pain level at about a “6,” he says, on a scale of 1-10. I’ve found that I completely trust him, and am now able to relax even when the deepest pressure hurts, because I know the pain level isn’t going to become intolerable—and also that he has a well-designed therapeutic goal. If the pain is ever too much (something that has only happened once with me, when he was working on one of my calves), David immediately stops what he’s doing and takes a different approach. What’s more, after several sessions I’ve noticed that even deep work rarely hurts at all any more—now that my muscles and connective tissue have become more pliant.
David likes to joke that he can “also be nice to you,” and that’s entirely true. His massages are by no means a painful experience to be “endured” for your own good—although it is true they produce profound and lasting good. Instead, he combines his deep tissue work with gentle, restorative touch that melts muscle tension and truly relaxes. His approach is ideal for anyone who prefers deep massages that transform rather than simply distract.
Best of all, David recognizes that body work isn’t just about the body. It affects our whole outlook on the world. In my case, the negative ways I think about myself—and the ruts that my thinking is in—come across in my posture. When David first met me, I had a lot of neck pain from tilting and craning my head, as if seeking each passer-by’s approval. I also have a stubborn habit, as a journalist, of craning my chin toward the person I am interviewing to signal my interest in what they are saying.
“You don’t have to show interest with your chin, you can show it with your eyes,” David suggested. “When your head is in alignment, you own your space,” he said. “It’s going to feel weird. You’ll find yourself looking at the ground a lot, since you’re used to holding your chin up and looking down your nose. Try to remember to lift your gaze. Think: Eyes up.” These suggestions give me something to work on in between sessions. I find myself repeating them like a mantra to myself as I walk down the street: “This is my space…I own this space.” Gradually, it’s actually becoming true: yes I DO own this space. That’s why my head is balanced over it, and my torso is relaxed in it, and I’m no longer craning my chin your way to ask for your approval. The result has been profound changes in posture, pain levels, confidence, and comfort. All because David has helped me identify not just the muscles involved in my posture issues, but the attitudes I have that are standing in the way of change.
In that way, David’s work removes restrictions. It gives options. Not just by loosening physical restrictions, such as scar tissue or stubborn muscles, but by suggesting new and more comfortable ways of being in the world—loosening my habitual mental and emotional restrictions. He does this subtly, and matter-of-factly. There is never anything intrusive about his comments, and nothing self-helpy or new-agey about his language. He simply offers the constructive observations of someone attuned to both the mechanics of the body and the mechanics of our thinking, having undergone a huge amount of body work himself.
There is no question: David is the best massage therapist I’ve found since moving to New York six years ago, and I feel lucky to be his client. After our very first session, I began raving about him to friends—and have never stopped.
Kyla D, Science Journalist, Cobble Hill Brooklyn