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The History of Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique (SMRT) by Dawn Lewis

Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique (SMRT) started for me with one sentence, “it’s passive contraction of muscles”, spoken by a Vodder lymphatic drainage instructor about six months after I became a massage therapist.

Several years before this fateful moment, I found myself on workmen’s compensation from my office job. I had pain in my right arm, mostly forearm and hand, some upper arm. The doctor’s did not seem to know what to do with me, and the seven I saw all disagreed about what should be done with the pain in my arm.

My mother was a massage therapist and would do neuromuscular sessions on me about once a week. These sessions lessened my pain for a few days, but they were painful and they did not last for me.

One day, through tears, I asked my comp doc if he had any plan to take care of the pain in my arm. His response was, “people stay on comp for years, relax.” I settled my comp case and closed out the medical a few months later. While I went back to college, my mother opened a massage school.

A year later, I began to work at the massage school. Two months later, I began massage school training. When I graduated I owned half the school and was running the school. I called the Vodder Institute and set up a five-day training. On the third day of the training, a student came in limping. The instructor offered to work on her ankle. I sat next to her and was fascinated.

I asked what he was doing, he said it was modality C (which I cannot name because they have informed me that I do not have permission to name their modality on my website), I asked what that was, he said “it’s a passive contraction of muscles.” Something inside of me exploded. Throughout my neuromuscular treatments with my mother and my neuromuscular training, I had felt like there had to be a better way to treat the body. This was it.

I called the place that teaches modality C and asked if we could get a teacher to come to our school. They said yes, but not for almost eight months. I agreed, but I couldn’t wait. I began to experiment with the idea of passive contraction of muscles. My poor assistant, Kate, was my main guinea pig.

I started too big and the results were minimal. Plus, what I was doing did not fit into my table massage. I began to work with smaller and smaller moves and basically stumbled across the idea of compression through joint lines helping with releases.

My practice was thriving. I had many, many people with issues to practice on. Finally, the modality C teacher came. I took that first two-day workshop. Now, I am going to be very honest here – I don’t remember much about that class. Mostly I remember that I did not like it. He focused on trigger points, something I did not feel the need to do. The releases felt broad to me, where I wanted to be more specific. I liked what I was doing better.

The one area where modality C really spoke to me was in the history of positional release. When the instructor talked about strain/counterstrain as the original positional release modality, with Positional Release Technique (PRT) and modality C following that philosophy, I began to understand the physiology behind what I was doing.

Modality C continued to be taught at our school for about a year and a half. I had no intention of teaching SMRT.  I had never seen myself as a teacher. The students at this school were required to receive two massages a quarter from a teacher or staff member of the school. One of the students, whose name I believe was Andrea, came to me for a session several times.

After one session, she said, “I want to learn what you do.” I told her to take the modality C class, that it was close. She took a two-day workshop, and soon after she said to me, “I want to learn what you do, that’s not what you do.” I told her it was close enough and I was not a teacher.

About a month later, I checked with Kate to see how many students were registered for the upcoming modality C course and found out there were none. I knew that at least eight students needed that workshop to complete the body. I approached them in our break room and asked what the deal was. They said, “Andrea said if we boycott the modality C classes, you’ll teach us what you do, and we want to learn what you do.” This is how I began to teach SMRT.

Through the years SMRT has grown tremendously, and it continues to evolve every day, with every practitioner, and every client. The idea of passive contraction of muscles grew into what SMRT is today, a system that looks at muscles, bones, connective tissues, and uses the concept of positional release to balance skeletal misalignments, release muscle tension patterns, and unlock fascial tie-ups.

Almost every day someone asks me if I created SMRT. I say yes because the only way for me to get the modality out into the world is to take ownership of it. But I in no way came up with the idea of positional release. I just put my own spin on it. And so much of what I do comes from the willingness to put my ego aside, have a true conversation with the client’s body, and listen more than I speak.

I have been teaching SMRT since 1997. I have become a much better teacher than I knew I could be. I deliberately have not taken another modality C class, nor have I taken strain/counterstrain, PRT, or SRT (Structural Relief Therapy). I do not want these other positional release modalities to inform what we do with SMRT or how we teach it.

When I talk in class about the differences between SMRT and other positional release modalities, all of the comparisons come from other massage therapists who have taken these classes. I have a client right now who is a modality C practitioner. I asked her the other day if she thought SMRT and modality C were similar. She hesitated before saying no, that she thought SMRT was more “aggressive” (many of my students will be amused by this) and more anatomy specific. My understanding of SCS and PRT is that the positions are larger and do not fit into table massage well.

Although I avoid other positional release courses, I love to learn, and I love to see how SMRT works with other modalities. I take as many classes as I can, and I continue to learn from every class I teach. SMRT classes and clients inform the evolution of SMRT, and, hopefully, will continue to do so for many years to come.