My intention was to write an essay about the science of massage. How it soothes the vagus nerve, lowers blood sugar and brings relief to chronic pain. I wanted to tell you about fascia and metabolites and breaking up scar tissue with cross fiber frictioning. I wanted to tell you that word of mouth—asking your friends—is the best way to find a good body therapist and if you can’t afford monthly bodywork, think quarterly instead and celebrate each solstice and equinox with a massage.
But my mind wandered and when I wasn’t looking a memory was stirred of an article I once read in a magazine about the importance of touch. And while my brain was determined to take one path to the completion of this essay, my heart was determined to share the benefits of massage in another, altogether different way.
I carried the article with me for over thirty years, tucked in an old inter-office manila envelope filled with other flotsam from life: torn pages, fortunes that didn’t come true, yellowed notes and faded photographs. It’s an article about our need for connection. It was written long before we manifested our current state of self-imposed isolation and appeared, I think, in either Redbook or Women’s Day. I remember reading it as an idealistic young woman and promising myself that I would not become the type of person who shied away from the kind gesture. I promised myself I would remember that a gentle hug, or something as simple as one hand placed in the hand of another, offered comfort and compassion on a level that surpasses words of empathy or advice.
Too many decades and too many moves have passed since the author’s message landed in my heart. The box that held my collection of words, trinkets and memories was finally abandoned. So was the promise I made to myself, even though the truths in the article are even more relevant today.
We live in a time when it is easier to become virtual friends with real life strangers while mindlessly wolfing down a sandwich during our lunch break than it is to share a thoughtful meal with someone we’ve known for years. The warmth of authentic friendship has been exchanged for a cold screen and hard keyboard. I believe we are losing our ability to bear witness, confide and communicate with a simple, silent gesture. And if I’m right, is there anything we can do about it?
There are the little things: closing the laptop, turning off the cell phone and taking the time to look people in the eye. Listening with a whole heart, fully present. And then there are the things that buck convention, saying “hello” to strangers you pass on the street. Making bank deposits in person. Introducing yourself to the neighbors.
These good intentions, however, only skim the surface of a deeper issue. In order to be open with others, we need to consider how we open our hearts to ourselves. It’s a process that requires time and patience; a process that requires our full devotion. These are conditions that are difficult to conjure when we’re busy broadcasting the contents of our underwear drawer to the world in one hundred and forty characters or less.
So how do we reconnect with spirit? I believe one way is through the sense of touch. Bringing spirit and the material together. Bodywork.
Typically, we think of bodywork as a means of fixing a sore back or stiff neck. More like a session of physical therapy than therapeutic massage. When we approach bodywork as a method for relieving stress it’s considered, at best, a temporary fix. Rarely do we consider massage a means for bringing us back to ourselves and never do we consider massage as a transformative practice with the potential for healing our wounded collective psyche.
But I believe therapeutic massage is all these things. It relieves the aches in our body and the aches in our soul.
Preparing to receive therapeutic massage requires trust. Preparing to offer therapeutic massage requires mindful presence. When a massage therapist meets you for the first time they will ask a few questions regarding your health but they are also assessing your mood and energetic presence. You’re communicating with your practitioner through gestures and body language. Together, relying more on intuition and less on discussion, the two of you are determining how your journey together will proceed.
When we climb onto the massage plinth to receive this gift, we should remember what is being given. Bodywork reminds us that we are flesh and bone, muscle and fascia. But it reminds us, too, that we are thoughts and feelings, impulses and emotions. The vulnerability we feel as we melt into the therapist’s hands helps us to regain our lost sense of Self. As we lie with our eyes closed we are participating in an unspoken exchange of energy that offers connection, tranquility and space to feel our aliveness.
Yet I understand why we hesitate. Handing over control is difficult. It takes us out of our comfort zone. But what if handing over control and moving out of our comfort zone is akin to pressing our reset button? What if not being in charge of what happens next offers a different perspective and asks us to make different choices? Instead of struggling to retain control we might open up to the possibility of acceptance; spending some time outside of our comfort zone might encourage us to draw different and broader boundaries. It might inspire us to close the laptop, turn off the phone and reach out to the human sitting across the table from us.
Mimm has been a yoga teacher, massage therapist, reflexologist and writer. When she’s not balancing in Ardha Chandrasana or wrestling with a sentence, Mimm’s either playing her guitar or doing homework. She is working towards a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology.