What a pleasure to know a great massage therapist. What’s even better is when she’s your own officemate. It’s trade time at the RWC and it’s my turn on the table, oh happy day. (What’s more fun than working on a colleague? Being worked on by a colleague.)
Jean begins right where I need the kneading the most: all along my left lower thoracics, through the lower back, planing over the sacrum and its rapids of bumps and ridges, and scouring across the glutes. I have scoliosis, with a significant curve in my low back that pushes out into the lefthand part of my body.
“Gosh, I can feel that down in my fingertips,” I gasp with wonder, as she plies, expertly, around each lumbar and its processes. “There’s no real referral pattern for that, is there? You work on my left lumbars and I feel it in my left hand?”
In the complete darkness of my eyes closed and pressed into the face cradle, I feel my scoliosis beginning to unlock: the fascia all around the curvature warms and melts, and nerve endings shimmer, freed from spasm. Hard dry musculature, packed into the torqued, strained vertebrae, softens with fresh blood and lymph. I feel somewhat akin to a pat of butter lying on a slab in warm spring sunlight.
“Yeah that’s not typical,” Jean responded, “but I’ve learned that scoliotic tension patterns create unusual compensation all throughout the body, because of the curve. There’s something about when you use your left arm, you’re reaching down into your back for stabilization. Your left arm might get quite a bit of its strength from the big contraction here in your left lowback….”
“…and then it comes up here. Oh my goodness,” she said, as she followed an imaginary diagonal line across my lumbars and up to my right upper back: trapezius, levator scapula, splenius cervicus.
“oophh….erfggphht…” I responded, as I experienced the hurtsbutfeelsgood of snarls unsnarled, crap uncrapped.
The place on the body where the massage therapist begins is as varied as what composes a chef’s soup stock: there’s always a reason for the beginning, but the beginning is highly personal and never foretold. Lots of us start with the back for a reason: it is the neural gateway to all parts, and when worked, however briefly or tenderly, gets maximum results. Everything springs forth from the spinal cord: release constrictures at the source, and members experience reunion.
“ ’m drippig,” said I. Having my neck opened up released a torrent of fluid in my head, which, being prone, went into my face. My nose was full.
“Perfectly alright,” as Jean continued to work my cervicals with the devotion and interest of a sculptor carving a minor deity out of marble. I could tell my squishy nose and their contents weren’t a problem, nor did the thought of my facial effluvia gross her out. Out of my own sense of propriety (and nose reaching maximum capacity) I spoke again, to the best of my ability.
“I nee a tisthue,” I protested.
“Oh? Alright, here,” she said and gave me two Kleenex.
While I honked out my nasal passages, I was up on my elbows, and while there became blissfully aware that the great snarl I usually feel around my left sacroiliac joint was gone. Like a difficult houseguest who, after staying an indefinite amount of time, finally packs his bags and leaves, there was a happy stillness and freshness where occupation once named the game.
Easing back down into the face cradle, I let Jean school both shoulders into their home on my back, unglue muscles from each other and play connect the dots with the patchwork of torsion.
“Are you having as much fun as I would be having right now?” I asked her, knowing full well the answer was yes. I could tell, from how she was working: a nice mix of technique, pauses, and “what’s all this then?” and “oh I see”: all through her hands.
Not only finding tension but feeling how it corresponds through the rest of the body, helping the client understand either through words or touch (sometimes both) and unwinding/unthatching it, much to the delight of the recipient, is about as much fun as it gets for a massage therapist. We crave it. And nothing inspires us (or me, at least) quite like a draped back.
The back is behind us, a great mystery, like the dark side of the moon. Being visual, we don’t see it and so we forget it’s there (out of sight, out of mind)…until it hurts. I can’t think of anything nicer to happen to our back than having it lavished in loving attention by another human, who not only senses things like we do but can look directly at this mostly overworked and underpaid part of ourselves and give us meaningful sensory input for how all its many layers — deep, snugged up against our spine, all the way out to just under our skin — make it possible for us to stand upright against the persistence of gravity.
When we feel whole – and that means living in what’s behind us, literally and otherwise, understanding what serves us and letting go of what doesn’t – we can move ahead. Until we’re liberated from the back, we can’t move forward.
Muscles unbound, lots of stuff running free, including mouth. I am feeling so good, if I could take everyone I know on a cruise around the Crab Head Nebula, I would. “I just want you to know you’re wonderful,” I tell Jean, in a snuffly Winnie the Pooh voice.
“Well, you’re wonderful too,” she said, and helped me turn supine.
And so are you.