We All Just Want To Go Home

People who get up and go swimming at the Y at 4:30 a.m. are an entire other species as far as I’m concerned. It’s not the ungodly hour or even the exertion I find unwholesome. It’s the thought of changing clothes.

Just now I have removed my pajamas and put on something that allows me to take a walk down the lane. Excruciating. I live in the country, surrounded by trees and rivulets and mountains, with the sea within view, and if the wilds of nature were my only companion I would gambol freely in my jimjams!

But they’re not. I have neighbors. They might see me parading down the road in my flannels and have confirmed a few suspicions they’ve harbored about me and whatever else goes on in there.

As I sit here I realize I am cold. I don’t like being cold. It will take a while for me to warm up inside my clothes. I won’t feel like moving much until I do.

This is why I can’t even imagine putting on a bathing suit in February and trucking my weeping tired self off to a vat of water where I may or may not get warm enough to enjoy. Do bathing suits ever warm up unless you’re lying in the sun and it’s 80 degrees? I can’t even conceive of that kind of fabric against my skin, and putting my body in water. Keep me fuzzy, for all enduring time!

Most of us – me included – would like to protect ourselves from the inevitable change and growth that just being alive procures, and this is evidenced in the small things (like improving our attire) and then the big things too (like improving our habits, our minds, our relationships). But we also know we need to keep moving, and in fact it is something to look forward to. Every day is an adventure story unto its own self.

What we need is an incubator, a holding tank, a very little pot, to get us from one part of our lives to the next.

I am not a great gardener. I’m learning but it sure takes time. When you put a whispery seed into soil to get it started, you don’t plunk it in the ground right away. Especially up here in Maine, when things don’t really start warming up until June.

No, you put the baby seed into a bassinet — a seedling pot — something that holds it, but does not prohibit growth. Something that a seed can feel its way into, which is invisible, but is there.

I suppose this is why we swaddle babies, or find our pets tucked into the most impossible corners and under things (especially cats). Cozy promotes life.

And look at us: hot water bottles, warm towels out of the dryer. Bed warmers. Heated car seats. We wrap our hands around hot beverages, again and again and again. All of us are heat-seeking, because when we are warm we can expand. We feel like getting up. (Or not.)

It’s a cold world, and that coldness is not necessarily based on temperature. We can feel cold and immobilized even when everything is sunny and hot. You know what I mean: it’s your neighbor’s outdoor July 4th picnic and everyone else is whooping it up. You’re not feeling it, sitting there in your shorts and tank-top, sweating and smiling weakly, working on your excuse to go home.

In therapeutic massage and bodywork we help people go “home.” We present our clients with a person-sized envelope they can crawl into and not come out for a while. Even in a session where there is a perplexing issue being addressed: when we bring our heart into our work, as most of us do – because we can! because we have the luxury of time, in our line of work – we provide the warmth, serenity and safety our clients need to try out being who they are, and to entertain the idea of being something else.

And I would also like to say this is not mere coddling? Or some low form of placation, or something to sniff at as merely palliative. Touch matters.

In 2010 Dr. Danielle Ofri wrote “No Longer on the Doctor’s Checklist, but Touch Matters” for The New York Times. She said, among many other excellent things:

The laying on of hands sets medical practitioners apart from their counterparts in the business world. Despite the inroads of evidence-based medicine, M.R.I.s, angiograms and PET scanners, there is clearly something special, perhaps even healing, about touch. There is a warmth of connection that supersedes anything intellectual, and that connection goes both ways in the doctor-patient relationship.

More recently, this past March The New Yorker ran a piece by Maria Konnikova, “The Power of Touch.” She cites many studies on how touch centers us and heals us, from encouraging healthy emotional development in children, to reducing the chance of catching a cold. She writes:

The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral—from womb into old age. It’s no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful, ways.

Let’s not underestimate the true power of what we do, as practitioners, and then when we are receiving work too. Especially when it is thoughtfully, intentionally, entered into as a ritual, as sacrament really, as an honoring, saying “You matter. You matter now. You matter again. Here. You matter here.”

Professional nurture is the purveyance of therapeutic massage, and it is very good food indeed.

We are the warm clothes that allow clients to transition from one part of their day to the next, from one part of their lives to the next. Our offices are like potting soil and the next-sized pot, where people can come in and get a sense of themselves, and then go back out, a little healthier, brighter, more supple and a tad more willing to move ahead.

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You are a Body. Not a Head.

Winter in Maine is a wonderful time to get familiar with your body: how much you use it, and when it is telling you to stop. I know most people feel themselves most fully in the summer. Well, who wouldn’t?

When we are warm and unencumbered, we struggle not against howling gales nor winch up with the mincing steps of navigating ice. When it is beneficent and redolent all around, we toil and weary but the air supports us, and besides, we are mostly barefoot.

We know our stuffs most certainly when we prevail our squishy flesh upon a few snowdrifts, for example, in below-freezing temperatures. Many things not in our favor. Except our body. Which is quite excellent, when you can feel its health.

I was thinking about it a lot today while putting in a few shifts of excavation. The Blizzard of ’15 gave us everything it promised. Today, it was a game of “Find The ___.” Find the cars – find the gas tanks – the compost pile – the woodpile. Carve paths to each. Throw snow around. Gasp and sweat.

With each heave-ho, I was aware – believe me I was aware – of all the muscle groups working together on my behalf. It is truly amazing, it really is. Do you ever catch yourself in a task and marvel at how it all works?  “Do this,” our will drives our body, and the body says, “Yes,” and it happens. (With varying degrees of success of course.)

I played with centering myself in different parts of my frame. The temptation is to just work with one side of your body – hack away at a pile relentlessly until it vanishes – but this is not an elegant approach. (Plus it just really makes everything hurt after a short period of time.) I switched arms, even for just a few shovelfuls, even though the switch felt non-instinctual and clumsy. It gave the other half of me something new to do and surprised muscles that weren’t very busy until that moment.

I also found things went a lot better if I firmed up my abs and gripped tight into my glutes. Things also went better with taking breaks and going inside for water. This was exercise!

What a gift: to be body aware, and play with what we find. My instincts have been honed by nearly fifteen years of practicing and receiving massage therapy. I have studied, contemplated, touched and been with Body. A day outside mooshing snow around is continuing education, as far as I’m concerned.

Doing massage therapy is a great way to spend your humanity: loving the warm, electrical, water-filled bags that are us. And by love I don’t mean anything more than full attention: but full attention is the most loving thing we can do. Whether we are lying on a massage table or asking the herculean of ourselves with winter labor, it is, therefore, love.

Besides being a massage therapist there is just the benefit of receiving massage, which not all professionals seem to do with the same consistency. There’s a lot of overlap between the restaurant industry and massage therapy, as I see it, and I say a massage therapist who doesn’t receive semi-regular massage is like a chef that does not go out and try other chef’s fare. It’s mostly unheard-of in the restaurant world. It should be in ours.

There are so many benefits to massage therapy, but one of the greatest, and possibly hardest to describe, is the gift it gives us of being in our own bodies and having someone else helping us affirm our existence as a body, not just a head.

I’ve written before about the seduction of our age: the supremacy of mind and inconvenience of our body, as if all we are is a pair of eyes inside a slab of jello-y meat.

Massage therapy is a subversive act. It says “hush now” to our mind, which like a spoiled child insists it’s king. Our attention, if we allow it, trickles out of the confines of mind and into the glorious vistas and uncharted waters of our frame.

We become aware of the strangest places: the underside of our upper arm. The webbing between our toes. The very top of our head. Behind our knee.

Body awareness in session gives rise to few words (thank God) but these are the top 3 phrases I’ve heard:

“I had no idea that was sore.”
“Oh my God that feels so good.”
“That’s the spot.”

To be in our bodies and notice what was quiet but aching; to be there when we’re consumed with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing; to have another person acknowledge – with their hands – what’s been bugging us for days. That. Spot. It’s been confirmed and now it’s already starting to feel better because someone who not only cares but has the knack for professional kneading is very keen on helping.

When we are aware of our bodies, we experiment with what works. We play with how we move, lift, respond. We’re more apt to listen when it’s tired, we’re more inclined to notice when we feel good.

Massage therapy gives us ground substance against which everything else is measured, and gives us refuge when we’re feeling stressed. We know how it feels to not be stressed: we’ve had massage! We can go there again, either by recreating it on our own through self care, or, hey, better yet, calling up our massage therapist and making an appointment.

We’ve tasted the good stuff. We know how to make it happen again, how useful it can be.

Even – maybe and especially – when thrusting about amid ponderous snowdrifts.

“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage — it is called Self; it dwells in your body, it is your body.”
David Lauterstein, quoting Nietzsche in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page

 

Naked as the Day you were Born

Combine incredible stress and profound loss with a nurturing safe environment and being touched for the first time in months and you’d come unglued, too. My dear client lost her mother and feels alone, the most alone a person can feel, even if surrounded by tons of loving support, which she is not, which makes it so much worse.

Now she is undertaking building a house, her first, and also recuperating from a trying semester teaching brat kids and jousting with rotten co-workers. The woman’s a wreck. She’s on my table.

Re-drape. Grab the tissues and let her use the entire box if she needs to. Murmer consolations, good ones, don’t just pat absently and say “There there” or “awwww.”

Because I’ve known this woman for years, and I truly love her, I find myself rubbing her back between the wings, kissing the top of her head and saying “It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be okay” a few times until her sobbing stops and she starts to breathe naturally again.

“We’re gonna start over, with you supine now, with lots of pillows so you feel like Cleopatra on her barge!” I announce cheerfully, and make it happen quickly. No more snuffling into the face cradle: dignity and calm restored.

Massage therapists work parts: address limbs: move sheets and towels around like we’re doing some kind of horizontal semaphore code. We have these boundaries in place so everyone can relax and not worry about being exposed. There’s plenty of times, however, that exposure happens, whether we want it to or not.

Sometimes it happens when the client can’t help themselves, and they fall apart in front of your eyes. They just don’t care what you see.

I have a few who clutch at the linens when they roll either direction, exceeding even my careful work to keep them modest. That’s fine.  I understand. What’s more challenging to me is the client who starts taking off their clothing while I’m still doing intake. I think that they assume, since I am a massage therapist, that I will be totally okay with seeing their entire naked body.

Look, as much as I adore humans, I’d rather take my client in with my hands, not my eyes. Massage therapists have rites and rituals, and a sense of decorum, not to mention professional standards. While I will massage hinders all day long, I don’t want to see them up off my table, bouncing around the room. This is an art form, not a love-in.

But try telling that to an 82-year-old woman who is both so tired & so eager.  Before you can even get through your full gamut, the shirt’s off, the pants are long gone, and she’s sitting there in just her granny panties and footies.

I start into another question and trail off. “I take it you’re ready to get on the table,” I say.

She lets a pin out of her hair, and incredibly gossamer waves of long silvery hair billow down over her shoulders. I don’t want to look lower, but I do because it’s right there: two amazing breasts. Really. I don’t see many breasts up close, but these are unavoidable, and to my astonished eyes they look like they’re in great shape.

“It’s been a rough year, only getting rougher. Getting old is the pits. I feel like I’m looking at my life through the backwards end of a telescope,” she reports, as she goes to the table and skootches her hand under the linens, ready any time I am.  In her droopy drawers and her giant fuzzy socks, she looks like an elegant, aged fairy, a sage disrobed. I understand the time for my questions is over, and the time for me to work has begun.

Getting old is the pits, and over the next 90 minutes she goes into great detail about how much she has lost, how small her life has become taking care of her 92-year-old husband, all the things that have passed away. Maybe I’m the only person she can be wholly herself with, anymore, as she casts aside veneer and trappings, and speaks from her naked, weary heart.

Sometimes it only happens when the client is ready.

“Today’s a good day for a belly massage, I think,” says my longest-term client.

This is such progress I can barely keep from doing a fist pump. To spend as much time on his back and legs, as per his request, for over a decade, has meant that I’ve had to skip his arms and chest, as per his insistence. Which really is negligence:  the man’s got asthma, with profound breathing problems that have pulled his sternum down and affixed his anterior chest muscles to his ribcage.

I have only been able to guess at the condition of his thorax. Today, I get to see it.

“You got time?” he inquires.

Yes, lord, I do have time, I’ve had time for 13 years. Behaving as if it’s no big deal I drape his chest and let my fingers work  gently but persistently through the soft pine of his sternum, the branches of his ribs and around the scrying pool of his abdomen. I go over 90 minutes and don’t say a word about it: I know I might not have this opportunity again.

All of us in the industry have had these moments where we see a lot more than we meant to or hoped for. Despite all of our admirable attempts to keep it neat and tidy, things come undone. There’s a lot of grace in those moments, more than we could imagine. Trusting in all we do not see, we strive to meet fully what we do.

 

Getting Behind Your Work

As practitioners it serves us to remember there are two people in the room when we’re working who deserve loving-kindness and careful consideration: the client, and ourselves. When we push, we are hurting someone: it might be the client, but I would wager it’s our own dear person that suffers too.
The most helpful idea that I’ve come across to work creatively with this notion of relentless prevailing upon a client – and dialing it down, if not completely off – is “Get behind your work.” I learned it from David Lauterstein during a Deep Massage workshop this past autumn, and I think David might have learned it from Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing.
My Deep Massage Workshop with David Lauterstein came at a pivotal moment this past year, when I had one of the busiest summers of my life. Seeing four to five clients four days a week, I was depleted, and less apt to know where I ended and where my client began. I rely heavily on my Reiki practice to get me through multiple sessions relatively unscathed, energetically, but I knew my body was losing its poise as I labored.
DeepMassageBookimageThis was my first experience with “Get behind your work”: during David’s workshop, we were all engrossed in hands-on learning, seated, perhaps practicing “Making Rainbows” along the ITB. I was hoping for help, and could sense David and Susan Tesar, his teaching assistant (and fellow Mainer/oncology massage/MT) moving around the room behind me.David stepped over to me. I waited, anxiously, to hear or see how he would improve my work.

Rather, I felt it: he gently put his hands on my shoulders, and moved my torso back over my hips. He then placed his hands on the top of my head (not unlike the way one receives a blessing from a pastor or the pope!) and moved my head into alignment with my shoulders.

My body dropped into itself; my scapulas plopped neatly back into their pockets inside my back; my arms went from locked and constricted across my chest and pushing, to rounded and open, allowing my chest to expand and for me to take a deep breath, naturally. All this, and I hadn’t broken hand contact with my client.

“Relax!” David said. I still laugh out loud, remembering the way he said this one word to me: part encouragement, part command, with a touch of: exasperated humor? Is that what I detected? Whatever it was, it was a sea change for me.

As I’ve been reading David’s “The Deep Massage Book,” studying my notes from class and bringing myself back to that moment, again and again, while practicing with clients, my somatic “ah-ha!” from David’s simple correction has formed into some words for me. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from this profound teaching, and would love to know others’ experience with it as well.

Through posture – in lunge, or seated – your arms are kept in front of your body and your hands are at some distance from the rest of your person, as you engage your client. You’re not arched away from your hands, but you’re not crammed in over top of them either: there is fluidity and strength flowing between you and your hands, through the soft angles of your arms, and the openness of your literal and energetic heart.

The temptation, as I see it, is effort. We often associate real effort with shoving ourselves over our client in an attempt to give them the pressure we think they want, or help both of us feel like Something Is Happening. (If they can hear you breathing heavily, it’s deep tissue!)
Rather, we ask our clients to meet us where our hands are: no more, no less. Deep Massage is not an altar call: it’s a polite knock on the door. “Attraction, not promotion,” is one of the Traditions of the Alcoholics Anonymous program: it’s true for us, too.
“I like that imagery,” said Susan, as she and I exchanged emails on the topic.”A gathering of y’self deeply through your heart, then meeting with your whole self through your hand-heart! The client then has an invitation to meet there with as much as they can.”

There’s another way of looking at this, where one considers the many meanings of “get behind.” There’s the physicality of it, but there’s also the emotional/relational aspect that can’t be ignored. What do we mean when we say we “get behind’ an individual, or an organization? Why, it means we support them. We believe in them. We are behind them, all the way.

In the same way, we get behind our work: we trust ourselves. This is sorely needed, especially if we feel betrayed or disappointed in any way by our practice: by the lack of income it has generated for us, or the panic we feel at not being sure we’re making a difference for our clients, or feeling inadequate when others seem to be doing better work or have a busier schedule…any time, basically, we’re consumed by doubt and push, to counteract our fears.
   Stepping back from your work – getting behind your work, with your body – is a chance for you to breathe, remember who you are, and develop faith in what’s happening. The only place it’s happening is under your hands. That’s a good, safe place to put your attention: where the work actually is. (“Working at interface” is the term I believe Zero Balance practitioners use.) You can respond to clients spontaneously, because you’re already right there.
   One of the most beautiful things about Deep Massage is how much respect it has for you as a practitioner. Truly, you are as valued as your client, as you learn the techniques and philosophy behind it. It practically feels self-indulgent, except you realize that by bearing in mind your own self while working, you truly have your client’s best interests at heart.
How relaxing is THAT?!
This blog was part two, of sorts, from the previous: “Love as technique

And He Laid His Hands Upon Them

I never wanted to be a massage therapist. There were many scattered, lively things inside me that massage therapy answered, so when I did find it I thought “Ah-haaaaa! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere!”

But as a career I wasn’t interested. Most I associated it with an intrinsic nurturing, healing mentality, which when I was first considering school – in my late 20s – I didn’t have an abundance of either. I got into massage therapy, quite frankly, because I hated the job I had. Pure and simple. (Working the high tech corridor outside Boston, sequestered in a cubicle for hours, bored and horrified me.)

The most beautiful occupation is the one that births you – the real you – to the world, so service doesn’t feel at all like a chore, but more effortless and relaxing than you ever thought possible. And that’s what massage therapy did for me. I have more compassion, patience, intuition and love now than when I started doing the work. I have not mastered any of these qualities but they are real energies in my life, which I can only attribute to my years of hoping they would show up for real.

Now my effort is in encouraging them, like helping small children grow. Doing massage therapy brings my deep, intrinsic qualities to the fore: the ones that are natal to every soul: the ones we all have, but forget.

I never set out to be a “healer” of any kind and still shrink from the title, should someone choose to dub me as such. What I do, for my job, is rub human bodies so they hurt less. To me, there’s nothing plush or magical or even ennobling in this: it’s basic human care, something we’ve been doing for each other for thousands of years, to help each other out.

My friend and colleague Rowan Blaisdell writes eloquently about this in his post “More About How I Got Here“:

I loved the idea of caring for another person in such a profound way. Before this I’m not sure I ever thought much about health care or healing. I don’t mean “Healing”, as in “I will Heal you”. I mean the kind of healing we all do each day (or should) for ourselves and those we love. The mending of hurts both physical and emotional.

And have you read the work of David Lauterstein? David’s writing and teaching have been hugely instrumental to me in not only becoming a better practitioner, but more curious and imaginative individual, filled with wonder. I don’t even know where to begin on how wonderful David’s writings are to me, except to share a portion which dovetails what Rowan said quite nicely : from Lauterstein’s seminal work, “Putting the Soul Back in the Body: A Manual of Imaginative Anatomy for Massage Therapists

Resting stroke: although not commonly taught as a stroke, what is meant here is just placing your hand on the person , making contact. It may be said to be the basic stroke of some disciplines such as polarity, Jin Shin Do, Reiki, etc. But it needn’t be esoteric. We all know how helpful a simple hand on the shoulder may feel when things get a little rough. That hand says “I care about you, I’m here, it’s going to be O.K. ”

At the beginning of each massage I use this stroke, not with the pretense of “Here’s Mr. Healer,” but simply as a way to introduce myself to the person’s body, oftentimes while we’re lightly conversing.”

The healing of massage happens, I feel, not because the practitioner has all the answers for this client, nor because the client has something wrong with them that has to be fixed. Healing happens with first contact, and lasts through the whole session, when both meet in that holy nexus of professional know-how and profound care.

In this way, yes, it is up to me to be the healer in session: but all that means is that I bring my best human qualities to the fore: being there, touching with consideration and compassion, listening deeply and well. Healing is a natural, effortless offshoot of this endeavor.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #16.

Be Still and Know

Sometimes we create intentional, interesting obstacles to what we know is good for us. Besides the obvious answers – resources scarce, time spent – we also prevent ourselves from partaking because we’re afraid. Afraid to relax: to lay down.

My friend Jen Clark Tinker had a horrifying experience when she was a young teen: stuck in mud, sinking in farther and farther, family out of hearing distance, and darkness fast approaching. She is a Christian, and so she prayed for help, and the Lord told her, “Lay down.” As she heeded this dubious, divine advice, it was the thing that saved her: by going belly-first in the muck, her weight was redistributed, thus allowing her feet to gradually lift up and out and free. She could then crawl to safety.

By lying down, her life was saved.

Right now, I can tell you that I am being given the same advice and I’m fighting it for the same reasons: it doesn’t make sense. The July heatwave in Maine has led to fitful sweaty rest, filled with husband snores and cat yowls and horny owls caterwauling in the trees outside our house. I am fatigued today, and saying only semi-coherent things to my clients. I have a spare hour! But I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: filled with an insatiable need to write, and also to just stretch out on my massage table (one of the perks of the biz: ideal set-up for catnapping) and have a snooze.

Kitty is resting...and waiting for inspiration. Or, maybe, just hoping I'll give her more kibble.

Olivia has the right idea. Resting, and waiting. Probably for kibble. But at ease, nonetheless.

The physical act of lying down means surrender. With so much to do, the thought of being still in repose, as a choice, appears an embarrassing waste of time. Behind the “I’m too busy” veneer there is a real fear that if we lie down, we’ll lose our edge, lose our chance. (Mary DeMuth’s “Chose Rest” addresses our need to fill our lives with activity.)

Lots of us, me included, want to marshal our forces as much as we can, for as long as we can, as hard as we can, to try to “get somewhere.” I blame it on the human condition: we are ambitious. And, from time immemorial, we have disliked being with ourselves. (The practice of meditation is hummityhummity years old? Thousands? We’ve been trying to get away from us for that long. At least.)

The first thing we start up in the morning is our phone or computer, and the tapping starts. It’s thrilling, addictive: the sense that you belong…no matter that it’s all pretend, folks (and I say this as a devoted Twitter and FB user, smartphoning away). I got into this line of work because I wanted to spend more time with souls than screens, but social media only feeds my instinctual hypervigilant, type A personality, and I’ve backslid. I have to put my phone away from me all the time, like someone trying to quit smoking who just can’t.

We’d far rather check in with — even a made-up reality? – before we check in with ourselves. It’s that bad.

So “Lay down” is not what we want to hear. We want to be rescued while we’re still flailing. We want to be told to just try a little harder and we’ll make it. We want everything we’ve been doing up to that point to have counted for something.

I don’t know about you, but I need help, climbing down from the cacophonous heights of aspiration and agenda, into cool pools of quiescence, where the Still Small Voice Within has a sparrow’s chance of being heard. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering wisdom or even poignant insight: I’ll even take just a small slice of silence to dial down my chattering, distracted, ego-driven mind. To quote lyrics from “Chicago: The Musical” – I can’t do it alone.

Massage therapy is an elemental bridge over troubled waters, the great vessel that conveys us from one reality to another, even if just for a brief while, and brings us back into our lives much better people, ready and able to grow and serve. It is the route around and past our reactive selves, into our basic humanity: touch, sensation, breath, rest.

Our need for this goes far beyond merely being blissed out. As a species, we are dying on the vine, naked shivering baby birds in the nest, crying out for food that either misses the mark or does not satisfy. Touch feeds. Touch sustains. Not just any touch: meaningful, intentional, professional, educated, and dare I say loving, touch. Massage therapists offer a prize meal: lay down. Receive. Arise, and go forth: stronger, clearer and renewed.

“Massage therapists turn out to be the mid-wives to the re-entry into the real world,” says David Lauterstein, and this requires recumbence, even when – especially when – it might not make sense. It might not save you any time. But it could save your life.

To hear Jen’s account firsthand, please give her first podcast a listen: “Where is God in the Muck?”

All of Me

Anatomy class teaches us about the body in hanks and steaks. Books diagram it out like an architectural drawing or a car parts catalog. It’s what makes us geeks, no matter how urbane or dreamily we carry ourselves: show us the latest renderings of suboccipitals, subscaps or splenius capitis and we slaver, ooh and ahh, frighten our partners (“WOW LOOK AT THIS!” “Eyooooo…”) and boggle our clients. It fascinates us from day one.

Who doesn’t find this part of our training totally electrifying? (hint: if the thought of studying anatomy for the rest of your days makes your eyes glaze over, massage therapy might not be for you.)

Sure, we have to know individual muscles and their groups; antagonists and protagonists; lines and spirals. But you can’t map an illustration, graphic, or even 3-D rendering onto a human. For one thing, unlike the books, when you’re massaging you can’t see what you’re working on. It may pop out under your hands, or you may have exceptionally good “finger eyes” (palpation clairvoyance, as I like to think of it) but not a single one of us gets to see anatomy.

What we see, as we gaze with adoration at our recumbent client, is skin. Everything else is guesswork. Educated, experienced, compassionate, inspired guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. This puts all bodywork practitioners –  from the CST to NMT – rather in the same boat.

For another thing, there are no parts to study, really. Check it out: there are no parts. There is no way you’re working just a piece. The very muscle you push your thumb into is enervated, juicy, swimming in chemicals, and has memories. That muscle talks up to your thumb, and out in a corresponding radius to everything around it, which might be the lunate and the ring finger, recently absent from its wedding band of 15 years. What is that telling you? Why are you thumping around the forearm, anyway? A thoughtful touch to the sternum and its attachments – a careful, brief gaze at the face, frozen in desperate sleep. Suddenly there is corporate work to be done, but you would not have caught on to what this session really means, if you were insisting on fixing a piece.

Yes, here’s the rhomboid and that hiccupy snarl where it gets hung up on my clients’ rib. (Maybe the nearby vertebrae is out of alignment. Maybe here is an old story: all of us got so pummeled on the playground, we all took spills out of the sled.) I can rub, tap, smooth, hold, and squash the snarl. However, however, however: there is a rib under this rhomboid. And mere millimeters deep to that is the body’s rain forest: a gorgeous, plumpy, sodden mesh of lung, alveoli glistening and sparkling with air and blood. Hormones, nutrients, waste products and alien life forms sloosh in perpetuity, like a battle scene from Battlestar Galactica.

I may be hyperfocused on the rhomboid, but let me consider what lies beneath, and beneath even that, where the person resides, both everywhere and nowhere inside this humble bug that lies swaddled in linens.

Whole volumes could and should and have been written of the fascia that binds and weaves every strand, from the freckles on the backs of our hands to the bile sleeping in our spleen. When we touch our client, fascia is the firm water of our body that makes the stone thrown into the far end of the pond somehow felt on the other shore. I try to avoid the ungracious act of only massaging feet, and missing out on scalp, or vice versa. Even if it’s only 30 seconds of contact, we know how it feels to either be wholly embraced or given the massage equivalent of a side hug. Why not take all of me?

Finally, when we study anatomy we understandably have confirmed for us that the seat of the human, the most important part of him or her, is on top. Brain. Talk. Everything that brings us to life comes from headquarters. Most ways we communicate also happen to be draped off the front of it.

But head does not equal person. It’s down front, and along the proscenium arch, but you do not have live theatre if you don’t have everything that’s upstage too, and up in the fly space, not to mention the tech and costume crew. When you take your client by the hand and you both walk into the Ganges of your session together, you get that bigger sense of everything (yourself included, I hope?) and suddenly – what fun – you don’t know where your client is.

So – name them. Susan, here you are in your hips. You are your knees. Susan I see you most clearly in your feet. Now with every finger of serratus anterior. There is no quadrant more or less important; no portion where your client cannot be found.

You might live forever. I might too.

Lately I have been meditating on organs. My Reiki training tells me there is no place healing energy cannot go, so I send it there. To my satisfaction, I have heard the happy sound of borborygmus and hyperpnea, if not right after I set my intention, then shortly thereafter.

If I’m called to the lowback, I am also praying for the guts, illiopsoas and anterior spine. I am not pushing aside everything that is around it. I am not pulling ridiculous stunts to get to it. I am seeing it as it is: fully guarded by the house of person. I hold my boundary and see, while respecting what I see and the house that surrounds it.

I think of my own spine and how it might feel to have the warmest, purest, gentlest, sweetest water pour down on the inside. Immediately my toes come alive, and stars burn bright.

I look at the books, I talk to colleagues, I take workshops (and long to take more) but the moment I, you, anyone sets their hands to work on another out of love and concern we are clothed in majesty, given powers beyond rational ken, and authorized. We can touch, which surpasses popularity, savoir faire or credentials. The simplicity of it angers the modern mind, yet cannot be denied.

Many thanks to David Lauterstein for the words “borborygmus” and “hyperpnea” and quite a few other things.