Aye, There’s the Rub


Elissa’s parents treated me to a massage at the hotel’s spa, and I found the experience SO intriguing that after it concluded, I had to scurry up to our room and type about it. Because I’m a total nerd. Massage is nothing new to me, let me make that clear from the outset: When my brother and I were young and living in Arizona, my dad use to pay us 50 cents per half hour to rub his shoulders and feet. I will definitely keep this tradition going, as growing boys have tons of energy and no money. I will augment the effect by not providing my kids with allowance.

Also, massage has always played a part of professing intimacy in my family. My mom or aunts or father or uncles always come up behind me to give my shoulders a sort of how-ya-doin’ 30 second rub. Also, we know that humans pine for tactile recognition. Babies goo and gah at any sort of touch, and the elderly infirm take your hand in both of theirs when they speak with you. So, it’s safe to say that touch = mostly good.

I bring up why people like touch in order to better convey why I like the occasional massage. This ought to be an assertion (that I like massage) that needs no further explication. Of course I like massage, who doesn’t? It’s relaxing and relieves stress. However, oddly enough, I don’t find massage all that relaxing or stress reducing. In fact, to me, a tall glass of orange juice is both more relaxing and stress reducing than any massage I’ve ever had. I like massage because of the intrigue–less international, spy kind, and more botanist or entomologist.

Massage is interesting for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it is an odd social ritual in which one stranger labors extravagantly over another in a very intimate and private way, although (in most cases) the tryst does not become sexual. Secondly, if you pay attention during a massage, you will learn quite a bit about yourself that cannot be easily expressed in words. I mean not only your physical make-up (“I didn’t even know I had a muscle there!”), and not only the way in which you capture and store stress, but the way in which your body harmonizes healing pain (not sure what I’m on about? see: cannot be easily expressed in words). Thirdly, it is one of the many sciences we discredit.

A word about this discrediting. My masseuss, let’s call her V., studied first as an herbologist. Herbologists practice botanical medicine and unlike other, “real” doctors, are on constant vigil for police raids. In herbology, it is very easy to cross the line between FDA approved and not so much. While masseuses rarely transgress legal boundaries (e.g., happy endings), they do share in common with herbologists the stigma of not practicing proper medicine. This is ironic, given that herbal remedies and regimented massage are often prescriptions made by “real” doctors. In any event.

Some of the things V. told me were really interesting and prompted this blog post. She explained that in her practice, she can actually feel the difference between emotional, physical, and mental stress. Mental stress shows itself as a lack of circulation, the feeling that someone is hard as stone. Physical stress presents as knotted muscles and is the layperson’s understanding of the problem that necessitates massage in the first place. Emotional stress, the little devil, is kept in places that no one ever touches: the pit of the arms, the sides or lovehandles, etc. It is these emotional pockets that give masseuses the most trouble. When worked out, these pockets can lead to a release of anger, feelings of euphoria, or a full-on emotional breakdown, complete with blubbering.

Additionally, V. opined (as a former professional editor, I have license to use unorthodox words like opined without the slightest hint of irony) that people do not know how to relax. It is not something we are used to, and it is not something many of us have an instinct for. We will tighten our muscle, grit our teeth, hum (yes, hum), or talk a rainstorm in order to not fully engage with the experience. She did add a caveat, since I was asking questions the whole time (a silly habit I picked up from being a staffing agent). She added that while I talked in a general “chatty” way, it didn’t seem to lessen my relaxation. However, many people will talk in an effort to ignore the pain or ticklishness or discomfort they feel. I can deduce, then, that to V. relaxation involves an embracing of the moment rather than an ignoring of the moment as we traditionally think of relaxing (“Turn off that music, I’m trying to relax!”).

Finally, V. believes that in almost every case, ticklishness is a sign of overstressed and overtightened muscles. She believes that only the pads of the feet are truly ticklish. So, if you’re ticklish, go get a massage. Or, if you are like me, do what I do: tape round stones all over yourself and then roll yourself down a gently sloping hill.


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