Massage can be the most pleasurable, and often the most direct, means of reminding us that we are physical beings. If you’re a professional athlete, or a person whose life is defined by chronic pain, you may not need a reminder of this. If your body already is your focus, your all-consuming center, then you already know this. You’re the choir I don’t need to preach to.
For most of us though, for the masses of us who spend our days “in our heads,” the situation is much different. For the writers, researchers, pundits, artists, online entrepreneurs—I haven’t even begun to mention them all— whose livelihood is dependent upon, indeed chained, to the desk and the computer, the emphasis is elsewhere. For the employees whose careers seem to hinge on achieving a mind-meld with supervisors or executives, the teachers who are dedicated to trying valiantly every day to get into those little heads, for the parents, even of toddlers, who exhaust themselves in pursuit of molding minds and personalities, our work seems to be all above the neck. Our bodies often seem like little more than the flesh and bone wagon that moves our brains, our intellect, from one challenge to another.
Yet we all know what happens when the body fails. While we identify with the sufferings of diseases like Alzheimer’s where the weakening mind gets trapped in the still-functional body, the reality is very different. Most of us succumb to ailments of the body. We die of heart attack, cancer, and diabetes. We kill each other, and ourselves, because we can’t deal with the stresses generated in our minds, far more so than those that come down on our bodies.
Now, all of this seems—and indeed, it is! – a rather heavy introduction to a blog post about massage. But I’m not trying to sensationalize my subject. Rather I’m trying to invest it with high seriousness. I’d like you to think about trying massage for its very serious and surprisingly therapeutic mental and physical benefits. Here are a couple of ideas, possibly novel ones, which I’d like you to digest.
Your Massage is Meditation
Yes, it is. And I’m serious about this. I know that I don’t need to lecture anyone on the benefits of meditation. For millennia the wisdom of the East has offered us techniques for encouraging and developing concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calmer vision of the true nature of things. Lots of us in the West have discovered the value of meditation, too. More of us are planning to try it. Someday.
If you’re one of those people, a professional massage can be your first experience with this ancient practice. I know that it was for me. I’d been reading about meditation. About the breathing, especially, and about how, if not the breath, one must focus on something, on anything really, in order to get your self out of yourself. The idea, as I understood it, was to not think. It was just to be!
(You’ll have to forgive me here, because I am only explaining this in the way I encountered it. But I’m guessing there are others who encountered it the same way.)
I tried. I failed. I tried again. Eventually I came to the realization that it wasn’t really about breathing. It was about being, as they say, “in the moment.” About simply being present. I learned, and you can, too, that there’s nothing like a soothing massage for doing just that.
As a matter of solid fact, it’s very difficult to not be in the moment while you’re experiencing a pleasant massage. You can try, of course. You can worry, if you’d like, about your child’s cheerleading try-outs, about your spouse’s new business venture, about grandpa’s failing health, about the bills . . . but sooner or later you won’t be able to escape the Zen-like experience of being in the moment. Sooner or later, the touch, the pressure, the slight pain discovered when a sensitive or damaged area is found, will bring you right back to your body. It’s very hard, under the skilled hands of a skilled practitioner, to stay in your head. As a meditative practice, massage has an amazing capacity for putting you in the present moment, allowing to you to relax and focus inwardly, to discover the blissful meaning of what it is to just “be.”
Your Massage Goes Home with You
If you’re frugal, like I am, you’re likely to have a bit of trouble dealing with the idea of paying for something that is not only seems so self-indulgent but that doesn’t, when all is said and done, even render anything tangible. There’s no shopping bag to take home. Nothing to put away in the pantry or garage. But something—and I’m guessing, a lot!—of the therapeutic benefits of your massage experience will linger. You’ll take it away not just in an increased sense of calm and well-being, but in more relaxed muscles, increased blood and lymph circulation, heightened concentration, improved cardiovascular and immune system health, and—one of my favorite benefits—a surprisingly enhanced range of motion. (I love it when, after a massage, our clients stop to show us how they can reach and twist without pain!) Over time, and with a periodic regime of therapeutic massage, these benefits will accrue. To you, and to everyone else who benefits from your improved well-being.
You Get to Judge
When everything is said and done, the therapeutic value of massage is relative, but very personal. It depends. It depends on whether or not the experience has helped you to discover the calming, healing effects of being in the moment. It depends upon whether or not you’re more relaxed, more centered, more able to encounter those continual challenges that occur in our heads. It depends upon whether or not, when your mind returns to those blissful moments of being touched, prodded, soothed, by a caring professional—someone who has decided that this life work is a good and valuable endeavor—you feel that your time, and money, has been well spent. It depends, finally, on whether or not you decide that you, and the family members who benefit too, are worth it. I’m betting that you will. I’m betting that you’ll find, especially if you’re a first time client, more valuable therapy in that lovely massage than you ever could have expected!