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Everything Zen: More than a Massage
By Andi Chrisman
*Editor's Note: First appeared on Andi's website as well as On the Grid Zine.
Today I had an absolutely amazing experience that completely changed the way I felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually afterward: I got a thirty minute massage.
I’ve always been interested in getting a massage for the relaxation properties. I became more attracted to trying massage to help with my chronic shoulder problems. That’s its own story, but basically I’ve had two failed shoulder surgeries (Later-Jet Procedure, not Rotator Cuff). The first one, three months after the surgery, the screw and bone graft both broke after I had a panic attack at the dentist; the second surgery has never healed correctly. I have a lot of scar tissue in my shoulder along with severe osteoarthritis, at least for my age. This causes a lot of pain, an obvious lack of range: I can’t raise my arm over my head; this also effects my strength on my right side and I’ve lost some of my fine motor skills: writing is much more difficult, my handwriting is messier, and it’s significantly more painful to write than it used to be.
Massage was an attractive option, but let’s be realistic: I have a very limited income and regular massage therapy is out of my price range. At least I thought it was, until a friend and Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, David, was doing a lecture at a mental health event I was attending, and he mentioned that he found a massage therapist that works for donations. Immediately after the presentation, I told him I needed that name! So he e-mailed me a link to Sarah J. Thieme’s website Health and Body Works by Sarah.
I was somewhat weary of massage therapy for one reason: I’m not very good at doing nothing. I struggle to be mindful and staying mindful requires me to use a lot of my DBT skills to bring me back to mindfulness. So the idea of laying on a table doing nothing sounded scary. I once did a 30 min Reiki session for free and it was agonizing for me, emotionally. On Sarah’s website, I noticed she offered 15 minute massages, so I e-mailed her and scheduled my first massage. In our e-mails, I explained my shoulder issues and she said she believed she could help.
My first massage was painful. Sarah manipulated my shoulder, testing my range, feeling for trigger points, and using a generous amount of acupressure. Though it would hurt when she was actually doing it, I noticed some relief afterwards. She was liberal with the time and gave me more like a 20 minute massage. I went to pay her $20, while explaining I was on disability and money was tight, and she asked me, “Are you sure you want to pay twenty? Here, let’s do ten.” and handed me back one of my tens. We both agreed I would need a 30 minute massage next time to also work on my back, where I get a lot of tension.
After my first massage, I noticed an increase in range of motion as well as less frequent episodes of the pain shooting into my arm, which it does when the pain level is HIGH. Once I realized it was working, I scheduled the next massage for today.
Today I arrived and talked to Sarah for a few minutes. Once we were finished chatting, I undressed behind the screen and climbed onto the heated table, laying face up. She’s a professional, and I don’t care if she accidentally sees a portion of my breast, so I removed my bra as well, which she informed me the first time was up to my comfort level. I also took off my jeans, just for comfort’s sake. The table is heated and she agreed my jeans would have made me quite toasty.
When Sarah began to touch my shoulder and test my range, I felt my brain go “This again? No, that hurt! Shoulder, tense up!”. I had already had a stressful day already, dealing with multiple crisis early that morning, and a therapy session an hour before. Sarah talked me through breathing exercises and told me to tell my brain to let my shoulder relax. I did it, and slowly, my shoulder began to relax so she could work on it. It wasn’t nearly as painful as the previous time, but even when it was painful, I reminded myself that the pain wasn’t very intense, and it was necessary for the overall good of my shoulder.
While working on the front of my shoulder, I felt something moving inside my shoulder. I asked her what that was. “Scar tissue,” she explained. “It’s spreading out from the muscle I was just working on.” I’m used to strange movements inside my shoulder from before surgery, and it didn’t hurt, so we kept going.
I struggled to remain mindful. For one thing, I wanted to talk to Sarah–I like talking to people. But I felt it was better for my experience if I practiced mindfulness instead of chatting. I admit, I am proud of myself. Though my mind was jumping through a lot of thoughts, when I would catch my mind running away, I’d tuck that thought away for later and return to paying attention to my breath, the relaxing music, the chiming water bell, and the physical sensation of the massage.
During the moments of mindfulness, I was able to appreciate better how she was manipulating my shoulder and focus on the movement of her hands on my shoulder. When I noticed my mind wandering, I would ground myself again.
Sarah pulled up the blanket and asked me to roll over on my stomach. I put my face in the headrest. It was scented with a relaxing smelling oil like lavender, but I couldn’t place which scent it was. I re-positioned my head so I could breathe easier and Sarah worked on my shoulder from the back. Mindfulness was coming easier now, partially thanks to the scented oil, partially because it was less tense and tough in the back.
At one point, I could feel some more scar tissue moving where she was pressing. And then, to my complete surprise, the scar tissue split into two, smaller pieces! I told her how surprised I was, that I didn’t realize how medically beneficial this would be. She laughed and said that was the common idea for people in the West.
We talked a little more about the differences between Western and Eastern schools of thought, as David is Buddhist and has been sharing information with me on some of the history, language, and ideological differences between the cultures. She continued massaging as we talked, and when we were finished, I returned to practicing mindfulness.
She finished working on my shoulder and began to massage my back and I was immediately overcome with relaxation and mindfulness was no struggle. I was completely in the moment. It felt amazing. Multiple times, I told her to increase or decrease pressure or requested she stay longer on one area and she applauded my communication skills.
“Honestly, I’m proud of myself,” I admitted to her. “I struggle with setting boundaries and asking others for things, so it’s an achievement for me to actually ask for what I need.”
“Well, mental high five to you, I’m proud of you too!” she said softly enough not ruin the energy in the room, but with enough enthusiasm that I knew she was being honest.
Once we had adjusted the pressure and placement, my body just melted into the table, and my brain stopped thinking, and I was just there. In the moment, having this incredibly relaxing feeling spreading from wherever her hands were to the rest of my body. I struggle to find words to describe how I felt at the time…the only word that comes to mind isblissful. On my neck, lower back muscles, and sometimes without warning, I would moan or sigh in relief, feeling the tension exiting my muscles and dissipating into the universe. Multiple times Sarah asked if I was okay and I responded that I was very okay.
Sarah stopped and my thoughts came back on, with the first one being “Damn, it’s over”. I didn’t move because I was so relaxed that I couldn’t. I heard Sarah messing with something and a piece of hot cloth touched the back of my neck. “Is that too hot?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, though when she placed the towel down my whole spine I realized it was too hot. I was just about to speak up when she began massaging over the towel and the heat turn from burning to relaxing. For the last few minutes, she massaged my back while the towel slowly changed from hot, to warm, to lukewarm, when she took it off, pulled the sheet over my back, and told me I was finished and could get dressed when I was ready, while she went back to her desk to give me privacy to re-dress.
It took me a few minutes to get off the table. I was so relaxed and in the moment, it took time to regain my composure and get dressed again. Sarah and I talked, and I shared my experiences with mindfulness during the massage and she was happy I was able to become completely in the moment.
I paid her $30 this time, less than the standard rate, but she still asked me if I needed change. I said no, and thanked her again for having such flexible payments for people in my circumstance. She and I related strongly that we wanted to help people, that the money wasn’t the point, it was the fact that we were helping people who were suffering. We hugged and wished each other happy holidays, and I told her I would e-mail her to schedule my next appointment.
As I walked down the hall and out to my car, I realized I felt completely different than when I had gone in. I felt lighter, like gravity wasn’t holding me down as much as it had been. My mind felt cleansed and refreshed. I could feel a warmth running through my body and I imagined that I was probably glowing. My spirit had been rejuvenated. I left with a new energy that mocked the exhilaration I felt when I had had an amazing day. I drove home with a new calm washing over me. In the car, I tried to express my feelings out loud and realized that I needed to write this down.
So I did. And now you’ve read it.
#Real #Essay #OnTheGridZine #MassageTherapy #Spa #Rejuvenated
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