A recent New York Times article took an interesting perspective on why massage is good for us. The author was given an assignment to try out as many local massage therapists as possible, and to review his experience receiving bodywork (way to go, NYT!).
What I appreciated the most about John Jeremiah Sullivan’s article was the insight into his personal experience as a client receiving bodywork. Oftentimes, we massage therapists and holistic health educators are quick to cite all the many physiological health benefits of massage. Lowering blood pressure, increasing lymph flow, immune system boost, increasing range of motion, decreasing aches and pains– these are all legitimate, medically proven benefits to receiving bodywork.
Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate the other piece– that making an appointment for a massage is making time to take our attention, so often outwardly focused on accomplishing tasks, maintaining personal or professional relationships, processing information about events in our communities or around the world, politics, projects at home or at work, etc., etc., etc., and turn that attention inward. In this way, we can experience the anatomy of emotion as it resides inside us. Sullivan says:
After all, even if there’s something inherently funny about massage, down to the very word, massage, there’s also something unavoidably intense about paying that much attention to your body, not as an abstract concept but as the physical dying fact of it, lying in all its animality like a study by Lucian Freud. At certain moments I missed my old mode, which was to proceed as if I had no body at all…
In order to tolerate sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, not including that commute to and from work, it may require a little bit of droning out the messages from our body. In order to comply with societal norms, we are taught from a very young age to sit still, to complete tasks, to take things in passively. To accomplish this, we have to learn how to either manage our lives to include other opportunities for movement or for mindful stillness, or (commonly) we have to learn how to play by the rules and shut out messages from the body. This often to our detriment.
One recent client described to me how she had been working a string of 12 hour days, taking only two breaks a day to use the restroom. This kind of living pulls the life energy upwards from the body and fuels the brain, privileging its functions and awareness over the intelligence found throughout the body. We are amazing creatures, capable of such focus and will! But it’s important to give ourselves the opportunity to rest and to notice our own aliveness.
While receiving craniosacral therapy, the author also noted:
Whether something was being effected through the laying on of hands, perhaps through some unknown mechanism of the physical world, I can’t say. It seemed to matter less and less. Maybe that’s what massage is to a lot of people, those who don’t have chronic pain or migraines — it’s enforced meditation for those of us too distracted to meditate. You’re paying someone to meditate you. It’s not anything they’re doing, necessarily. It’s that they open a little window. They give you an excuse to lie there in silence and pay a deeper attention to the fact that you exist. The true value of shamanism may be a concealed one, that it holds us in place and says this.
Holistic health, a concept that includes a multiplicity of perspectives on health, includes this piece. Not only are we bodies with aches and pains, rheumatoid arthirits, or migraines, we are alive creatures, sensate beings that process the world around us. We are in relationship with the world, and we are in relationship with ourselves. Sometimes the greatest therapeutic benefit of massage is simply the opportunity it gives us to notice that we exist.
Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage.