East Bay Massage: Naked, or How to Sit in a Chair

My boyfriend was making us dinner and asked me to grab the wine bottle opener from the drawer. I pulled out what I assumed was the right thing, but it was all complicated looking, not like the one I have at my house. It was all straight, with two leveled hooks and I couldn’t figure out how to use it.Then he was like, just peel the foil off, and flicked out this toothed blade and I got all overwhelmed. I felt really dumb– we needed wine, and in college, I once opened a bottle of wine with nothing more than a chopstick and a rubber glove! But this weird tool was freaking me out. I never take the foil off! Take the foil off? With this weird pokey thing?

And I felt like asking for help opening wine was like asking someone how to open a door, drink out of a cup, or sit in a chair. It should be pretty self-evident. Eventually I pleaded inadequacy and handed the bottle and his weird straight hooky thing back to him.

Months later, this whole event circled back into conversation. We were talking on the phone as he was opening a bottle of wine, and make a joke about how he was using the opener that I hated. You know what the problem is, I admitted, the problem is that I don’t know how to use one of those and what I need is for you to stand next to me and show me how to do it. I hate looking stupid– I need you to totally stand next to me, and be supportive. Like, hippie supportive. Like, close-talker, you’re-totally-groovy- just-the-way-you-are-even-if-you-don’t-know-how-to-sit-in-a-chair supportive. Here, go like this, bend your knees with me… and… sit! Awesome.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with older brothers who seemed able to do cool stuff long before I could walk properly– bike riding, tree climbing, woods exploring, tadpole and cricket catching, space travel, junior high… I guess I developed a complex about looking foolish and a fear of being either secretly or overtly dumb.

Rewind about four years to me, standing in my old kitchen with a friend who is a massage therapist. I was in a bad place in a lot of ways– dysfunctional marriage, post traumatic miscarriage, and overwhelmed by running a small child care business out of my 1000 square foot flat. But I had been doing research on somatic psychology and found out about Esalen massage. Then, in what I assume was a sign from the universe, a massage school I had never heard of before was offering a class in Esalen massage that started in two days and was a ten minute drive from my house. I signed up on the spot, and didn’t stop to think about what massage school would be like.

As in, you’re really naked a lot.

So as I stood there with my friend in my kitchen with lots of toddlers racing in circles around us, I asked: So, will I have to be naked all the time? And she smiled broadly and said, “Yes.” Hmmm… naked with a bunch of strangers… this might be weird… How naked are we talking here?

When I got to class, it was one of the first things we did. After a demonstration of the Long Stroke on a brave massage school veteran, we paired up and got to work on each other. The thing that’s difficult to articulate is the quality of the connection that developed within the class– it was absolutely hippie-supportive. While we were practicing, our teacher would come over, look into our faces and smile, stand parallel to us and make hands-on suggestions. It was the best kind of correction ever. Then he’d stand back, watch our technique for a second, give a thumbs up, and move on.

There was no shame. When we paired up, the one playing the client would undress behind a sheet that their partner held up for them with their head turned away. We weren’t lounging on divans eating grapes in the nude– we were learning together. We were learning a skill without the fear of being lame or dumb. Because then, you learn. 

I think having a place to go where I could be vulnerable and not feel bad about it was responsible for me becoming a massage school junkie. I fed off of safety. I thrived in learning the basics– and touch is as basic and as fundamental as it gets– with someone standing beside me, showing me how.

Who finds it difficult to sit in a chair? Well, sometimes someone who’s opened one too many bottles of wine, or else someone who desperately needs a massage. Either way, cheers! You’re totally perfect just the way you are.

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage! You’re a worthwhile human being.

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