September 2, 2008

Massage: Meditation for the Body.

“An Essential Luxury,” from our Autumn 2005 issue.

Try this on for size: massage is to the body what meditation is to the mind. Both subtle yet profound practices work gently and cumulatively in ways we may not even notice. We needn’t do anything but breathe and come back to the present moment to experience their profound benefits.

I received my first massage years ago at a place with wind chimes hanging from the door and polymer clay fairies in the front room. The massage therapist talked about The Mists of Avalon for the entire hour while three harmonizing sound machines did their thing. Still, if someone had asked me to describe my experience that day, I would have replied, “It felt so good.” As simple as that. My muscles felt like warmed taffy, I had a great appetite and an excellent night’s sleep.

I’d always considered massage to be for the pampered among us—up there with manicures, mudbaths and seaweed wraps. Now, years after that first massage, I’m learning where that yummy feeling comes from—the therapist’s touch serving as interpreter for an uninterrupted communication between my body and my mind, helping us to tune into our body’s subtle signals, learning to instinctively know what it needs to reach a state of balance.

Massage gives our body the ability to settle down and function as it is meant to. Our body strives for “homeostasis,” an innate state of balance and health. The fact is, many of us are busy, lazy, multi-task addicted and touch-deprived (!), and our health is suffering. We may aggressively strive for health, but our actions may not be as beneficial as we may hope. Overriding the body’s innate health with our concepts or culture may do more harm than good. Time spent on a massage table is time spent acquainting us with this intuition, just as spending time on the meditation cushion allows us to cultivate an earthy friendship with ourselves.

From this ground we can begin to allow life to just happen. We no longer need to manipulate our internal and external worlds like a puppet show. Think about it: by breathing into sore muscles and allowing our therapist to loosen tight spots, we may come back to the present—and carry that space into the world. The little things no longer faze us. Personally-speaking, this is the state of being I yearn for. We need not try so hard and our overworked brains have permission to relax.

So while we may know it as a luxury, massage could also be seen to be essential. Like meditation for the mind, it’s maintenance work for the body—relieving stress, encouraging homeostasis, increasing our ability to listen to the nuances of our body and transforming the aches and pains that may become illness into informative road signs and beautiful guides.

Heather Campbell Grimes is a graduate of Colorado School of Healing Arts. Her favorite color is the cobalt of the sky at dusk.

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