A month ago in Dubai, I had the deepest massage of my life.
As the massage therapist stretched, pulled, and pressed on my sore exhausted flesh, I immediately knew this massage was different.
Like so many of us, I often walk around somewhere up in my head and barely notice my feet meeting the earth. This tendency to live in my mind is what compelled me to play competitive sports as a child, then find yoga and dance as an adult.
Although my habit is to live up in my comfy cerebral space, my body craves being lived in. Sometimes vigorously, but mostly just actively, even if it happens in fits and spurts. I’ll spend days not doing much intentional movement and then I’ll get the itch and dream of running—sprinting down my street. Or I’ll get the taste of cobwebs on my skin and I need to move. Now. Jump. Stretch. Shimmy. Climb something until my chest heaves and sweat makes dusty rivulets down my legs.
I love massage and I’ve had my fair share of them—in seven different countries. I adore the ritual. I crave the therapeutic benefits. I need the relaxation. I cherish the self-care.
My mother introduced me to the magic of massage when I was a teenager. After getting professional massages together as a birthday treat, my mom decided on a whim to buy a massage table. Her intention was to give me and my brothers all the benefits of massage from the comforts and ease of home.
I can remember one sunny summer day she set the table up in the grass of our backyard and gave each of us a sugar scrub rub that ended with a run through the sprinkler. Unfortunately her dream was short lived. She had no real idea how to give massage and no intention to learn, but her passion for giving us positive loving touch was the most important gift.
While cocooned in the plush sheets on the heated massage table in Dubai, I realized the difference between this massage and every other massage I’ve ever had. This time, I was being physically crammed back into my body. In the midst of creaking ribs and touch that felt like it could reach my spleen, my mind finally migrated down into my neglected skin.
And it was glorious.
We often take our bodies for granted. Especially with the advent of digital everything. They’re good at getting us from A to B, sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and sitting in front of the television. It’s easy to forget what wellness and wholeness actually feel like.
Five months ago I gave birth to a happy, healthy, beautiful baby. My labor and birth were natural, quick, and I hate to say it—easy. It was the most embodying moment of my life.
And then parenting set in.
Exhaustion. The kind that steals names of life-long friends and days of the week.
In the midst of breastfeeding around the clock and slowly easing into my postpartum body, I retreated back up into my familiar head space. The sleepless nights—and days—led to blurry cuddle-filled weeks where the most active thing I did was walk up and down the stairs with baskets filled with baby laundry.
It wasn’t until the massage therapist was successfully chasing down each knot and achy muscle in my tender back did I realize I had been on body autopilot for months.
We can all benefit from positive loving touch as a way to bring ourselves back into our bodies. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder and sometimes like me, we need deep pressure to reboot and wake up the parasympathetic nervous system.
Deep pressure massage has been used beneficially for those on the Autism spectrum with sensory needs and is important in early childhood development.
Learning the physical boundaries and limitations of our bodies through physical pressure helps us define who we are and create our sense of self. Practices of embodying bodily process like Authentic Movement and Contact Improvisation are great ways to step out of the mind and into the body and experience self through physical movement with others.
After my massage in Dubai, I can feel my feet more firmly underneath me, and I find myself breathing deeper. I feel like I once again inhabit my body—I’m not just hitching a ride anymore.
I know I’ll inevitably retreat back up into my head again, but when I do—I’ll happily be making a massage appointment with one of my favorite therapists to help ease me back into my body.
The universal joke that we all eventually become our parents is eerily true sometimes. Although I’m not going to go out and buy a massage table anytime soon, I do give my little one baby massages after each bath time. My hope is that he’ll learn and grow with the benefits of positive loving touch and will love the myriad benefits of massage as much as I do.
Author: Kenni Linden
Image: Author’s own; John Haynes/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson