More than 20 years ago, Tom gave me a gift certificate for an hour-long massage as an anniversary gift. I'd never had a professional massage before. (Women don't count the one-handed massages men sometimes give while holding the remote with their other hand.)
I was intrigued but didn't know how to feel about it. A massage? The concept felt so far removed from my small-town upbringing. Who did I think I was? The Queen of Fancyland? One of the Real Housewives of Shallow County? If I got a massage, where would that kind of decadence lead? Peeled grapes and fur coats?
Curious and nervous, I scheduled the massage. But when the day came, I wondered if I had the nerve to stretch out mostly naked on a table and let a total stranger rub my back with warm oil.
As it turns out, I could, and I did. And it was glorious. Skilled hands unraveled the tense knots in my shoulders and sent my overactive mind into a floaty, peaceful place somewhere between awake and asleep. For the next decade or so, I got a massage when budget and time allowed and was always glad when I could.
But like most people, I didn't schedule appointments during the pandemic unless I had to. Then, two of our three kids started college, and massage money moved over while tuition took its place. I found a hundred other things I "needed" to do instead of getting a massage.
Then last week, after an idiotic attempt to rearrange furniture by myself, I felt a lightning bolt of pain shoot up my lower back. Even small movements triggered it. I tried lying flat on the floor. Taking ibuprofen. Ice and then heat. Stretching. Holding still. Whining. Self-pity. Nothing worked, and the chiropractor couldn't fit me in for two weeks.
Stubborn practicality had kept me off a massage table for years, but pain sent me skidding back as fast as I could get an appointment.
Most people agree that the right therapist makes all the difference, and the best ones take cues from their clients. So, a quiet client will usually get a quiet massage, which is the kind I like best because it gives my mind time to slow and settle. (I once had a chatty masseuse who boasted about her knowledge of the human anatomy so much that she uttered the word "rectum" during my massage – a surefire way to make a client feel uptight and never come back.)
But a smart, skilled therapist is pure magic. Massage can sometimes be the best medicine, and the only side effect is a new appreciation for the power of touch. Even Mayo Clinic experts agree, saying massage therapy can decrease joint inflammation, muscle stiffness, and stress while improving sleep, circulation, and the body's immune response.
For me and my screaming back, it was transformative. I walked in there feeling like a stiff lasagna noodle with crimped, ruffled edges. But after the first 10 minutes of massage, I softened into a piece of languid linguini – smooth and even, warm and floating. The stress I'd stockpiled in my muscles began to work its way out as relief rushed in.
The experience reminded me of something I said in last week's column but often forget to apply to myself: "People are a good use of time," and you and I are people, too. We shouldn't always be last on our own list (or not even on it at all). Even during a hectic holiday season, I hope we all carve out some time to restore ourselves – body, mind, and soul.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.