Saturday, January 16, 2010


I love massages. I love couples massages. I love prenatal massages. I love professional massages. I love amateur massages. I love massages. So one of the best gifts Herb has ever given me was a membership to a massage place. A few weeks before Ryan was born, he had taken me there for a couples/prenatal massage as an early birthday present, and it was just wonderful, so I knew I would love my first membership massage this morning.

Now, for you poor souls unfamiliar with massage, it can be a little disconcerting at times, especially your first experience. First off, you're generally naked (or close to it), which makes you feel a little vulnerable to begin with. Then, you're laying on a table in a dark, empty room, which is also a bit of an odd, exposed feeling. Next, a complete stranger comes in and touches you all over. On paper, it all looks very weird and unappealing. Particularly when you add in all the bizarre contortion and unfamiliar noises your body may experience during the procedure. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This morning, I walked into the spa and was told by a very apologetic receptionist that one of the therapists had called in sick so they had rescheduled me with a different therapist. Not a problem; I'm not a regular and I didn't even know the therapist originally assigned to me. The receptionist told me I would be seeing Nyoki (name has been changed, mainly to protect me from any kind of lawsuit if someone who knows her reads this), and he was sure she would be an excellent fit for me. I heard the name Nyoki and pictured a tiny Japanese woman who weighed about 80 pounds and might end my massage by walking on my back. I imagined she would have a delicate touch and would have to throw her entire body weight behind her stretches to loosen my neck and hands. Ah, it would be lovely and relaxing. I closed my eyes for a moment, picturing the scene (and possibly dozing for a second. Did I mention it was an 8am appointment? That was all they had. THAT is how much I love massages.), then I heard a voice at my elbow. It was Nyoki.

She was not quite as I had envisioned. She was, in fact, both Japanese and female, but that was where the similarities ended. If there had been a Japanese woman on the 1986 East German Olympic swim team, she would have looked like Nyoki. She was about my height but outweighed me by a good 40 pounds, most of it in her shoulders. She had a mannish buzz cut and multiple piercings. I was a little relieved when she smiled, but I was still a bit intimidated as I followed her meekly into the massage room. She was surprisingly soft-spoken as she asked me a few pre-massage questions: How much pressure did I prefer? Did I have any areas she should focus on or avoid? Did I have any objections to stretching? What was the purpose of my visit today? By the time she finished the brief consultation I was relaxed and comfortable. She left me to disrobe and slip under the soft sheets on the warm table.

When she returned, she began the massage by working on my neck. As soon as she touched me she commented on how tight my neck was. I murmured some kind of response before snapping to attention as she dug her fingers into the muscles of my neck. I was amazed at the strength of her hands even as I imagined her ability to pop my head off my neck like a Barbie doll. But after those first few seconds of alarm, I could feel the muscle fibers at the base of my neck unkinking and untwisting. A few short moments of pain were followed by a warm, melting sensation as those strong fingers manipulated the taut muscles of my neck. I wasn't even alarmed when she took my head in both her hands and began to twist it. She might be about to snap my neck, I thought, but what a wonderfully calm and soothing way to die!

Once she had turned my head and neck into jelly (in a good way), she moved down to my feet. She carefully uncovered one leg from the knee down and tucked the warm sheet back around me like a cocoon. She took a moment to put some pleasant-smelling lotion on her hands and gently rubbed my foot for a few seconds before taking a tight grip on my heel and pulling my foot away from the rest of my body. The sensation was much more enjoyable than the hideous popping sounds that came from my ankle. She murmured the single word, "Wow", before reassuring me that such noises were perfectly normal. I may have grunted some kind of response; mostly I was wondering how many inches taller I was going to be after the session, between the neck stretching and now the ankle popping. I was even a bit disappointed when the other ankle yielded only a quiet little pop or two.

After the stretching came the contortions. My arms were as relaxed as cooked spaghetti by this time, but I was still astounded at how easily she bent them into pretzels across my body. If I could do that myself, I would never again have an itch I couldn't reach! I think I could have licked my own elbow in one of the positions she put me in. And the contortions continued when she had me roll over onto my stomach. Very casually she swung my arm down by my side, then continued to swing it straight up in the air over my head. I recalled my college anatomy course and tried to figure out how she could do that without dislocating my shoulder. Apparently massage is not governed by the laws of either physics or physiology. She increased the pressure until I was about to cry uncle (you're allowed to do that in massage) but then released it and with that release came a rush of endorphins or something that was like muscular Valium.

On it went for the full 50 minutes. She would manipulate some body part in a way that felt incredibly unnatural or even uncomfortable, but after a moment the sense of relaxation would come flooding in and suddenly it was the most natural thing in the world. When the session was over, I reluctantly got off the warm table and put my clothes back on, but I still felt like I was floating along in a little herbal-scented cloud of peace and tranquility. I stood taller, I walked more gracefully, I had a transcendent look on my face (or possibly a goofy, drunken grin; without a mirror it's hard to tell the difference).

So once again, my wonderful husband has hit the jackpot in the gift-giving department. Not only did I receive 50 minutes of physical soothing of my taut muscles, but I also received a full day of mental and emotional calm and relaxation. Hmm, I might just need to try that foot thing on him tonight! On second thought, it might be more of a gift to NOT try it.

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