Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to receive massage

People laugh at me when I say there's a learning curve involved in receiving massage. I mean really, how hard can it be?

In my society, particularly in this city where we are crazy, overworked, and constantly stressed out, relaxation is an alien concept. Letting go, sinking into physical sensation, relinquishing the idea of being productive is damn hard for many, and yet this is what's required in order to benefit from a therapeutic massage.

Even clients who wish very much for an hour of peace find it difficult to become quiet and serene. I have clients who talk throughout their sessions, something I find so puzzling. It's their hour, so they should do as they please, but - are they trying to entertain me? Distract themselves from the process so they don't actually have to relax completely? You tell me. I don't get it.

Many clients are proactive; they turn over before I've had a chance to adjust the face rest or move the pillow from beneath their knees. They lift their arms when they know I'm about to reach underneath to scoop their shoulder blades with my fingertips, or present their fingers to me, one after the other, as I work on their hands. These people suffer from chronic anxiety, I guess, or are overwhelmed by a need to control every situation. It makes me sad.

I'm not talking about everyone by the way. I do have clients who are excellent receivers of massage. Inevitably these people are not beginners. They have learned, over time, how to dial their nervous systems down a notch or two. They get their money's worth from their sessions.

If you are among those who have trouble sinking into the table and letting the massage unfold, here's what I would suggest:

1. Give yourself time both before and after the massage. On your way to the appointment, slow down, take some deep breaths, let go of your concerns and plans. You can get back into hyper productive mode later. On your way to a massage, do not make business calls or try to cram a bunch of errands into your schedule. Try not to race down the street. Stroll, gaze at the sky, stop to smell the roses. In this way you can prepare to relax.

2. On the table, don't talk. Listen to the music or nature sounds and let your attention wander. Daydream or notice what's going on for you physically. If your massage therapist is talking, ask her to please stop. Try not to anticipate what's going to happen next. Let the therapist guide you. Breathe. Let go. If your therapist does anything that makes you uncomfortable, speak up. Massage is not supposed to hurt. A "perfect" massage (no such thing) entails the receiver surfing the hedonic edge, experiencing lots of sensation, flow and release, but not pain.

3. Afterwards, take your time. Take your time getting dressed, take your time walking away from your appointment. Take a half hour after your massage to continue the process of relaxation. Drink water, refuse to be in a hurry. Plunging directly back into work will detract from the benefits of your session, I promise you. Try not to be in a hurry. Just try, please?

There are many varieties of bodywork. What I'm talking about in this post is therapeutic massage. Situations like "mall massage" - an oxymoron if I ever heard one - is a very different thing. You can go into a mall massage completely stressed out and rushed, and walk away from it in the same condition. The technician who works on you can possibly get some blood flowing through your neck and shoulders during the 10 minutes she works on you, but this is NOT a therapeutic massage.

There are massage therapists who believe that pain is an inevitable part of every session. These people make it possible for their clients to hang on for dear life to their beloved tension by using too much pressure. The client remains tense while the therapist pushes harder and harder. It's like a battle between therapist and client. Hence the massage hurts. There will be soreness afterwards, even bruising sometimes. There are massage therapists who will purposely hurt you. It's a very weird, macho approach that makes no sense to me.

If you're willing to breathe, take your time, and truly settle into the table, you can, over time, teach yourself how to relax. That skill is great in many circumstances, such as when you can't sleep, or when you're trying to have fun but you're so preoccupied with your stress that you can't let down. Learning how to get quiet and relax will help you become a better listener which is a great (and unusual) skill. In a state of relaxation the body can engage in a number of minor repairs that are not possible when we are in a state of agitation or even if we do nothing more than thinking ahead to what's next. In that state, energy goes to the muscles in anticipation of movement, not for repairs.

Only while relaxed can we digest. Indigestion and reflux are often the result of living life in the fast lane. There are so many benefits to relaxation. So many!

Learning to receive massage will not only benefit you during your session, but throughout the rest of your day. Over time the benefits will stretch out over a period of days. It is well worth the effort to learn how to relax. Believe me.

May all beings be peaceful, may it be so. Shalom.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How much is too much?

One of my great teachers used to say that all food is both medicine and poison, depending on the situation, the person ingesting, and the quantity eaten at any given time. This resonates as truth (whatever truth is) at every level.

I don't believe there are foods that are good for everyone, though I do believe there are foods that are bad for everyone. I'm talking about junk food here - over processed, partially hydrogenated, high fructose corn syrup laden, GMO modified food that has been sitting too long in a warehouse or a freezer.

But that's not what I want to write about today. As a result of reading some of Aleister Crowley's writing, after a lifetime of avoiding his work, I'm thinking about how perilous it is to try to connect too deeply to the divine mysteries. He was, as it turns out, incredibly brilliant, and yes indeed he tuned in at a very deep level to that which is just out of reach for most folks. But he went too far into it and it did him no good.

Everyone has access to connection with the divine, life-giving light/mystery. You can be a fundamentalist atheist and yet still experience wonder at a beautiful sunset for instance, or the depth of love you feel for your nearests and dearests. According to my cosmology, this kind of experience is the essence of connection with what I call the divine.

Artists, writers, musicians, athletes and dancers find access through their work. When they connect, they are blissful, in the flow. When they can't access the divine light, they despair. Indeed, divine light is kind of addictive.

Those who bathe too often in divine light inevitably develop physical and mental problems. Mystics are famous for their respiratory problems, for instance. Show me a mystic and I'll show you a person with asthma or respiratory allergies, or other chronic problems. I am among that group, by the way.

This is not meant to be a cautionary post. I'm not suggesting we eschew the divine light. That's not good either. Nor am I saying that we mystics (because I am a mystic) can blame every mental or physical symptom on the divine. That wouldn't be fair!

What I'm saying is that the Tao of Goldilocks applies universally. A pinch of connection to the divine light is a great, vivifying, life giving experience. Questions about the mysteries are great, but if you think you've found the answers, or that you must find the answers, that is not a good sign. Too much of that light and too much certainty can lead to a situation in which people end up running through the streets naked, writing beautiful poetry perhaps, but completely incapable of taking care of themselves, like the famous Indian poet Mirabai.

Or they channel the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians but get so twisted because of the overexposure that they turn out like Aleister Crowley.

For your health and wellbeing, please, just a spoonful of divine light. Dance with the questions, but forget the idea of finding answers.Yes? I say yes.


Poor Uncle Aleister

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Emperor has no Clothes

I have a problem with religious devotion to scientific studies. In fact, I have a few problems with any faith-based approach that disavows us of common sense.

Why am I on about this today? I heard a story on NPR this morning about reflux. They reported that some people falsely believe (my emphasis) certain foods cause reflux. Why is this belief false? In fact it is true. If you eat something and subsequently develop reflux, that's pretty solid evidence. When I eat yeasty bread, I get heartburn. Do I need a study before I stop eating yeasty bread? I do not.

If there is no definitive study proving something is true, the assumption we come away with is that it doesn't exist. It's not the science. Real scientists are endlessly curious. They know that what's "true" today could all change tomorrow as the result of learning something new. That's one thing I love about science. Real science involves understanding that truth is not fixed.

It's the thought form science conveys to we laypeople that points us in the wrong direction. We like to think that scientists are smarter than we are. They know what they're talking about. We begin to believe the conclusions arrived at after studies as The Truth. Everything else, including our own experience, is false.

If there isn't a study that says so, our symptoms and reactions to foods aren't real? That's crazy. Studies refer to statistics, not to individuals. You are not a statistic! Nor am I.

The first sad step away from good health is a tendency to ignore symptoms and changes in our own bodies, for whatever reasons. When we defer to the ubiquitous study or to those we perceive to be higher authorities, we surrender the ability to be discerning, to notice, and to trust our unique, complicated bodies. The most brilliant medical practitioners in the world can not tell you what you're feeling internally. Only you can do that. Only you.

For a long time I clipped newspaper and magazine stories about absurdly useless studies, such as lengthy, expensive studies that proved children who eat nutritious breakfasts are less likely to fall asleep in school than those who skip breakfast. They needed to conduct a study to prove that? Good lord.

May you pay close attention to the needs of your miraculous body today and every day. All the symptoms, the shifts and changes you feel in your body - all of them are very real. Very. It is respectful to acknowledge, to listen and feel. Studies are interesting but not definitive for individuals.

To your good health. Shalom.