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Friends in Knead

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For the uninitiated, the idea of getting a massage can set off an inner flashing red light signaling the “no-go” zone. That has kept some very deserving folks from receiving this nurturing, healing form of bodywork.

Everybody “deserves” to receive therapeutic massage, in one (or many!) of its myriad forms. What exactly is it? It is not a creepy sexual flirtation, nor a whack-on-the-back assault like boxers are shown receiving in the movies. It is a form of bodywork whose practitioners work within carefully defined boundaries of behavior (and expect their clients to do the same). As defined by the American Massage Therapy Association, “massage is a manual [meaning, using the hands] soft tissue manipulation, and includes holding, causing movement, and/or applying pressure to the body.” Its trained and licensed practitioners are called massage therapists. They are specifically trained in these techniques, as well as “adjunctive therapies, with the intention of positively affecting the health and well-being of the client.”

What manual manipulations are we talking about? They vary immensely, and a good massage therapist will incorporate what seems right for each client, at each specific visit, for each area of the body. Some techniques include: slow strokes and deep finger pressure to release chronic patterns of tension in muscles, tendons, and connective tissue (deep massage); long strokes, kneading, and friction techniques on the more superficial layers of the muscles, combined with active and passive movements of the joints (Swedish massage); concentrated finger pressure on “trigger points” (painful irritated areas in muscles) to break cycles of spasm and pain (trigger point or myotherapy/neuromuscular therapy); and massage based around a system of points in the hands and feet thought to correspond, or “reflex,” to all areas of the body (reflexology).

When treated this way, the body relaxes. Breathing deepens. Blood and lymph flow spreads fully into neglected limbs, buns, and backs. Toxins are worked out. Stiff joints loosen and movement broadens. Muscle knots and spasms melt away. Your body feels fully alive. And those are just the physical benefits. Massage can reach into emotional and even spiritual planes, as we step for a moment out of a crazed, contact-phobic world and get one of our primal needs met: nurturing touch. In addition, massage therapists know how to create atmosphere: gentle lighting, enchanting aromas, peaceful sounds, warm blankets.

Massage therapy practitioners are, thankfully, more abundant than ever. How do you choose one? First, look for someone who is licensed (an LMT). Then, seek someone with whom you sense a good personal connection. Janice DiGiovanni, a physical therapist and a massage therapist at Bodhi Massage in Hudson—as well as an avid massage recipient—explains, “What I really like about massage is finding the right therapist. Certain people can just totally connect with my body. I’ll give them a little overview of what bothers me, and then they can really find what my body needs from what I’m feeling. Not everyone can do that. A good massage therapist works intuitively with the client and can tell what the body needs.” There should be caring, trust, and connection—all things that are for your benefit, not the therapist’s, and always offered to you but never forced. A good therapist encourages feedback about what is and isn’t working for you. The first visit should include discussion of your health and medical history, your questions about massage, and, if it seems appropriate, what personal issues you are dealing with.

So shop around, try a few different massage therapists, and you’ll find the right one(s) for you. Then you’ll have massage stories like the ones that follow, contributed by happy massage recipients in our community.

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When I receive massage, a slow warm touch relieves my body of tension and stress, while healing my mind of daily chaos. That total relaxation, and the attention to over-stressed and overworked muscles, brings me to a renewed level of health. It completely reconnects my mind, body, and soul to the earth on which I stand. When I give massage as a massage therapist, I fully believe that to give is to receive. My total focus is always completely on my client. My workspace is clean, soft, and very inviting. My treatments are given solely by candlelight; nonlyric music softly fills the room. I am centered, grounded, and nothing but positive energy is released from my touch, to the mind, body, and soul of my receiving client. Giving massage is truly a spiritual experience that hopefully is transferred to my client.

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I first went to a massage therapist because I was so stressed, and had been for a few years, [so much so] that I had lost the ability to take a deep breath! I couldn’t get to that satisfying point you feel when your lungs have expanded to their innate ability. The problem was not about lungs, it was about chronically tensed muscles in my chest and neck. Massage—actually, the entire massage experience—gave me back that natural and necessary function. It was partly the attention given specifically to those poor overly tight muscles around my rib cage and shoulders. But just as helpful was the hour of major “time out” from my regular mode of hassle. Only at the massage therapist’s did I ever take an hour to simply rest, to listen to dreamy music, to enjoy the aromas of essential oils and the calming flicker of candlelight in the daytime. And all of that was prepared for me! It was amazing that someone would invest such creativity and attention for my well being—especially at a time when I was running myself ragged in many ways. So beyond the physical aid I got, massage opened an entirely new view of how I could be taking care of myself. And I’ve been doing those things for myself over the years—I even discovered on the massage table simple things like the comfort of a pillow under my knees when lying on my back. But—there’s still nothing like having a massage and someone else take care of you that way!

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I get massaged once a month. It really helps my neck and shoulders, with the job I do. I make an appointment for no less than an hour and a half—anything shorter is a tease! You feel wonderful—it works out all the knots, your shoulders go back to where they belong. The very first massage I had was when my husband gave me a day-at-the-spa package, with a massage, facial, and so on. At that point, I realized this is a very good thing. I was recently on a cruise; I end up getting about three while on a cruise. They weren’t exactly the same as the ones I get now—but they still were nice.

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Before I got pregnant, I planned to get a massage a month during my pregnancy. I knew a practitioner who specialized in prenatal massage, so when I found out I was pregnant I set up my first appointment. In those early months, the massages gave me a chance to adjust to being pregnant, and to talk about my experience. I felt very pampered. Then, my pregnancy changed. At 10 weeks, I developed hyperemesis gravidum (a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy extending beyond the first trimester). It was like having food poisoning, for months. I was unable to work, or do anything but lie in my bed, interspersed by trips to the hospital.

But I kept going to my monthly massage appointments. Those massages were the only times I did not feel ill. I remember my massage therapist’s sympathetic ear and kind humor. It was great to laugh. Slowly, I began to get better. Toward the end of my second trimester I started feeling truly well again. By my third trimester, I felt great. Then, at a week past my due date, my massage practitioner did acupressure points to help induce labor, which started less than 24 hours later.My one postnatal massage took place at the house (at no extra charge). My grandmother commented on how it improved my coloring dramatically. (I had anemia, caused by a birth complication.) That last massage helped bridge my transition into motherhood. My body, which had worked so hard to give birth, relaxed and was cared for. It was a little time for myself, a rarity in those months. As always, I appreciated the opportunity to talk with my massage practitioner, this time about the hard work, and unbelievable joy, of life with my new baby.

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Massage is a luxury for me, as I have no physical ailments that need rehabilitation. But I would cut back on a number of other luxuries before I gave up massage. I go for hour-long massages about once a month, mostly for deep-tissue work—for the therapist to delve deep into my tissue fibers and loosen me up. As an athlete, I spend half my time either running myself ragged or biking to the point of exhaustion, or training to do such—weight lifting, cardio workouts, et cetera. I practice yoga a few times a week and stretch out almost every day to stay loose. I consider the bodywork I receive to be part of my training and recovery regimen. Also, since I’ve gone to the same LMT for almost 10 years and have built up a relationship with her, she has an intimate knowledge of my body and the particular and acute issues I deal with on an ongoing basis.

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As a massage receiver, I find myself naturally giving that to others in short bits—massaging a friend’s hands, gently kneading my child’s shoulders at bedtime to ease her into sleep…even my pets get some great muscle rubs sometimes (and they drool). I’m absolutely convinced that, as mammals, touch-based connection with others (as long as it’s mutually desired) is our natural way of being. We sure could use more of it!

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Couples massage is a wonderful experience that two people receive together, in the same room at the same time, with two different massage therapists. In the “harmony” massage I received, the tables were side by side. You could see each other, and even talk if you so desired. Hand-holding was also just a reach away. Each person gets a massage, feels totally relaxed and rejuvenated, and somehow, this togetherness brings the couple back to their center of focus on each other. You both get the benefit of the massage and neither one of you is responsible for providing it. It truly brings you to another level of closeness. It touches your soul, opens your heart. It makes you fall deeper in love. You’re in such a comfort zone, nothing but positive vibes and tranquility fill the room and you surrender into one harmonizing entity of each other. I can tell you, it is the best date ever. And it’s not a service you should take lightly. It’s a beautiful thing that should be shared with your soul mate. It’s a memory that will always be easily accessible to my conscious mind.

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My massage therapist recently referred to me, as I lay blissed out on the table as she massaged the palm of my hand, as a “conscious hedonist.” I think what she meant by that was that I am a sensualist by nature, and massage activates the organ of sense that we pay least attention to—our skin. As someone who tries to be conscious in all things, I try to be in contact with my physical container as closely as possible. Massage is a form of communing with my body through the hands of another. We all crave physical contact, closeness. And while I’m blessed to have a loving partner whom I touch and am touched by every day, being massaged is a way for me to delight in the feeling of my own body as it relaxes and loosens, and the corresponding mental calm of lying still for an hour in a distraction-free environment.

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When I was receiving massage once a week, it put me in a whole different physical, emotional, and psychological space. I was relaxed yet invigorated, soothed, and expanded. Joyful! Trusting the universe! I have thought many times, if our world leaders would all get a loving massage every day, their decisions would be different and the world would be a more compassionate, patient place.

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