Work For and From the Inside

About a week ago my mom, sister and I went to get massages.

We’d each received a gift certificate for Christmas and were finally able to make (and keep) an appointment, since the first couple were cancelled due to one of us having COVID.

We were very excited, as we’d booked—for the first time ever—ninety-minute massages. And with a myriad of different stressors weighing on us from the past month or so, we were ready (and desperate) to *relax*.

I had even asked for the deep tissue massage, which, if you happened to read this post regarding my feelings on my first ever massage, will let you know 1) how much of the massage Kool-Aid I’ve drank over the last few years, and 2) how much I wanted the stress more or less beaten out of me. I wanted that stress to run for its life. I wanted a stress exorcism.

When the masseuse asked if there were any areas to focus on, I said: neck, shoulders and back.

They have forever been where I hold everything. From the annoyance of that bad driver I encountered on the freeway yesterday, to that mean thing a girl said to me in high school 15 years ago. It’s also where, for a long time, my muscles were working overtime to keep my head on my shoulders due to my bad posture—that I’ve since put in a lot of energy (and a lot of money at the chiropractor) to correct.

Needless to say, I love having my neck, shoulders and back massaged. It feels like ironing a wrinkly shirt. And since it had been a while since my last massage, I was sure there were going to be quite a few wrinkles to tend to.

To my surprise, as I lay face down on the table and the masseuse dug into what seemed like the very core of my spine, assumedly finding evidence that I still hadn’t fully forgiven someone who wronged me in the seventh grade, he asked, “do you ever do any kind of stretching or foam rolling?”

I tried to nod, but then remembered my face was framed by the pillow, making my neck borderline immovable.

“Yes,” I said. “I foam roll my back a few times a week”—something that was recommended by my chiropractor—“and I try to do yoga two or three times a week.”

He made a quick “mhm” noise, and I assumed it was partnered with a nod.

“I can tell,” he said. “While you have tension in your back, there are no knots at all. So your efforts are paying off.”

I lay there, letting his words repeat in my head.

I thought about all the anxiety I felt going into our day at the spa. I always got nervous knowing I’d have to spend time in my bathing suit—or naked, under the sheets of the massage table—overly critical of my body and how it compared to others.

I thought of all the times I’d done yoga, or gone for a run or a walk, hoping that the efforts I was putting in would garner positive results that I could see in the mirror.

I thought of all the times I’d hidden my body behind baggy clothes, anxious hands, or the body of someone else.

And then I thought about how my body, my muscles, and my bones themselves might be benefiting from my exercise, my (mostly) healthy diet, my efforts to meditate, and to express myself both emotionally, physically, and creatively.

Those efforts might not show in the mirror. They might not match up to some kind of image I have in my head of what a body is “supposed” to look like. But they do change the way my body feels. They do the work on the inside of my body.

We are told so often to focus on physical results and to hit monetary goals, when so much benefit can come from doing work for and from the inside first. I know what it feels like when I eat healthy, when I exercise, when I don’t slouch, when I can relax into deep, honest conversations with those I trust. These things make me feel light, they bring an ease to my days, and, apparently, give me the iron to take to that wrinkly shirt.

After the massage, I lay on one of the daybeds beside my mom, reading a book and listening to the sound of falling water. Then I took a long, hot shower and blow dried my hair. On the way home, we picked up dinner from one of my favorite places and then sat on the couch and watched a movie.

It was a great day, not because things looked perfect on the outside, but because they felt good from the inside.

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