Illustration by Genevieve Pizzale Image by: Getty Images
After years of avoiding the intimacy of a massage, writer Tamar Satov decides to see what all the fuss is about.
I’ve never been particularly bashful about my body; I skinny dipped in my teens and went starkers (as you do) at a thermal bath in Budapest in my 20s. Thanks to childbirth and breastfeeding, I spent a good chunk of my 30s in various states of undress in front of strangers. And yet—call me crazy—asking a person I’m not intimately involved with to rub my body all over has always felt wrong somehow. So here I am, in my 40s, never having had a massage.
It’s been a year of change for me—last summer I decided to leave the security of a lucrative editorial position and embrace the freedom of full-time freelance work. I’m doing my best to stay open to whatever opportunities come my way instead of my default of dismissing anything that strays outside my comfort zone. It seems that attitude is seeping into my personal life, since I finally felt ready to flex my bravery muscles and lay it all on the massage table.
So, I approached my friend Mary Marentic, a Toronto-based Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), Certified Foot Reflexologist and Pelvic Floor Specialist. (Besides massage therapy, Mary also teaches a new technique called Hypopressives, which treats Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and incontinence.) After the requisite jokes about Mary being “my first” and her promises to “be gentle,” she booked me in for a full body massage.
The Big Day
I was full of nervous energy and even a pinch of fear as I arrived for the appointment. The only time I had previously come close to getting a massage was when a somewhat creepy hairstylist started rubbing my neck and shoulders instead of sticking to a scalp massage—and I found it quite painful.
But as soon as I entered Mary’s home-based studio, I began to relax. The modern, clean-lined decor and muted colours put me at ease, as did the Asian-inspired harp music playing softly in the background. She had me fill out a medical questionnaire (standard practice for a first-time massage) and then left me to disrobe (down to my undies) and climb face down onto the massage table under cozy flannel sheets to ensure modesty.
The table itself and the pillow that cradled my face were far more cushiony and supportive than I was expecting—a very good start! When Mary returned, she draped a heavy heated blanket over my back to warm up my muscles. It was surprisingly comforting, like a welcoming bear hug. She began the massage with my legs, uncovering just one side at time and applying heated oil that added to the overall calming effect. I struggled a bit at first to relinquish my control-freak tendencies (the same ones that make me try to lead when I slow dance) and allow her to direct my limbs. By focusing on my breath, I was able to relax into the process and let go of my body’s natural response to brace against the pressure.
When Mary got to my arms and back, she found a few knots in my shoulders and right hand (occupational hazard of long days hunched over my laptop and clicking the computer mouse), which she carefully returned to several times to smooth out. I can honestly say I’ve never been so aware of my body and all its constituent parts. Between the music, my focus on my muscles and breathing, and the repetitive soothing motions of the massage, it turned into a sort of meditative experience.
The After Effects
Getting up from the table I was pretty wobbly, like the cliched strand of overcooked spaghetti. Within a few minutes I was back to myself, albeit a more limber, better focused and calmer version of me. I also felt taller—a very cool bonus for someone who is under 5’2”—a side effect Mary attributes to the gentle stretching and realignment of muscles that temporarily improve posture. As for pain, I didn’t feel any until the following day, and even then it was in a good way—like the muscle soreness you experience after a good workout.
I now feel silly that I avoided massages for so long—and regretful that I could have had dozens of massages paid for through my health benefits during all those years I was employed. Not only did I feel more in control of my body in the days following the massage, but the luxury of having more than an hour of uninterrupted time to relax and be Zen is true decadence in this age of constant connectedness.