Body Work

Course: Body Work

Instructor: Chris

Location: Oakland

Price: $300

I’m an avid runner, cyclist, weight trainer, dancer, jumper. Basically, I’m a pretty physical person. But as much as I move, I sometimes miss the mind body connection. I usually don’t notice that something is wrong until I feel pain. Tight hamstrings, in fact, sent me to Chris. I didn’t even know the woman who referred me, but something about the description of what Chris does, “body work”, drew me in.

I booked an appointment and after emailing with Chris to reserve a time I learned that “body work” was a three hour Thai massage. I’d never even heard of getting a three hour massage.

Still, I didn’t stop to question what I was doing until I reached the address for Chris in the east bay. It was an apartment building. For a $300 session an apartment was not what I was expecting. I had dark thoughts of a man breaking my neck and calling it a Thai massage. “Thoughts in, thoughts out”, I told myself and looked for parking.

Chris turned out to be a small man with hair that’s almost as long as he is tall. He was waiting outside his apartment building and I followed him up to a unit that looked like a flop house. It was a one bedroom with a kitchen and no furniture save some mats, towels, and wooden rollers for stretching.

In the bedroom, a space heater warmed the room, incense and an iPod dock sat on the floor, and long blue straps hung from an empty closet over a futon mattress on the floor. Everything was clean, but it was a bit unnerving. It looked like essentially what it was an unlicensed massage practice. I was tense and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into and for three hours when he asked me to fill out a quick form to indicate where I was experiencing pain. I marked my left hamstring and followed him into the bedroom.

He asked me to lie down on my back and began to massage my shoulders. He was very insistent that I breathe. Not the typical breathe in and out of your nose but an exaggerated breath in through my mouth and out my mouth. The first hour he nagged me continually to breathe. Breathing, apparently, forces you to engage. I know that sounds odd – I mean you have to breathe to live, right? In the second hour when I got more comfortable that he wasn’t going to kill me and I started to relax, I actually dozed off. But Chris wasn’t having it. He nudged me and told me to breathe. He wouldn’t let me check out - which is what I typically do during a massage. He explained that breathing would get me into my body and out of my head. I resisted it. My jaw was tight, my yoga-like breaths squeezed out of pursed lips. I pushed out my breath and silently chanted, “I (inhale) hate (exhale), (inhale) you, (exhale).” I thought that loud forced breathing was a hippy pretension. But he kept insisting as he dug deep into the tissues of my right shoulder and eventually I lost the will to fight. I started breathing and then lo and behold I was crying.

Now, I’m pretty familiar with pain. I know how to run through pain. I know how to live through pain. I call it my Safe Mode – like what your computer does when something is wrong with it. It can still operate but with reduced functionality. I didn’t realize how reduced I was until that moment. He was forcing me to reconnect with my body and through it face the pain I’d shoved into the crevices of my shoulders.

When I cried, Chris said nothing but put his hand on my shoulder. It was the most caring thing anyone has done for me in a long while.

If all we are is energy – which I believe we are – is it crazy to think that our energy gets blocked? That we can store trauma and emotions at a muscular level, a cellular one? That is what Chris found – my stored emotional pain, my fear of others hiding under the tightness of my muscles.

Ultimately, going to see Chris was a lesson in trusting myself. Out of that trust I discovered not all people are out to hurt me, that in fact people can be beautiful. That there is someone in the world who feels called to this kind of work and I’m so very grateful for it.

After the massage he offered me organic blueberries and a tall glass of water. He said that he couldn’t fix the tension in my right shoulder completely but thought we had made a good start. Indeed.