Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I woke up that Saturday in my beautiful blue room, in Connecticut, to a day that promised blue skies, sunshine and adventure. After breakfast we headed north toward Massachusetts and ultimately Kripalu in the Berkshires for my spa day.
The trip went fast, as time does that's spent full of rich conversation and beautiful sights. The leaves were mostly gone, but the arms that held them still reached skyward from softly rounded shapes. Suzy and I laughed together about the difference between the hills in the Northeast (barely distinguishable bumps) versus the hills of the Northwest (peaks exceeding 10,000 feet). We talked about writing and life and traffic. I was as happy as I know how to be.
It wasn't until we arrived at the nearly hidden entrance to Kripalu that I first felt the stirrings of anxiety, and by the time we'd pulled into the lot outside a surprisingly stark and unattractive building, I wondered how the hell I'd allowed myself to say yes to this day. Except I knew. Suzy's generous gift was an answer to prayer, the perfect bit of serendipity at the perfect time. And in that moment I wondered if there was any way at all I could nicely decline all the body work and maybe just walk the labyrinth and eat lunch.
I arrived knowing my day would consist of a yoga lesson, a Thai massage, lunch, and then an Ayurveda Vishesh massage. I'd done a little research, so had an idea what was coming, but no more than you can get from reading a description meant to be as inviting as possible. I'd been looking forward to the yoga lesson in particular, grateful to have an expert to consult about recent concerns that had developed about my practice.
The massages (two in one day!) I had convinced myself to be brave about and was even anticipating the amazing relaxation that follows body work like that. The fact that I'd only had two massages total before that day, made this a bigger leap of faith than it might have been for someone else.
Here's where the serendipity enters the scene (and God laughs). I was an abused child who grew up believing sex was love. As an adolescent, my childhood belief and the hormone floods of puberty drove me to finding sexual pleasure at any cost. My young adulthood was adolescence carried into the world, until I joined the cult, which put an end to all physical pleasure and in an ironic twist, sex as love was replaced by obedience as love. I learned to detach from the body that had caused me so much emotional pain - from its desires, its warnings, its uncomfortable messy truths.
Years of therapy had brought the detachment to the surface, yet somehow I'd never gotten beyond an acknowledgement that, yes, I preferred to operate as far from the physical realm as possible. Beginning my practice of Bikram yoga over a year ago was a step toward being willing to repartner with my body. The pain that I started yoga to heal and that had grown steadily worse in the last few months made sure I listened to my body, or pay the price in immobility.
So the thought of having an hour of private instruction with a yoga instructor seemed like an answer to prayer. And the thought of expanding my massage repertoire sounded sort of cool. Until I was walking through the doors of Kripalu, feeling like an interloper, and aware that I was going to be the focus of conversation - that my body!, my lumpy overweight out-of-shape body!, was going to be the center of attention - for the next several hours. Somehow shaving my legs didn't seem like enough preparation for this.
I was caught, though, in the loveliest of traps. My sweet friend had given me this day because she knew I practiced yoga and she knew I'd always wanted to see Kripalu. Our friendship is new enough that she didn't know the strength of my aversion to any attention paid to my body. Turning back or away was not an option. And I am so very grateful I really had no choice at all but to thank my fear for its warning and to show up for my first appointment with a smile.
The amazing Jennifer Reis quickly turned my yoga lesson into yoga therapy. She answered my questions and concerns about my Bikram practice (another story for another day), saw immediately what was going on with my pain, and gave me a series of moves to do to realign, stretch and strengthen my out-of-whack pelvis. Her approach was gentle and caring and respectful. She said, "Let the weakest limb decide how far your body goes." She helped me realize that my threshold for pain is much lower than I've ever believed - I don't even register pain until it stops me (literally in this case) in my tracks. She said, "No pain. If it hurts, stop."
From her I went to Tara who loved my bird earrings and talked easily about what she was going to do with my body lying fulling clothed (whew!) on the ground. As she stretched and pulled my limbs and applied her feet to pressure points, she would gently encourage me to breath, or to push against her so she could help me relax more into myself when I released the pressure. Every so often I could feel her brush away old energy and I could hear her breathe, as though the work she was doing on me was a meditation for her.
Lunch was next and I was like a stranger in my own body. This vessel was relaxed, almost fluid, and seemed friendly. I liked being there, and enjoyed fueling my new friend with the healthy vegan fare of Kripalu's cafeteria where the energy was serenity personified. Suzy was happy with the amount of writing she'd accomplished in the morning, and I was ready to see what surprises my last appointment had for me.
Lauren, the therapist, was soft-spoken and gentle. She asked about any issues I had, explained what her particular form of massage was all about, and casually slipped in, "Did anyone tell you your breasts will be exposed for this?" And before any little voices from the inside could argue, I replied that no, no one had mentioned that, but I was okay with it. I lied, but it was a lie with the hope saying the words would make them true. She put the oil on to heat and left me to get undressed.
I was on my back, covered, barely, by the towel she'd left for me, when she returned to the room. "I invite you to rest in the silence," were the last words spoken until the end. Then she proceeded to fold that towel until it was the smallest of rectangles covering so little it seemed a pointless symbolism. After which she proceeded to oil and massage every square inch of my body, with the exception of my nipples and the tiny territory covered by the towel, front and back. By the time she left the room for me to get dressed, my head was full of the scent of lavender and my body was purring louder than all three of my cats put together. I floated, glided, soared back to Suzy.
The drive home was a bit quieter than our morning journey. I sat in the car, enjoying the scenery and Suzy, slightly stunned by what had just happened to me. Dinner was a comedy of Suzy reacting to all the lavender radiating from my body and me barely articulate. I slept that night for ten hours, straight through, and woke the next morning feeling more rested than I have since sometime in childhood. My body liked the attention, didn't mind the exposure, was ready for more. Is ready for more. It may be time finally for me to hold up my side of this friendship, and to listen to the voice of my body over the voice of the shame that has kept me disconnected from it for all these years.
Suzy wasn't done surprising me. The next morning when I got in the car she handed me a packet of information she'd printed, telling me where we were headed for the day. Come along with us for the ride in the next installment of this most amazing adventure.