"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Body Work

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.


#1Nana said...

What a great experience! I am uncomfortable with massage. I could never understand my girlfriends who go regularly, "to relax." I'm always a nervous wreck. I tell my friends that it's "F.O.F." ...short for fear of farting.

Barb said...

Well, Deb, even your shadow seem to have grown! If someone asks me if I want a massage, I have only 2 questions: where and when... I think this day of breaking barriers was a turning point for you.

Patti Lacy said...

Deb, praise God that you were blessed with this experience...and that you met your fears HEAD-ON!

I love massages but only will allow female masseuses.

Just me.

Wanda said...

Massage has kept me going for many years. I don't know where I would be without it. So glad you had positive experiences and felt renewed.

Wanda..... said...

What a gift you were given...glad you were willing to receive.

Your writing of it even relaxed me, Deb.

Katie Gates said...

What a fascinating journey your life has been and continues to be. I look forward to the next installment!

kario said...

Glorious! What a lovely day! I am so pleased with your revelations about yourself and your courage to stick with it. I can't wait for more.

Jessica Nelson said...

It hurts so much to see how child abuse can affect someone for soooo long. I'm glad you had this lovely day! I love massages, but I don't think I could do what you did! Eek! Go you!
And....I think your husband might appreciate this new openness for physical pleasure. *grin*

Anonymous said...

Sounds lovely.

Terri Tiffany said...

Wow. The more I read about you the more facinated I am with your journey.
No, I could not have done what you did. I've had only one massage and was totally uncomforatble--guess my body image isn't so great too.
I'm so happy for you that you took this step and what an amazing friend you have!

Carrie Link said...

Wow. I'm speechless. So much from one day! Miraculous, really!

Kathryn Grace said...

I am in tears, Deb, at the healing you received. So generous and wise, your friend. May the healing continue to radiate throughout your body and your life. May all who have suffered so be healed in turn.

LauraX said...

Deb this is so deeply powerful...I did half of the Phoenix Rising Yoga therapy training, before I got sick but having worked with my co-trainees I have a strong sense of some of what was happening for you. YOU are quite courageous, you need to know that, believe that my friend.

I love that the way the yoga teacher taught you to be compassionate and listen to the weakest part of your body as your guide point for your practice. I always taught my students something similar...find your edge and then back away from it...the point is always effortless effort, if you are experiencing pain in your practice, then you have gone too far, again back off, relax be present, listening to what your body needs, is asking for...trust your body to know what is and is NOT ok...not an easy thing to do for a person who has sustained abuse and distanced themselves from their body, but you can and will learn. Again, YOU are courageous and I am so honored to have been able to read your honest revelations about your history.

gentle steps

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh WOW!!! This is... wow! I can't believe how similar your areas of wounding and mine are. I too practised a lot of disconnection and interestingly I turned to boxing to help me reconnect with my body. Funnily enough it helps me focus on staying present and relating to my own personal strength as a good and positive thing. I love how 'grounded' I feel when I box.
Your Yoga sounds similar but different too.

Wow. That day out you had was some day!

Carol............. said...

Isn't it amazing what "lies beneath" is ready come out, confront, dislodge,and make peace with, if given that chance..especially in the safety of true friendship and those who love us unconditionally.

I'm so happy for your experience.

Jerri said...

Can't wait for the next installment. Simply reading this one is a blessing.

What wondrous turns your life is taking. So happy for you.

Pam said...

How wonderful Deb.
I don't know how I'd feel if somebody presented me with a gift of a massage.
Like you, it's something that I would not go to ordinarily, but you have encouraged me to be more open to it and it sounds good!
My daughter, a nurse, swears by massage for helping her deal with both the heavy physical and emotional issues her work presents.
One cannot underestimate the emotional releases in bodywork healing and it is admirable the way you dealt with this.
I look forward so much to the next post!xx

Linda Hoye said...

Loved this. I felt myself relaxing as I read it; I can only imagine the peace and letting go that you must have experienced. Such a blessing.

Amber said...

That sounds like a dreeeeam day! What a wonderful, amazing gift. More body work, yes! I agree that it is time. I am so with you on this, too... It is healing I also have to ready myself for, but know I need.


M said...

What an amazing day you had...and the healing that came with it. I'm thinking that my body....and my spirit could use some healing like this.