From First-Timer to Repeat Client

By Sam Tudor

After I receive my paycheck for teaching in a rural community, I pay my rent, then spend the rest on extras, though sometimes even toilet paper can be considered an extra on my salary. Luxuries are often put off to the side by people like me, who live a hair above the poverty line. 


The point is that taking care of myself can be a difficult thing to do; my membership at the gym is limited to free trials, my groceries are not organic, and the scratches on my prescription glasses I purchased four years ago have made me a little cross-eyed. I’m happy, though, mostly because of one extra I consistently turn to: massage therapy.


Karma Comes Around

Chronic back problems have left me somewhat hobbled, but apparently all of the good deeds I’ve done in the classroom left karma with no choice but to give me a taste of the good life: you see, I have a friend, Kathleen, who is a massage therapist. She is an amazing individual who has introduced me to new worlds—one of those being the power of touch.


Rural Teacher Gets a Massage

As a teacher of English, it is tough to offer up my services to people around me. Unless someone is editing a resume or needs a person to instruct an unruly group of teenagers, I am fairly useless. Kathleen has never had this problem. Everyone loves to get a massage. I have been able to give her a few laughs over the course of our friendship, but the first time she offered to give me a one-hour massage, I realized I was on the better half of this exchange.

It was a great situation for me. I had never been to her studio before, and, to be honest, I was a little embarrassed about the fact that I’d never actually had a massage. This plagued me at first, but as soon as she began the session intake, where she asked about my health history, I realized how professional the experience was going to be. 

When she opened the entrance to her massage room, it felt like my blood pressure dropped 100 points. The room was perfectly lit and shared hints of sage and lavender incense; Tiki decorations silhouetted the walls. The linens on the massage table were stretched tight, beckoning me to lie down. Faint music played. I had entered unchartered territory, and I liked it.


Letting Go

Kathleen explained that when she left the room, I should undress, hang my clothes on a hook, and get under the covers on the massage table facedown. She left and closed the door behind her, leaving me in privacy. I placed my shoes side by side on a small rack, then my socks, shirt, and pants. It was then, as I stood in solitude wearing only my underwear, a plethora of thoughts entered my mind. I had no idea how to receive a massage. I know she wanted me to take off my clothes, but did she mean all of my clothes? 

There is just something frightening about the idea of lying naked, facedown on a table with somebody in the next room preparing to put their hands on you. In my case, it was slightly easier because I knew her, but it was still an issue of vulnerability. I am not sure why it was such a bruise to my ego, but I have since discussed this with her. She was confused: to a massage therapist, the body is a sacred thing no matter what it looks like, and a professional massage therapist does not distinguish one body type from another. She also reassured me that she is thorough, but would expose as little of the naked body as possible. Looking back on my first massage with her, I found her to be true to her word. 

Mustering as much of my pride as I could, I took off my underwear and lay facedown on the table. The massage table was an experience in itself. The sheets were as comfortable as they looked. Gently, I nestled my head in the face cradle and assessed my surroundings. My vision was limited to the carpet. I could only hear the soothing music. The scent of incense pleasantly released my sinuses. But it was the position my body was in that was really surprising: I can only describe it as perfect. The face cradle kept my back in a natural position. My spine itself was straight, but the ergonomics of the table allowed the necessary curvatures to settle into their correct positions. My arms lay naturally by my sides, palms up. 

When Kathleen returned, she slipped a firm pillow underneath my shins and placed a heating pad on my lower back, then left the room again. Even breathing was comfortable in this resting position. The heat on my back was the icing on the cake. She had brought me to heaven and hadn’t laid a hand on me yet. After a few minutes of solitary bliss, I heard her reenter the room. During this time, I realized that massage therapy involved more than just rubbing down a body. Simply relaxing in this seclusion is as therapeutic as a day at the beach (without kids). All of the insecurity issues I had faced about being nude dissipated. 

Faintly, I heard her rub her hands together to warm the oil she had put on them. “This is going to be good,” I thought. At first, however, I found the pressure she was using to be uncomfortable. Her starting point was the middle of my back. She had put a knuckle, or perhaps an elbow, deep into the muscle. There were muscles in that region of my back that I didn’t know existed, and she found every one of them. Occasionally her well-oiled hand would run over a muscle, but the majority of the time she kept her movements precise. The actual surface area she was massaging at any given time was rarely larger than a quarter. A whole new set of insecurities set in. My male ego wouldn’t allow me to wince or yelp in pain, so I clenched my muscles tighter, which only made matters worse. Somehow, she knew I was clenching, and asked me about the level of pressure. When I mentioned it was a little too intense, she thanked me for communicating with her and lightened her touch.

A new life skill was taught to me in this moment of need. Against the peaceful background music, she breathed loudly and slowly through her mouth as if to say, “You need to breathe like this.” I followed her lead—with each stroke I exhaled and submitted to her touch. The pain drifted away. The elbow would go deep into my muscles, as I would breathe deeply and submit to the moment. This was something I hadn’t experienced before; there was something mystical about it.


A Different State

She worked the back of my neck, my upper back, and my tender lower back. During this time, a phenomenon happened which must be explained.

I shut my eyes, and my mind drifted. The pressure intensified, but after learning to control my breath, I fell into what can only be described as a deep sleep that was filled with conscious thoughts. For some reason, I found myself analyzing my day: things I did well, things I wanted to do, and things I could do better. All of the problems I faced in the classroom seemed to melt away. For the first time in a long while, I was focusing on myself.

Once my thoughts became sorted, I found myself on the verge of sleep, but before I could nod off she lifted the sheet on the opposite side high enough to avert her eyes and asked me to turn over on my back. I obliged, and she proceeded to cover me again and start work on my feet. 

The final stage of the massage was the back of my head, ears, and face. I remember this part vaguely, only because I was nearly asleep. It was a state of relaxation I hadn’t felt before. At the end of this experience, she placed a hand on my forehead and one on my chest and simply remained still for a few moments, which she later explained was a way to help my body discover its chi, or vital energy. 

I’ve heard stories about people coming out of a massage and feeling immediately revitalized. I didn’t find that to be true. When I came to, I felt tired, and my muscles felt similar to the way they do after I’ve been lifting weights. In all actuality, it was a day or two later before I felt the real benefits of the massage. Mentally, I felt resilient. Students even commented on the glow I emitted. My mind was sharp, and the lesson plans I constructed were masterpieces. For these two reasons alone, I took Kathleen up on implementing a consistent monthly regimen of massage. 


A New Health-Care Regimen

The benefits of a professional massage cannot accurately be put into words, and to experience it, one obviously has to purchase the service. Too often, we choose not to invest in our bodies, instead investing in what we think are necessities. In my case, there was also the fear of this unknown experience that kept me from ever considering a massage. It always seemed like there were other, more important things to do. 

I’ve found that massage is not the self-indulgent activity that spas often advertise. While there is a degree of physical pleasure with massage, the euphoria that follows for weeks makes a person more diligent and aware of his surroundings—that’s why I’ve made it a regular part of my health-care strategy. 

Taking the time to step away from everything isn’t self-indulgence or a luxury; rather, it is more like a tool of peace, which allows people to focus on their vision of the world they live in and their place within it. 


Sam Tudor is a high school English teacher, an aspiring writer, and a father of two amazing kids. He lives in beautiful Bigfork, Montana.