About 17 years ago, my husband Tom did a wonderful thing. For our third wedding anniversary, he booked a massage for me at a local spa. At the time, I wasn’t even sure it was something I wanted, although it sounded fancy. I was in my late twenties, but I’d never had a massage.
I was nervous on the day of the appointment. I didn’t know if there was a massage protocol or a right or wrong way to do things. I worried that the whole thing would become an awkward debacle.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear the imagined voices of our Puritanical ancestors luring me into a guilt-trip: “Lying around half-naked on a table while some stranger gets paid to rub your back? Who do you think you are? What’s next? Should someone start peeling your grapes, princess? Fan you with a palm leaf? Don’t you have something productive to do?”
But I told those voices to shut up and go dig a ditch somewhere, if that’s what they wanted. I vowed to at least try to enjoy my anniversary gift. As luck would have it, I had an excellent massage therapist for that first appointment, and he made the whole experience as non-awkward as possible.
I also realized that a good massage is like a great piece of art or writing or music. It can be so intense that it makes the tiny hair stand up on the back of your neck or cover your arms with goosebumps. A good masseuse is like a string musician who knows exactly what muscles and tendons to play and in what order.
Even better, that first massage therapist gave me the gift of silence, speaking only to ask if the massage pressure was too much or too light. Some people like to chit-chat during a massage, but I loved how quiet and serene that hour was. It allowed me to float between being awake and asleep, which let my mind as well as my body rest and relax.
After that decadent hour, I thanked the therapist and went home, where Tom was waiting to take me out for an anniversary dinner.
“So … how was the massage?” he asked.
“Well, let’s put it this way,” I said. “I nearly left you for a man named Randy with magic hands and a heated massage table.”
“Wow. So that’s … good, I guess?” he said, making a mental note to request a female massage therapist for the next anniversary.
“Life-changing,” I confirmed. “I feel like a warm, buttered noodle. A very happy noodle.”
“Speaking of noodles, we should go to dinner,” he said. “And Randy is not invited.”
Since that first magical massage, I’ve had several others over the years. Time and money considerations don’t allow it to happen as often as I’d like, but I always come away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the wisdom of taking care of yourself — body and mind.
Particularly in this middle-age phase of life, I’m learning that proper maintenance is a much bigger deal than it used to be. At age 25, my body would let me get away with a few not-so-wise habits like a bad sleep schedule, hard work with long hours and late-night runs to Taco Bell. At age 45, my body’s reaction is more like, “Seriously, woman? Don’t be an idiot.”
These days, even sleeping in the wrong position can turn an otherwise normal morning into one that sends a lightning bolt of pain down my neck when I look over my shoulder to back out of the garage. If I sit on the floor with the dogs and then get up too quickly, my joints perform a snap-crackle-pop symphony of complaints. And sometimes I find bruises on my legs but have no idea how they got there. I’m like an overripe peach these days.
And a peach needs to be handled with care, preferably on a heated massage table under the skillful supervision of a masseuse named Randy with magic hands.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Her book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile,” is available on Amazon.