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Hands on: The human touch

by Jan Wheatcroft

My early positive experience with massage was when I turned fifty-five and decided to treat myself to a week at the Deepak Chopra Center for Wellness in San Diego County. Besides the healthy food, yoga, meditation and exercises, we had daily massages based on the Indian practice of Ayurveda. I became a follower from then on. 

Since then, whenever I feel pain and tightness or need to relax, craving the “human touch,” I think of massage. I am lucky that I have a friend here who gives really good massages that fulfill my cravings.

As I have traveled around the world I have enjoyed various massages, some wonderful, some good and a few painful experiences I would never repeat. When my good friend, Frances and I went to Thailand for a month, we decided to try the well-known Thai massage.

Our first one was on the floor in a major temple in Bangkok where we were lined up next to our therapists who worked on our bodies, while chatting among themselves. The massage was good enough to inspire us to seek out more massage experiences while we were there.

As we traveled up the river to Chiang Mai, we stopped in small teak towns and tried the local massages. My first excellent massage was in a garage with little rooms. Frances said her massage was okay, but I was the lucky one and I had an hour filled with body manipulations, pushing and pulling of body parts and being walked on. In a mountain retreat where we tried doing some craft work, two women came to our room to give us massages, chatting together the entire time. Not too satisfying. It was the same in Chiang Mai, where they were more involved in their chat, than our massage.            

When I arrived in Nepal, I had sciatica and was in pain. We were recommended to a clinic run by a Chinese doctor who offered massage and acupuncture. We also had a few of the best foot massages ever. Our feet were immersed in warm water, with a gel powder mixed in. After the gel thickened, our feet were worked on for quite a while. Then off for the acupuncture, which eventually offered some relief.

In Cambodia, we went to the blind men massage twice, which was done in the dark and seemed to be quite restful. We even went back a second time. Then came the Laos experience right on the banks of the Mekong River in an old wooden house. It turned out to be quite painful, however. It was the boss lady who worked on me and she kept stopping to issue orders, then resuming. Her hands were also hard and my body suffered from the experience.            

My favorite place for massage and body treatments is in India, where therapists are trained in the Kerala Ayurveda methods. Wonderful oils are used and often two people work on the body together in a pleasurable rhythm. Once at a retreat, we were offered a list of different treatments and I went with a Kerala oil massage. I was placed on a plastic covered massage table naked and had lovely oil poured over me. The problem was I was so oiled up that I kept slipping off of the plastic table. I can report it was not a relaxing experience.           

On another visit to India I again suffered from sciatica, but this time it was quite painful. In a coffee shop in Varanasi, we spoke to the owner who was from South Africa. When asked if she knew of someone who knew South Indian massages, she asked her employee, who did. He took us in a tuk-tuk, along the river to a ghat (the steps leading down to the river where services and funerals are held) and into a cave where a South Indian women had her table. He explained my situation and arranged for treatment. Frances loyally waited there with me.

I was in terrible pain when I finally crawled up on the table. She oiled and worked me over for a long while. She had me finish on my stomach and poured hot oil in the curve of my back. After more massaging, the woman climbed onto my back and walked all over me—she was quite small. When I stood up after an hour, the pain was almost gone. I could stop taking pain medication and walk properly again.            

I was in Sri Lanka for a writing retreat in the countryside. The food was fabulous, and the buildings painted glorious colors of orange, flame pink and turquoise—I painted my own houses in this array later on. My instructor’s daughter gave us wonderful Indian head massages. I went to the Wedegedera—or ancient health practice section—and I had a deep massage. Then I was placed in a large basket, with a fire lit beneath it for a steam bath. I had to be hauled out after an hour because I was so relaxed.

In Sweden, I asked my friend Susanna if she knew anyone who did massage. So she went out and found a woman in her small town. I like a strong massage where I can feel my muscles being worked on and relaxing their tensions. This woman worked on my body so hard that I could barely move afterwards. I just ached and had to sleep away the entire afternoon. Susanna hadn’t known how she massaged, and I did ask for “hard.” Which is what I got! Not all hands are reviving.            

The act of having knowledgeable hands work on your body (although feet have worked too), of being touched, of having the tension worked out of your muscles, giving comfort and relaxation, can be a lifegiving experience.

I am lucky to know a woman who has strong, hot hands and affords my body comfort and relaxation.  

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