Never Done: I got a sports massage
I haven't had a massage in at least 9 years, which is as long as I've lived in New York. I'm not sure when before that I had one, so it might be a full decade since I've gotten a massage. And I've never gotten a sports massage before, which as far as I can tell is like a regular massage, only with intense and specific stretching, and intense and specific massaging of certain muscles areas, i.e., my left leg.
A few months back I read a wonderful book by Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It's one of those wonderful books that is ostensibly about running but is also about writing. (Sometimes they're books about writing which are really about something else, like alcoholism or tenaciousness.) In one passage of WITAWITAR, Murakami describes the way his muscles have cramped into hard stones, and the weekly 90-minute massages that keep him going. He says they hurt so much that he sweats through his clothes. And he says it's worth it. When I read that, I made a mental note that I was going to get a sports massage. I was going to pay someone to kneed my knotted muscles. I was going to see if it would make a difference when I run, if maybe my left leg would cramp up less.
So I did what any modern amateur athlete would do; I googled "Brooklyn sports massage" and the third hit was for a woman who works 1/2 block away from my apartment in a pilates and spinning studio in which my landlord is a partial owner. I read her online reviews; they were great; I booked a massage with Karen Clifton Mahoney for after work Friday. She's good. She's really good. The first thing I noticed is that she's emotionally mature -- which you would think should be a quality of any massage therapist, but it's not always. She neither projects a great deal of either woowoo sanctity around the massage process nor does she bring the interaction to a chatty place. She's straightforward and confident and talented, with strong hands, knowledge, and probably the highest level of responsive listening I've ever encountered in a massage therapist. I feel like I'm writing her a recommendation, and I suppose I am.
The job of a massage therapist is so strange in that she has to make thing hurt to make things better. Maybe -- to a lesser extent -- like the job of a dentist, which I remember being told has the highest suicide rate of any profession, because of all the time they spend seeing that they inflict pain and bring up fear. How does she know how much pain is too much? Does she have to rely solely on what I say, or does she go more by how my body reacts. And if so, how does she balance that out against what I say if there's a conflict?
I had some other thoughts about self and other while I was on the table. What does it mean to pay someone to rub down your body? Is she as genuinely interested in my knotted muscles as I am? Does she enjoy her job? Am I giving her enough feedback? If I don't feel like talking, is that more of a burden for her than if I want to talk and she doesn't? Why does therapeutic massage feel like more of an indulgence than, say, acupuncture? That's a lot of chatter for my once-a-decade massage, and so I did my best to quiet it, and to go on the working assumption that Karen does like her job, and that I could assume that if she needed anything different (like me to talk more) then she could tell me, and that therapeutic massage feels more indulgent than acupuncture because it feels a hell of a lot better. I also went on the assumption that it is good for us to take care of ourselves, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable to indulge.
Then when I came home and looked again at her website, I found this quote attributed to the Buddha: “To keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” And in a flash I realized that, of course, we do have an obligation to take care of ourselves, so that we can be powerful and effective in the world.