The Convenient Benefit (or, I Only Do It For My Health, Really!)

Today I had the strong hands and arms of an attractive African American man sliding all over my naked, lotioned body.

And my husband knows about it.
And I’ve done it before.
And I’ll do it again.
And I paid for it.

Erudite reader that you are (and you certainly are because you’ve chosen to read this blog), you have by now ascertained that I am talking about massage therapy. Tyrone (the well-built therapist and unwitting subject of my literary fun) skiied his hands over my body in a seek-and-destroy mission, pouncing on the trigger points in my neck, shoulders and around my scapulae that were causing me tension headaches and even radiating some muscle pain to other parts of my torso. The man touched one particular knot in my neck and I felt the twinge in my temple, and that’s not creative license. I was a massive ball of clenchedness in need of some pummeling.

We don’t do this, ladies and gentlemen. A massage–and not one done by your partner as a kind and gallant type of foreplay–is a health benefit, and not a small one. Western medicine is learning more and more every year how vital the non-invasive healing arts can be. Acupuncture, yoga, and even the recently talked-about cupping (get your mind out of the gutter) gain more credence all the time, plus they are affordable and don’t require a prescription. I belong to one of those massage therapy franchise joints. You join for a year, and for about two-thirds the average retail price, you are offered one 60-minute session of your choosing per month.

So, you ask, other than the delightful benefit of feeling relaxed afterward, why the heck should I pay $50 to $70 of my money every month to do something that a hot bath could do for free? One answer is provided below for your rationalization pleasure, but the first is much more important and doesn’t require its own paragraph: because you’re worth it. Period. You deserve a 60…no, a 90-minute massage once a month because you work your glutes off keeping things running at home, at the office, and everywhere else. You deserve one because you should have a way to discard the anxiety and worry that scrunch your shoulders and bend your posture. You deserve it because you are fabulous and need to celebrate that. You deserve it because it just wouldn’t occur to you that you deserve it.

Now then, allow me to pretend I know something about science. If you read the occasional mainstream self-management magazine, you know that being pummeled by the likes of Tyrone offers many key medical benefits, such as improved circulation, lower blood pressure, and increased immunity. But there’s more. Hold onto your pantyhose for this one. Ever heard of oxytocin? No, not OxyContin. Oxytocin–it’s a hormone that’s secreted by the body on numerous occasions, childbirth being one of them. Some laboring women are given pitocin, a synthetic version of the same, to help generate contractions and hasten labor. Oxytocin is the homemade version.

Where the hell am I going with this, you ask? Well, let’s go back to the labor room. In addition to making your uterus scrunch up like Holyfield’s fist to help you squeeze out a person, as oxytocin passes into the bloodstream it creates a calming, blissful sensation that supports the mother’s breathtaking first attachment to her child. We also receive oxytocin in smaller quantities through orgasm (yep), hugging, exercises like yoga…and massage.

This fact impressed me, and I think it throws even more of a spotlight on massage therapy as an important self-care program. We are a culture of anxiety, and if there is a medically beneficial practice out there that helps to naturally (that means without a script and a copay) diminish the harmful tang of cortisol that flows through our veins like cheap wine, then sign me up. The Torrid Forties are about turning the true you up to eleven, and if something like a full-body massage is accessible and affordable, and able to unravel not only the kinks in your musculature but also the ones in your psyche, then I’m in…especially if it comes wrapped up in a shiny little package called Tyrone.

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