Ahhh, there's the rub
Several years ago, I experienced increasing aches in my hands and lower arms, not surprising due to the long hours I spend working on a computer keyboard. Finally, one morning I dropped a coffee mug at work. It just slipped from my hand. Realizing this implied that something was off kilter, I decided to make an appointment for a massage.
Home to a growing number of health and fitness-conscious people, the Island has spawned ample opportunities to obtain a variety of massages: deep tissue, neuromuscular, Thai, Swedish, pre and post-natal, massage with stones, various oils, orthopedic massage and reflexology.
At the time of my distress, Annie Parsons was a massage therapist at Bodysense in West Tisbury. They posted a special offer for massage in the paper, and I decided to try it. I had nothing to lose.
While massage is an art form, the instinct to touch and rub sore muscles and to calm and soothe nerves is basic, universal, and has existed almost since the beginning of time. It can be found in literature as early as 3000 BC in China, India and later in Greece.
Although some might think anyone can rub a foot or knead a shoulder, true massage therapy is a learned skill. According to long-time Island massage therapist Neila Hoffman of An Island Touch, "You cannot fake it during a massage," she states. "I have interviewed roughly 200 massage therapists and some have it down and others do not.
"Part of it is education, but part of it is confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and empathy," explains Ms. Hoffman, who began training in the 1980s. "Unlike eating in a restaurant where the chef is cooking for everyone, not specifically for you, a massage session is a very individual experience." Her current work focuses on helping cancer patients relieve stress through massage.
Among the Island's professional massage therapists, the philosophy seems as much a part of the process as the actual physical experience.
Pamela Danz of Bodysense has practiced massage since 1987. She says, "Massage is just the first level into a vast world of the being of self."
Her patients include those with specific ailments. She also practices what is called craniosacral therapy. This is a process where the therapist practices a technique of discovering the rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid in the body with a light and knowing touch.
Ms. Danz is animated when she speaks about working with the lymph system and removing sluggishness from a body. Sluggishness can be caused for various reasons, including attitude, diet/nutrition, stretching, hydration, and exercise. Ms. Danz says an experienced therapist can read your body and start to counter ill effects in a single session.
Photos by Tamar Russell
Ms. Parsons, who now operates Need A Message?, has recently brought a new form of massage to the Island called "massage cupping." Popular among many celebrities, this practice stems from acupuncture in ancient China and Egypt. Stationary cups are used along meridians to move stagnant blood to the surface. This stimulates the muscular and nervous systems. It also helps to drain excess fluids and toxins.
I decided to experience cupping as a chance to relieve the stress I was experiencing in my hands and arms. Generally after each conventional massage session I come away feeling completely relaxed although slightly tender in the areas that have been worked over.
I had no idea of what to expect, and didn't realize cupping had become a trendy therapy among celebrities.
After first explaining to me the stress-relieving theory behind cupping, Ms. Parsons told me where she would be placing the cups, and how long they would remain in one location. She asked about my physical issues in general, told me to let her know if I had any discomfort, and then advised that I relax.
I lay on a massage table as she proceeded to apply massage oil, and lightly massage my back with a plastic cup. Using only gentle pressure, the cup pulls the skin - a sucking motion - as it massages the area. After a light massage, she put cups in specific places and heightened the pressure, and then left those cups in place.
Ms. Parsons worked on my shoulders and hands. Because my blood pressure reading had not been established, my first experience was done very gently, leaving me feeling only slightly invigorated.
During my second treatment, the cups were applied in stationary positions with stronger pressure, drawing more firmly on my skin. It was a full and heavier work over. This time I was convinced. The following day I had hickey-like marks all over my back and arms, but felt much more flexible and relaxed. My hands were noticeably improved.