Touch Quest

For many years – indeed, well into my adulthood – I was very modest about my body. I did (and do) not particularly care for it, but I especially did not like showing it, even in venues like locker rooms where it was odder to keep it covered than exposed.

That changed gradually, beginning in my late 30s/early 40s, for a few reasons – not least that I began to regularly get professional massages. The massage thing and the departure of modesty were really chicken and egg; it’s hard to tell which was the cause and which the effect.

But I was very fortunate in finding, very early on, a tremendously talented massage therapist who combined grace with skill, experience, and a warm, communicative touch. We were together for a couple of years, until she moved, making my loss the people of Indiana’s gain.

That began a Diogenes–like search for a similarly skilled and rewarding therapist. During this quest, I received the attentions of a couple of dozen therapists, and it is the diversity which I found most remarkable. Not just the diversity in ethnicity, national origin, race, and such, although that is itself fascinating. Instead, the most surprising part was the diversity of approaches to a common goal. These weren’t technicians of different schools or using different techniques; no reiki or sports massage here. All were supposed to be, at least, your basic Swedish relaxation massage. But the range of touch, of method, of speed and attitude is little short of wild.

Touch ranged from caring to clinical to almost hostile. Technique included graceful, nigh-balletic integrative movements – but, from others, a checklist approach to individual body parts and a near-brutal blitzkrieg against knots appearing anywhere on the body that, while presumably therapeutic, was anything but relaxing.

Attitudes toward modesty (particularly of the gluteal region) were just as varied, from methodically moving sheets to continuously cover all but a few square inches of the body and scrupulously avoiding even the outer suburbs of what might be considered sensitive territory to a massage that I think I might be able to claim with Blue Cross as at least two kinds of examination. And I understand that people who work with bodies all day may have relaxed attitudes about their own boundaries, yet I was fairly surprised with the therapist who would restrain my wrists and elbows with thighs in such a way that left me absolutely no doubt about the configuration of their nethers.

The search has been idle for a couple of years, but it’s beginning again. I hope it is relatively brief, but that the learning along the way will be just as fascinating.

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