The name of my massage school is ASIS, which reminds me of Isis – a short lived super story from my childhood. Seems she was related to Egyptians and had lithe limbs and perfect tans and jet black hair.
But ASIS is not that way as you will see below. The motto is: promoting peace one body at a time
We had orientation and are now in the ‘swing’ of massage. I say this because we swing our arms about a lot to loosen them up. We lunge about the room to teach our bodies how to stand (by which they mean squat/lunge) in order to survive giving massages. We are encouraged to twist our bodies and let our limbs flap about. This was not my expectation entering school.
But, truthfully, more peace would happen if more of us flapped about on a regular basis.
Each morning by 9 am I am shorn of footwear and seated on small pillows in a room that has very low cut shag carpet in what must once have been emerald green. We sit “indian” style and keep our backs against the wall for the morning session.
There are 12 students. There’s a biblical number for you! We have a separate notebook for each ‘modality’ of massage and for some other things too which i haven’t yet completely figured out.
At orientation, they described group life in stages: forming to storming to norming to performing (and maybe, if we are lucky — to mourning at departure). In the formative days since Monday I am noticing that our class has many of the same characters that I saw in elementary and middle school. There is the class clown, the pain in the arse, the teacher’s pet, the cute guy (in this instance, only one), the know it all, the mermaid, the terrorquake, etc…. I”m not sure what role I’m playing – but we often never are I suppose.
One third of my class is age 22 or younger and enrolled in Prescott College for course credit. A couple are majoring in ‘wilderness therapy’, which looks like a ton of fun from the outside. Two classmates are older than me. The other half of my class is probably about my age. Three of us are East Coast transplants. A few like to laugh as much as I do.
The morning this week is dedicated to Body Vocab as I’m calling it. Bones/muscles, etc. I hear from my fellow students that now they are teaching such things in second grade. But I grew up in a Greek world where we worked on loftier thoughts of the mind and didn’t know beans about our bodies.
I’ve been thinking about devising a chart of orientation for massage school versus seminary.
In massage school, they start most mornings with a poem. Mary Oliver is a favorite around my school. In fact, a line of one of her poems is across the lentil of our doorway: ‘what is it you will do with your one wild and precious life?’ In seminary, they read scripture to us to start classes, or said spontaneous prayers.
In massage school, we sit in a circle. In seminary, we sat in wooden seats with desks attached and faced forward
In massage school, the rules are about wiping oil off the tables and not clipping/filing our nails in the classroom
in seminary, the rules are about turning in tests and completing assignments on time
in massage school we don’t have tests or grades. We have ‘learning experiences’.
And then we pass the national exam – or we don’t.
In seminary we had discussion groups and discussed the merits of various esoteric (often) theological ideas
In massage school, we lie on tables and mash into each others bones and muscles to learn where to find the (fill in the blank with an above mentioned body vocab word). Massage school is all about ‘application’.
This week we have had 2 hours of Body Vocab (which includes standing up and pointing to various body parts and calling them out in unison (to support the kinesthetic AND the auditory learners). then a lunch break.
And then is the application part. Which presently is Swedish massage.
Turns out Swedish massage is based upon a 19th century Swede’s interpretation of the notebooks written by 15th century frenchman in which were written their observations about chinese touch. This keeps me from taking it all too too seriously.
After all, contemporary Scripture is a 20th century committee’s interpretation of a 17th century German’s interpretation of a Latin translation of a Hebrew text….. which is even more removed than ‘effleurage and petrisage’ from swedish.
We get to practice on each other – and have a month of guinea practice before the community folks come in for massage. So far, no one has squealed at my table yet.
I’m finding that massage is quite a dance, really. Very physical, but not from the arms down – rather from the belly forward. I do not think John Calvin or early Baptists would have approved of this in the pulpit.
But there is a dress code for massage therapists. It does not involve stoles or robes. It does involve being comfortable and being able to touch another person. And there is oil involved. And a lot of paying attention to the other. It is partnership.
I find myself thinking a lot about how ministry looks different from a basis of paying attention to the other person. Finding how far to engage before ‘hitting a wall’. Paying attention to not run away from the pain of the other, if it is inflicted, but to rather adjust readily, communicate, and stay connected. I am thinking a lot about the ritual of massage and the table in relation to the rituals the Church has held through the centuries and that table. Both are bountiful, relational, holy (wholly). But they feel different to me and I think to others.
What if we had read poets like Mary Oliver and Madeleine L’engle and Billy Collins in seminary? Would we have understood our holy book better? would knowing better the world around us (and inside us) have better prepared us to preserve support and interpret the text and the lives before us and in front of us?
Maybe it is a good model for Church: promoting peace, one body at a time we tend to talk more about souls. I think it is the same. Incarnation. resurrection And may I just say — incarnation looks really different in a room with 12 bodies disrobing and climbing on tables wrapping towels about them than it does in a dimly sit sanctuary with 50 fully clothed, well painted and coiffed folks kneeling. Very different.
There are many of the same communication bridges in massage therapy that I have found in ministry. The balance between gentle and firm. The partnership required for growth to occur. The need for constant feedback — is this too much? Can I go deeper? Does this hurt? I notice you are clenching your jaw — is this bothering you?
In our orientation we did a lot of things in partners that required not speaking, but communicating with other senses. I”ve relied a lot on spoken and written words in my life. This will stretch me and help me stretch others. I”ve also relied a lot on sedentary relationships — both people seated, or else hammering nails at Habitat or slapping mortar between concrete blocks. But being the person in motion while another is relatively stationary is also a new experience of power and vulnerability.
But enough about me and my indulgences. Allen rolled in from Snowbowl this afternoon feeling GREAT. There is packed snow after the storms and he had a ball riding the lift and skiing the mountain… He’s off at the dog park as I type this with Louie and Sofy. They are making friends with dogs that sport names like Spike and Lucy. Allen has climbed Thumb Butte (our own personal mountain that we look upon off our porch) and managed domestic chores like laundry (massage students burn through a lot of sheets and towels as it turns out). I”m very grateful to get to bounce ideas off of him after class (and he, I think so far) is enjoying me practicing finding different muscles and trying out various ways of sorting out the knots.
So, if you are feeling bored or full of winter blah. I recommend flapping about, lunging some, stretching, and reading some Mary Oliver.