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Massage Today
June, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 06

Rest, Warrior

Massage Therapy Offers Rest and Respite

By Tracy Walton, LMT, MS

A while ago, on a single day, I worked with several clients who were in cancer treatment, or recently completed treatment. As I updated their health histories, each client told me stories of loss, strength, terror, uncertainty, and exhaustion.

There was a relentless quality to what they described. As I moved my hands across them, and as I was still and held each one quietly, two words kept coming into my head: rest and warrior.

These words continued to echo as I worked. On that day, I came to understand, more deeply than ever, the role of massage in helping people truly let down. Skilled touch says: Let down the fight, drop the battle dress, and give up the endless drive. Let down appearances. Stop, now, and catch your breath. Rest.

In Swedish massage, the simple removal of clothing, designed for smoother strokes and more meaningful engagement of the muscles and skin, is a gesture of letting go, in and of itself. I know when I have received massage, removing my own clothing means that for an hour I give up clothing figuratively as well as literally. This gesture has great significance: I also stop trying to hold everything together, to appear intact, or to act as though I'm on my way somewhere else. For a brief, nourishing time, I do not plan, or scheme, or fight; I simply rest. I let someone else care for me; I let myself fall, be caught, and be carried. Through this act of trust, I am recharged. Rest, warrior.

While the warrior image seems accurate, it is not the whole picture. I know many people who claim that cancer is much more than a fight; that in reality, the fight is the simplest part, and sometimes the least of it. Instead, as a colleague pointed out, cancer can be even harder to ignore, abide, and transcend than it is to fight. My clients tell me that they don't just fight cancer: they endure, yield, pray, grieve and persevere. Cancer requires people to spend time in confusion, terror, and mystery.

And during illness, an added burden can come from others' expectations that the fight will be heroic. Moreover, there is pressure to feel cancer as a gift, to emerge from the experience with a prize, and that one has failed at it if he or she has no greater meaning to show for their experience.

As a massage therapist, my own response to these pressures is uncomplicated: to welcome my clients, regardless of their experiences. Some people tell me that the gifts that came to them along their cancer journey were immeasurable, that blessings came to them in strange disguises and new depths of experience, and that they feel gratitude. I believe and honor their stories without question. Others say that they find no gift and no gratitude, only pain, and that the pressure to be optimistic, cheerful, and blessed can be an enormous load, adding pain to what they already face. I believe and honor their stories, too, without question. Rest, warrior.

It is my job to be present to each client, and each client's story. It is my job to respect the range of human experience. With my hands on people, I have learned much about the various ways we humans go through life. There is no one way. We live differently, and get sick and well differently. We cope with medical treatment differently, and manage pain and suffering differently. We die differently. And when we seek massage therapy, giving ourselves over to someone's full attention, one of the most healing things we can receive is respect for our uniqueness: the uniqueness of each path, each burden, each loss, and each choice. It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: Being welcomed, right where we are, is healing.

And no matter what our differences are, we all need our rest. The care of massage therapy, offered without judgment or expectation, can offer some of the deepest rest of all. Rest, warrior; rest.

Click here for more information about Tracy Walton, LMT, MS.


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