My clothes hang over a hook on the door. The room is sunny and decorated in pale blue with images of the buddha and a picture of Rev. Dr. King. I climb onto the table and cover up with a thick blanket. There’s a table heater; it is comforting. Anna comes in and asks if everything feels all right. She begins pushing the muscles of my back and legs with firm pressure, rocking me slightly on the table. I’m relieved to be touched, relieved that I can feel it and am not alarmed by it, relieved that her hands find the places where my muscles are painfully tight. She asks if the pressure is right for me. I say “Yes, thanks,” and check myself–am I being kind and compliant or is that true? There’s one spot that nags a little with the pressure–my peroneal muscle. But then it feels better. I like this.
I’ve come to Anna because she does Somatic Touch therapy, based on Peter Levine’s work–but eight days out from Boston my pre-race anxiety has my muscles unbearably tight so we’ve decided she’ll mostly do deep tissue. She uncovers my left leg and begins working. I’m so wound up I’ve lost track of what muscles are involved, and I follow along as her thumbs and hands and forearms dig in; biceps femoris, piriformis, soleus, gastroc. I feel these parts initially unyielding, but she is firm and patient and when she re-drapes my leg down to the foot it feels dull, spreading, easeful. She massages my foot, which is one of my very favorite things; my eyes roll back into my head and my breathing deepens. I experience a pang of shame that I have to pay someone to feel sure I’ll be touched kindly and respectfully, and then a wave of anxiety over my finances, and then I am present to the pressure of her knuckles against my plantar fascia, grounding me. I reassure myself that it’s all right if I use savings for healing work. I am doing good work. I will make more money.
She makes a gentle sound and I remember to breathe.
Her hands find tight hard knots in my right piriformis. The pressure is intense, but just right. I feel my hip become more pliable.
While she works on my right leg, I grow placid. I realize that I’ve briefly lost consciousness. I check in with myself; am I relaxed or dissociating? Is there something I’m uncomfortable with? My lips are slightly parted and my hands relaxed. I sigh as she works at my right calf muscles. Everything is fine. I feel the sense of sluggishness that accompanies my nervous system calming.
When it’s time to turn over she gets me a warm cushion for under my neck; it is divine. When she starts on my quadriceps it must feel like she’s kneading steel–the resistance is unreal. But she’s patient and skillful, and I feel each set of muscles comply absolutely.
We’ve discussed how the last work will be subtler and soothing to my adrenals. She slides her hand beneath my right kidney. At first I feel my forearm over hers, a bit stiff and awkward. She shifts slightly and my hand rolls to the side. I picture my kidney lying there over her hand, purple-red and squishy. Suddenly I have a clear vision of a thick curtain falling from a window; bright, white light comes flooding in. I feel a slight quivering at my solar plexus, and I can breathe much deeper than usual. It feels like my ribcage is unraveling and my insides are exposed. I don’t feel any emotions, but my eyes fill with tears. She makes a reassuring sound and I continue to take deep, full breaths. I lay there feeling held, vulnerable, hypnotized–and safe. She moves to my left and tears begin to spill over my face. At first it’s just my body crying with no clear reason why. She makes more vocalizations, like a parent might with a crying newborn. She uses her free hand to dry my tears gently with a bit of blanket. I feel surprised my this unexpected gesture of tenderness and realize that I’m weeping with grief for my own suffering. Rather than being overwhelmed by my feelings, I’m captivated by the curiosity of being lovingly reassured and encouraged. Anna dries my tears again and murmurs “good work” soothingly. My emotions feel imminently tolerable with an attentive witness not ignoring me or turning away, not overwhelming me or trying to make it better. I am completely entranced by the benevolent presence of this woman re-parenting me.
When she talks me through the end of the session she remains very close, hand against my hair. We talk about how our own feelings are hardest to bear, and she has tears in her eyes too.
Afterward, I walk out alone into the spring air. My legs feel pliable and human again and the pain in my heart is less substantial. I remember crying alone as a child, feeling that my emotions were unacceptable and overwhelming. I remember how my abuser would oppress me when I cried, either forcefully tucking me into bed despite my protests or holding a tissue over my face, insisting on helping me blow my nose–ignoring my resistance. He’d hold my face in his hands and demand, “Look at me.”
I’ve been working hard at meeting the tempests of my emotions with tenderness and love, but it is hard work. The magic balm of human kindness is life-giving like rain on drought-crisp fields. I feel light and easy. A warm spring breeze lifts my hair away from my face, which lightens to a smile as I discover a thick coat of yellow pollen on my car. I am perfectly capable of healing, but a little help goes a long way.