It was the ache of the jaw, the cramp by the shoulder blade, the knot in that triangular muscle holding the head in place that was keeping all the bodily tension from exploding like a shaken champagne bottle.
“Stop fighting it.” The massage therapist muttered gently, trying to work out the knot on my left upper back.
“I’m not.” I insisted.
She was silent for a moment, pushing on my shoulder with the palms of her hand. “Right here, you feel this? You’re very tense here.”
“I don’t know how to not be tense there.” I sighed. How many more minutes of this? I never would have come to this place if it wasn’t for the free massage voucher that my friend Zara had kindly insisted I redeem on her behalf. She had emphasized that I sorely ‘needed it’ and I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I didn’t follow through.
So here I was, making things awkward not only for myself but also for this poor therapist who was unlucky enough to get me as her first client of the day.
“Try breathing out slowly after taking a deep breath.” The therapist, her name was Katarina, suggested helpfully. “Do you want me to guide you?”
“No.” I said, sharper than I intended. I tried to soften my tone. “I mean, no, it’s fine, really. Just… I’ll try on my own.”
Katarina was silent again, no doubt wondering how to get through to such a difficult client. That, or she was silently praying for time to somehow go faster so that we could both leave this awkward situation behind us with some modicum of dignity.
“Just… let me work out this muscle, can you do that? Imagine you’re letting go of it, letting me take full control.”
I almost laughed out loud. Relinquishing control was not something I knew how to do, no matter how much I wanted to.
I tried to take in the dim lighting, the scented candles releasing lemon balm and lavender into the air, the gentle pings of the classical music playing subtly in the background.
I attempted to hold my breath and to exhale it slowly, trying to ration out the the air in my chest to last a full seven seconds. Wasn’t that what they said in those meditation apps? Exhale for a full seven seconds? Or was it eight? I knew prolonged expiratory breathing activated the parasympathetic nervous system somehow. But the seven (or eight) seconds have always seemed unnaturally long to me. How did people do that? I ran out of breath after five.
Katarina seemed to have given up on trying to get me to participate in this exercise. (I was trying, I really was!). She was now really putting some weight into her massage, forcing the knot in my trapezius into submission.
The persistent tension in my shoulders, carrying the self-imposed pressures of my life, resisted with unnecessary strength.