I'm thinking back to the first day of hands-on class, and it's like being sentimental about how you viewed life when you were a freshman in high school. Everything seemed so scary and exciting and new, and vitally IMPORTANT.
We all arrived, milling nervously around the closed-up classroom's door. I checked to be sure I remembered my two twin-sized sheets (hoping that they were a cool enough pattern, but not boring -- I had pondered bringing my son's Clone Wars/Star Wars sheets, but ended up bringing the Hello Kitty ones instead), my brand-spankin' new lotion bottle and black snap-buckle lotion holster, still in its crinkly plastic wrapper.
I looked around, wondering who would be my first "person." Would it be the tall, lanky young guy with shoulder-length hair? Or the tiny goth girl? Or the older-looking woman?
One member of our class seemed very self-assured and a bit (just a *teeny* bit) full of himself, having taken the "massage for non-majors" class already, and he was telling us all about his holster that had TWO holders, so he could have lotion on each side, OR even maybe hand sanitizer in one. I was simultaneously intimidated and irritated.
Finally, the door opened, and our instructor, a 70-something gray-haired Irish-looking man smiled and waved us in. He was dressed in khakis and a red polo shirt. Little did I know that he had an entire closet devoted to khakis and red polos.
He had us all plunk down our bags and "circle up," each grabbing either a grey plastic chair or a padded rolling stool, and forming an elongated oval. He welcomed us, introduced himself (a retired physician and longtime massage therapist), and told us to relax, close our eyes, breathe, and "follow the sound of the bell."
With that, he held out a bell (the kind you imagine an old schoolmarm would call kids with), and bonged it once.
I closed my eyes and tried to meditate the way a Massage Therapist would. I couldn't. I kept shifting in my seat, peeking out through my eyelashes, trying trying trying. Finally, something shifted inside, and I could almost taste the air. It got thick and warm and palpable. I breathed in, savoring this new sensation across my tongue, in my mouth, my lungs. I sensed the people around me, and noticed I was rocking minutely, forward and back. Not enough that anyone else would see, but rather as though to a silent rhythm.
After a few minutes of this, I heard a light gentle bong as he rang the bell again. We opened our eyes and sheepishly smiled and looked around. It was time to do it. Time for our first experience touching someone else. Eeep.
Our instructor (J) told us to choose a partner, and that for each class we'd choose someone else. I looked wildly around for someone who didn't scare me, and I saw a very gentle-looking girl next to me. "Want to work with me?"
She smiled and nodded.
Today, J informed us, we would not need our lotions, and we would not get undressed. Today was just an experience of being in someone else's space in a therapeutic way. We were to simply sit on our stools with the other person on the table (with sheets. NEVER on a bare table), and touch them. Hold our hands on their shoulders, their mid-back, their head. Just sit and close our eyes and experience whatever happened.
He turned off the overhead lights while we scrambled around, putting sheets on the tables, turning on the "side lights," and awkwardly, each pair chose who would be on the table first. My partner climbed on the table, and lay down, face down, face in the u-shaped cradle.
J reminded us to put bolster pillows under our "client's" feet to keep their ankles from hyperextending, and told us to always slide the bolster under the sheet. Never ever let a client's skin touch bare vinyl.
My partner, A, lay peacefully, face down. We were instructed to lay our hands on the upper back, and simply feel.
OK. This is it. I sat on my stool, took a deep breath, extended my hands over her, and gently lowered them to her back. I closed my eyes.
Emotions washed over me. My mother-instinct was making itself be known, and I had to fight the urge to stroke her hair and kiss her head, because that's what I do with my kids. After that initial reaction passed, I began to feel with my hands. I noticed the texture of her shirt, the heat of her skin, the movement of her breath. Unconsciously, I began to breathe with her.
My hands began to tingle with awareness. Literally. I started to feel a pulse similar to the rocking I felt during our opening meditation. I wondered if it was her pulse I was feeling, or mine, or something else. The tingling that began on the skin of the palms of my hands sank further in, moving into my muscles, then up into my wrists and forearms. I noticed that I had opened my mouth a bit and was breathing through my mouth, the air palpable on my tongue. Heavy. Comfortable. Warm.
Then J told us to mentally say goodbye to the back before we moved our hands. I felt as though a magnet held my hands there, and as I visualized myself detaching from the magnet, I felt the pull release me. Still in the thickened air, I moved to her head, which was the next spot we were supposed to hold.
Again, I poised my hands over her, preparing. My palms tingled before I even touched her hair, and again the magnetic feeling. I followed the pull, and my hands sank onto her hair. Once again, I had to fight the urge to "mother her," so I tried to let that need pass through me. This time, the pulsation was much less, but there was much more sensation of a solid connection. I had the image of a barbell, my hands each being the weight on the ends, and the magnetic pull being the bar between them. Soon, I felt myself gently rocking (internally? externally? I couldn't tell) to some unseen rhythm.
Minutes passed, and I floated on my sensations in the near-darkness.
Finally, it was time to switch partners.