It starts in way I can only describe as a hankering. What triggers that hankering I can’t explain. Perhaps it’s the change of seasons, a smell, a memory, a sense of unease or some other unconscious trigger. Whatever it is, my mind latches on to that ember of a hankering. There it sits, smouldering away, flickering into my consciousness where it subtly lingers from time to time, pulled out every now and then, mulled over, batted away, brought back, re-examined, and amplified until it becomes such a noise, it can no longer be resisted.
One of my hankerings starts every August, winter is coming to an end, it’s getting lighter and warmer when suddenly it’s there, a hankering for asparagus. Crazy I know, but I can visualise seeing the first bright green, purple tipped spears in our local fruit shop. I can hear the snap of the stems as I prepare them for steaming, the vivid green colour when cooked, the light stinging on my fingers from squeezing lemons over the cooked spears, the slither of the olive oil, watching it puddle around the plated asparagus and finally the curls of the parmesan cheese garnish, softly melting in the lead up to the ‘moment’.
I imagine the ‘moment’ picking up that freshly cooked spear, dripping in the mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, cheese, and seasoning, steering it towards my mouth, then biting down. The feeling of it crunch between my teeth, and the taste, how do you describe that taste? For me, it’s the taste of spring.
The last hankering I had was a few weeks ago. As I was shrugging off the night’s sleep and mentally preparing for the day ahead, I felt this ache. It was around the mid-section of my back and shoulder. A general location where my regular stretch session usually would have it out.
As the week progressed, the ache became more forefront. It wasn’t any worse, but my mind had latched on to the idea that a massage was in order. Not just a bit of a shoulder rub either, but a full head to toe massage. So, the internal wrangling began, I told myself that I didn’t really need a massage, that I was too busy, and I threw in the Covid risk as well. But the hankering would not be silenced. What’s more, was that it was my birthday, and a massage seemed like the perfect gift. So the hankering won, and the truth is, I do love a good massage but it is a curious process.
Massage has been practiced in lndia for thousands of years and there are scientifically supported health benefits from massage including improved circulation, range of motion and decreased stress levels. In New Zealand, the term ‘massage parlour’ used as a euphemism for a brothel, which in my opinion has thrown shade on the massage therapy industry, and hindered it being taken seriously as a legitimate health service. It may be for that reason, in my social circles at least, what actually happens in the massage room is not often talked about.
When I get a massage, I go to our local Thai massage place. The booking process is online and it’s enjoyable scrolling through the various options. I settled on a combination of traditional Thai, Swedish and Sports Massage – with hard pressure. I arrived at the salon on time, where I’m ushered into the massage room left to undress and scramble onto the massage table lying face down. It’s at this point where I am presented with the quandary I have never been able to resolve… the dilemma of having to pull up the sheet to cover you while you are stuck lying on your stomach. I manage a couple of arthritic stretches to shuffle the sheet over most of my back and settle in.
My therapist returns. The massage always starts off the same way with hot towels placed on my feet and pressure applied to the reflex points. A sense of bliss, a deep slow exhale and the hankering begins to diminish.
After a firm exploration of all muscle groups from my feet to the shoulders, the massage starts in earnest. Calves first and this is when my mind begins to tune out of the external world and turns inward, picking up on the sensations and nuances of each muscle as it is massaged. My right calve felt tighter than my left one, I pondered as to why this was, and fall deeper into relaxation.
When the massage proceeds to my back, I exhale loudly as the massage stupor begins to take hold, then suddenly, oh, what was that? It felt nice and sore all at the same time. I thought to myself, she has found the source of the ache, oh wait maybe not, oh yes there it is again but not in the same spot, is it more to the left or to the right?
“Ohhhh I think that’s it, yes. Wait no. Maybe? That feels good, sore, but better. Please go back to that spot I think it needs more work. Hang on there’s a new spot”
And so it goes on, the mix of bliss and soft pain that is oh so good for you.
Halfway through the massage you need to somehow rouse yourself from your semi-comatose state to turn over on to your back. I’m not sure how other people manage this manoeuvre, but I don’t exhibit much poise, style or grace executing my three-point turn method. I thankfully manage to flip over without falling off the table or losing my towel, and settle in for phase two.
The second stage is a hand, arm, neck and face massage which all passes too soon and with a final cupped hand tap on my forehead my hour of indulgent therapy is over, and I feel great. “Very tight shoulders” my therapist proclaims, and my hankering gives me a self-satisfied smirk.
My takeout from this is your hankerings or intuitions if you like, are real and serve a purpose. They can alert you to a ‘need’ or a ‘want’ that perhaps is not obvious or urgent, but when they can’t be quelled it’s worthwhile to take the time to find out what’s driving it. It might be important.