For some anxiety-ridden students facing the return to classes, the nightmare of standing before your classmates and realizing you're naked is a familiar one. The relief of waking up is sweet.
My nightmare has no such ending. I'm in massage therapy class. I won't be waking up. I will be naked.
Even before I hit the one-year-to-the-big-50 mark, I wasn't that comfortable with my body. I've always been aware of the extra pounds and now, of course, there's the reality of aging skin. I'm not convinced that I'm some crone but I'm also not that excited about a swimsuit.
So joining a class that requires you to shed clothing and jump on a table so that 20-somethings who cycle, play in rock bands, and bartend can beat on you makes total sense, right?
I can't say that I was surprised when we were told this week that we'd need our lotion. That was the cue that our clothes would be coming off. We've been practicing with scrubs on, learning to drape the sheet so that some degree of modesty is maintained. But with the introduction of strokes, we had to be moving to the big day.
What did surprise me was my reaction. Suddenly, I saw myself in such a negative light. Every pound on me seemed heavier, every blemish got darker, every wrinkle looser. And when we were told on the second day on "hands-on lab work" that we had to have a male partner if we hadn't already had one . . . well, gulp, I had to face the fear.
I looked around the room and there was the one guy in the younger set (yes, we've somewhat self-organized by age) who actually laughs at my jokes. He caught my eye, we did the raised eyebrow dance of inquiry and both nodded that we would proceed.
I worked on him first. He's the cyclist and may weigh as much as my two thighs. He's never had a professional massage. On this issue, I definitely had the upper hand.
I followed the class procedure of strokes, got the instructor to use him as a model so that my new young friend could have an incredible glute experience, and got some good response for my degree of pressure.
Then we closed the curtains and I stripped.
When he came back to the table, we had to practice the turn. If he does the draping correctly, he can't see but the move requires a rollover in which the client's breasts are potentially exposed. I rolled and positioned myself and took a deep breath. In that moment, I realized the truth of the words I uttered more than once during his practice of strokes and in response to his effusive apologies for getting some part of the practice wrong. "We are students. We are here to learn. We'll make mistakes but if we can't learn on each other, we can't learn."
My fears were faced by reframing. On that table, I am not a middle-aged woman with "issues" about her physical contours and sagging skin. I am an object lesson, a means to greater understanding. In learning mode, the experience made sense and, in fact, was essential.
Massage really does help relieve stress.