Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Touch.  So essential.  So overlooked (or rather so undertouched).  We're touch deprived, so many of us  - we really are.  I've been fascinated by the healing power of touch and have been reading the research for the last twenty years. It gets more and more convincing.  We humans need touch - it's as essential in its way as food, drink, air.  The saddest thing?  Babies in orphanages deprived of touch.  They fail to thrive; if they do survive they grow up with behavioural problems.  On the other hand, babies who are held, cuddled, stroked, kissed, grow up calmer, more resilient to stress, with stronger immune systems.  Baby massage? Fabulous.  Well, if your baby will go for it.  James absolutely loathed it.  But we spent a lot of chilled time, skin to skin, when he was small to compensate - and he loved that - so maybe it was just that I wasn't the best masseuse! 
I could bore you for hours about this, cos I find it fascinating, but anyway...
If I were in charge of the country I'd make massage therapy free on the NHS. Cos I figure it would solve on helluva lot of our problems (not just health-wise but societally too). It would also save a shedload of money.  

Back in the 90s, when I earned a decent whack, I didn't spend my spare cash (oh, the thought!) on fancy shoes or clothes - I spent it on good bodywork.  I used to visit this guy called Paresh Rink once a week, out in Glastonbury.  No fancy spa, no shiny clinic.  He worked from home, from a little back room of his terraced house, with socks hanging on the radiator (okay, so that bit wasn't quite so fabulous).  But frankly it didn't matter one jot because he ironed out my body. And my mind followed.  Of course. Because what profoundly  affects the body, affects the mind - and vice versa. How could it not?

Now I think I have found my new Paresh (the original escaped back to California). You already know I love the Hands On clinic in Braunton which, incidentally, is as clean and fresh as a brisk sea breeze from nearly Saunton beach.  Not a single damp sock in sight.  Well, I went back yesterday, for another session with Phil Steward.  I told him I'd wrecked my Achilles (again) and that my coccyx was gridlocked. At which point he laughed out loud and plucked out a textbook and showed me a picture.
'Don't worry,' he said with a broad grin. 'I won't use that particular technique.'
'Thank feck for that,' I replied, eyes like saucers at the prospect of having my coccyx manipulated from the inside out.

The next hour melted me.  He used a combination of techniques but really that's just the bottom (sorry!) layer of the puzzle.  The guy's a healer, pure and simple.  At the end he got me to turn over onto my back with my arms crossed over my chest and he did this thingy where he got me to breathe in and then exhale as he put his weight on me (and he's one big guy).  'Lift up your chin,' he said. 'Like you're trying to do a crunch.'  I managed about an inch (tough when you've got no air in your lungs) and the whole set of my thoracic vertebrae just gave in, clicked and released in sequence. Unbelievable.  No trauma, no invasive manipulation.
'Your body really needed to do that,' he said.
'Er, just a  bit,' I said. Then added, 'Was I very tense and uptight? Like all over?'
'Er, just a bit,' he said.

Now not everyone shares my love of being pummelled and pounded.  I know some people who literally shudder at the idea of being massaged.  And that saddens me, it really does. Not because I think people should like the stuff I like (horses for courses and all); it's just that I can't wrap my head around the idea that anyone wouldn't adore having their body sorted out by someone who really knows what they're doing.

Of course there are reasons why some people don't like touch (it often goes hand in glove with early abuse) and that is even sadder.  

Other people raise their eyebrows when I say I like getting massaged by guys.  In fact, out of my top five best massage therapists, three were men (Paresh, Phil and some guy at the AlpenMedhotel Lamm in Austria).  Interestingly, the two women both do chavutti thirumal, the Indian rope massage (where they mainly use their feet to go deep into the muscles and fascia). Cos, see (or rather, feel) I like a deep touch and it might sound sexist but guys just do tend to probe that bit deeper.

'Ooooh, no, I could never be massaged by a man,' said my friend Gill.
'But why?' I said.
' know...' She paused and looked meaningful.
'No. What?' 
'Well...' More eye gestures.
The penny dropped. 'Oh, you mean sex?'
'Well, you did mean it, didn't you?' 
'Oh, for pity's sake!'

It's not just women either.  When I raved on about Phil on Twitter I got a dose of Carry On 'ooh errr, missus' from our own Jake Barton.
- All that hands-on malarkey would worry me. Prone to alarmist tendencies re wandering hands [he said]
- Don't be ridiculous, Barton. [I said]
- Shy boys like me dread the very idea of massages. Far too much indiscreet rummaging. [he said].
- No comment. [I didn't say.]

I mean. Really. Get over yourselves.  That idea of massage really is dead and gone - unless, of course, you find your massage therapists from cards in telephone boxes or in small ads that say 'added extras' and throw in a Badedas bath at the end.  Today's bodyworkers are supreme professionals.  You're a body.  With issues.  That they can fix.  That's it. 

And my poor body had issues.  In fact, according to Phil, its issues had issues.  But now it feels...rather delightful.

Seriously, if you're anywhere within driving distance of North Devon, give your body a treat and go see Phil.  And if you really do have guy 'issues' another of my top therapists, Jules, works there.  And if you can't handle 'deep' massage (no, not of the anal variety, for pity's sake) they have other therapists who, I'm willing to bet, are pretty damn good too.  Cos Ellie (Phil's partner) vets them all and I get the feeling she's as picky as I am.  

Sooo... How about you? Love massage? Hate it?  How do you like it?  Whom do you rate?  

The Hands On clinic is in Braunton, North Devon. Check out their website for more details:


Anonymous said...

In California (and doubtless elsewhere, but I don't know any more than this), a "foot massage" involves a lot of time spent on one's feet, but it is a whole body massage; all you remove is socks and shoes. They ask "Okay?" as they move your back and shoulder muscles around, and because I say yes, it's a very deep massage. It costs far less than a regular massage ($25, and of course I tip!) but I much prefer it. There are four to choose from in my small California coastal town; typically no appointment needed.

Unknown said...

My problem is I am way too ticklish. The few times I have had a massage, I leave with aching shoulders, tired from trying to surpress my giggles...

Fennie said...

Absolutely adore massage but it gets a bit pricey. I also have the annoying habit of relaxing so much that I fall asleep.

Exmoorjane said...

@Anon - really? Here in the UK a foot massage would be...a foot massage (going up the calves and stopping dead). Interesting.

@KM - Hmm. Only solution - MUCH harder massage. :)

Exmoorjane said...

@Fennie - yup, that's the barrier for me too...and don't you hate it when you fall asleep and miss what you're paying for??

Anonymous said...

I totally and utterly agree with you about the importance of touch, and have written about it too. As a single gal without so much as a dog to stroke I feel the lack keenly. And that is one reason (and the fact they are so damned cheap!) that I indulge here in Cambodia. It isn't a sexual thing, but a recognition of the importance of physical contact in one's life. I wish I got it in every day life, but I don't, so this is the next best thing.

Zoë said...

Speaking to the converted here!

I go for massage, reflexology, MLD and so on on a regular basis.

Touch is soothing, and my OH massages my feet most evenings for me before bedtime as it helps me relax for sleep. If I still struggle to settle (pain is a big problem in my life) he strokes my back for me 'til he hears me snore!

Cost is an issue, but I feel massage in the therapeutic forms I use it makes a huge difference to my quality of life and also those around me. I happily go without other things so that I can continue to go.

Rob-bear said...

Ah, such a lovely post. You obviously had a "just what I needed" experience. Great!

Which reminds me. I haven't been to my massage therapist for a while. I should ring her up right now.

Thnx, Jane.

Anonymous said...

Alison Cross said...

It sounds a wonderful experience! I once had a massage in a shop and almost fell asleep, it was one of the most glorious experiences...

I must see if I can find someone who can do one on a more regular basis. I feel like my shoulders are up around my ears most of the day!

Ali x

d.J. Kirkby said...

I hate it. Reiki is my thing.

Actually Mummy said...

I'm a bit like you. Before the kids I would go weekly to see the best massage girl I know. It kept me moving and pain-free. I miss it so much now :(

susie @newdaynewlesson said...

I am thinking I am going to come vacation by you just to have a bunch of massgaes. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

I live in Cambodia and here it is common for both men and women to go for a massage at least once a week. Friends and family massage each other also, and it's considered kind for younger relatives to massage older ones, especially the neck, shoulders and arms. Cheap as chips here, and it's a common profession for blind people, who are considered more expert because of their greater reliance on touch

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Unknown said...

Liked the post very much. I do reiki, massage and groping. I think I'm actually pretty good at all three, but that's 'cos I know the difference. Groping always has an end in mind. If you are touching them here, it's to see if they'll object. If you don't that means you can try to touch them there, which you wouldn't have done in the first place. With massage, you are pretty much always already there. You are working on this muscle or area because that's the part that needs it. Someone who thinks that permission to give a massage means permission to grope deserves a slapped face. I think most people involved in massage do know the difference and don't need an excuse to go try to cop a feel. They are just relaxed around bodies and know how they work.