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.
'Well...because...you know...' She paused and looked meaningful.
'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: http://handsonclinic.co.uk/