This story begins with a pair of hands.
A big, former bank guy's hands. And what they're doing.
But to be honest, I wasn't sure. And I wasn't even sure what I was feeling as I lay fully clothed on his massage table.
Well, that's not quite true. At first, my head was going a mile a minute. The repeated thought, among others that weren't so kind, was "Happiness-seeking knows no bounds."
A large man over 6 foot 3 and more than 220 pounds (he felt the need to tell me). The practitioner also volunteered that he had found his calling while working in a financial institution, somewhere in a deep downtown bunker. He had a gift (and a habit) of relieving the headaches of some of his co-workers by touching their scalps and supporting their heads on his fingertips like a volleyball.
In his suit and tie? After calling in someone's loan? Did his "patients" stretch out flat in their cubicles? Did they take their sensible shoes off?
Thoughts can be like Joan Rivers on a red carpet. They're hard to shut up. Which is why I was in the market for a massage with a happy ending – an emotionally and spiritually happy ending, that is.
I was in search of my still point – the G-spot of alternative therapies. Sure, some people think it's non-existent. But others swear it can be found and rave about the experience. So here I was on the fifth floor of a former warehouse in downtown Toronto. It was sunny outside. I could hear an ambulance scream by. This dude had his paws under my spine. Then he put them under my head. Such is craniosacral therapy.
And he just sat there, breathing shallowly, holding his hands still, like I was some precious vessel he dared not disturb.
"Who know what happens when two people's electromagnetic fields interact?" he had said when I lapsed into Ms. Journalist persona, needing to know what the heck he was doing.
Now, before I tell you what happened I should make some alternative therapy confessions.
I have tried many over the years. And maybe that's because to not try some is like not wanting to taste dark chocolate; you don't believe in little indulgences. There's no trend data about the popularity of alternative massage therapies in Canada – but more and more people talk about them as part of their routine, like going to the hairdresser. Sometimes they seem like another example of consumerist culture, promising a quick fix to the challenge of finding a sense of well-being, like a swig of Scotch at the end of the day, only better for you.
Years ago, someone I know suggested I try reiki. She was calm and centred and very cool. I wanted what she had, and she did reiki regularly. So off I went to her therapist and submitted myself to her ministrations. I was fully clothed that time, too, lying on a table while she laid her hands on me, the idea being that we hold emotional trauma and issues in our bodies, which need to be released in order to restore the proper flow of energy.
She encouraged me to talk about what I was feeling and I spoke about a range of issues in my life at the time. I wept. And I never went back. The whole thing scared me a bit. You mean I have emotions hidden in my thorax? She found something from my childhood tucked away at the base of my spine? Difficult emotions are like spiritual tumours in the body? No thank you. Sometimes the mystery of the body is best left a mystery.
Which is not to say I hate weeping. I actually find it very satisfying. Once, I had a detox massage in Maui. The therapist smeared my body with seaweed goop, wrapped me in a heated sleeping bag of sorts, leaving only my head and feet exposed. Then she proceeded to massage my scalp and then my feet. When she left me to detox in my heated maki roll for 10 minutes, unexpectedly I started to cry. It was one of the best moments of that holiday. Which is sort of sad, but that was the holiday that made it clear I had to divorce.
But if some treatments are welcome – and clarifying – others I find to be tiresome overtures to the sanctity of the body. Recently, my partner and I were treated to a couple's massage at the five-star Ritz Carlton in Toronto. We were lying side by side on massage tables in a darkened room with candles. My therapist leaned over me and whispered in my ear, "Is the pressure all right?" She didn't want to disturb my partner's experience of relaxation. No weeping this time. I felt like sitting bolt upright and laughing. My partner's therapist leaned over him to whisper, "Are you okay?" so many times, he was starting to feel as unnerved as Larry David in that episode in which his therapist gives him a happy ending he wasn't expecting – or paying for.
So when it came to my craniosacral massage, I didn't know what to expect.
For the first part of the treatment, I was busy trying to figure out why I was paying $120 for a guy to basically cradle my spine through layers of clothing. I was in control, my brain leading the way.
But before long, I relaxed. I fell into a trance. At least, I think it was a trance or some hypnotic state. I wasn't asleep. At the same time, though, I lost a sense of where I was. Images swam through my mind. But I wasn't thinking them. I wasn't thinking at all. I was watching colour variations and movements in a sea. It was like someone had disengaged the clutch on my brain. I was floating.
"What was that?" I asked upon rising from the table and describing my lost sense of time and place.
"Some people call it a state of mediation," he explained. He went on about the cerebrospinal fluid and how it has a pulsating rhythm, how he can feel it. It's part of the inherent life force in the body, and by gently manipulating the spine, getting it to release areas of tension, the body goes into a resting, healing place.
"You are mostly made up of fluids," this hulking ex-finance guy explained with a sweet smile. "It's about letting them flow properly," he said, adding that some studies document the calming change in brain waves the therapy induces.
I didn't really care at that point. Quackery? Maybe. Who cares? Whatever he did was benign and acceptable.
I was moon and I was tidal water and I was happily headed home for a scotch.