I gave myself the gift of an hour-long massage yesterday morning, after our crazy, tension-filled week.
My appointment was at an outfit called the Naturopathic Institute of Therapies and Education, located in Mt. Pleasant -- ironically in what used to be a funeral home. Part of the building has been transformed into a retail store, but the rest of the place is a school offering training in naturopathic medicine, massage and other alternative health therapies. I'd never been there before; but I was looking for something a little different than either the very clinical massage experience of our local medical center's PT department or the foofy, girly-girl massages at the nearby beauty emporium.
When it comes to alternative medicine, I'm like Agent Mulder: I want to believe. I truly believe in a mind-body aspect to wellness, and I also think that practices like meditation, various physical disciplines like yoga can make a positive difference in people's health, for reasons that can't always be explained by conventional science. I've had good luck with some herbal medicines (with the disclaimer that I've done my homework, and steer clear of the potentially dangerous stuff -- I'm talking innocuous herbs like peppermint and crampbark for "ladies' complaints," arnica cream for external bang-ups and so on.) I'm also enough of a revolutionary to feel satisfaction in seeking alternate answers to my health questions -- I think anytime we can safely and effectively go off the grid of Big Health and Big Pharm it's a good thing; fight the power.
But there's a whiff of snake oil in the alternative medicine universe. I felt that tension passing through the institute's retail shop, with its rows of homeopathic elixirs and books about the joys of colonic irrigation. It's why I wish that there were more accredited physicians out there with some academic and practical chops in integrative medicine to help laypeople navigate through all this, so that we're not left with a choice between eye-rolling by-the-book allopaths and quacks out of a 19th-century medicine show.
Nonetheless, my alt.med massage was heavenly. After filling out an information form detailing my health history and issues my masseuse, a slight young woman who nonetheless exhibited the body strength of a rugby player, attacked my constricted upper back, shoulders and neck with as much vigor as I requested...and then some. She did something to my spine that made it crack, but in a good way. She dug into the area around my kidneys, and seemed to elbow her way up and down my hips. She massaged my computer-stressed wrists, and made the tips of my fingers tingle. She pulled my head up from my neck and I felt like a turtle being stretched out of a hard shell. She pressed lightly around my upper chest, along the upper part of the breastbone, which momentarily startled me; but it seemed to create a soothing sensation in my back. She All the while I could hear, and smell, some interesting alchemy going on with oils and scents; unlike spa massages I've had, some of these aromas were not particularly pretty, but they seemed to have specific purposes. I could identify cedar, and lavender, and some warming potion that I think was Chinese linament.
I am definitely going back for more. And I'm re-dedicating myself to being a more active, less passive, healthcare consumer, even if it means veering off the beaten path of medical convention once in awhile.