Healing hands Sendin' out the massage to bring body and mind together By Oona Woods Massage has tended to be equated in our society with paradise, power and perversion. Whenever the corporate ad monkeys want to portray heavenly havens they lean heavily on the cliché of a tropical setting with some anonymous but no doubt highly effective hands working on the relaxee. Look at the number of films (not just those starring Eddie Murphy) that end with a crowd of good friends (who hated each other once because they were so monumentally mismatched but have come to admire their differences) relaxing in paradise with some bimbo/himbo massaging them. Unfortunately for serious massage therapist — and by serious I mean no rude bits — there is the everlasting connection between the word "massage" and the word "parlour." If you look up "massage" on the ’net you'll be greeted by Massage, Alternative, Health right next to Claudia's Inner City Massage Service and Massage by Samantha. And believe me, it's only a hop skip and a jump from there to more explicit material. Massage therapists in town would like to see the idea that massage is just for the pervy, rich or injured banished. The oneness of mind and body has been firmly recognized over time by pretty much every culture, bar this modern Western one. Massage has the power to relax or stimulate both body and mind. As the cereal boxes so eloquently put it, "it can be part of a healthy lifestyle." That’s because humans need to be touched. People become mentally and physically sick when they aren't touched. You only have to look to the horror stories of children brought up without human contact to see that it is a vital part of raising people and keeping their sociopathic episodes to a minimum. If you were a baboon you’d have a certain amount of time allotted to grooming your buddies. A recent study in England found that in both the primate societies of baboons and civil servants, low status meant hardened arteries and high stress levels. However, the underlings who went in for physical social contact in a big way had healthier arteries and lower stress levels. Humans need to unwind or they will tie themselves up in so many knots that the gradual tension will leave them looking like a contortionist in the middle of a seizure. The Canadian Massage Therapists Alliance (CMTA) says that although the human body was built to be mobile and ready for action the physical challenges of the modern world are constricting. They list work stations built to accommodate equipment and not different body shapes and sizes as one of the main problems. Of course in Whistler that workspace may well be the great outdoors, but people still manage to strain their bodies trying to fit into all of it. "While there seems to be a universal agreement that massage 'feels good' it also offers many specific benefits," says a CMTA report. "The therapeutic use of massage affects all systems of the body, most particularly circulatory, blood and lymph, muscular, facial and nervous systems. Massage therapy is also effective in the control of pain (chronic or acute), in stress reduction and in creating a sense of well being." This could be why people end up in those relationships where they whine "No, it’s your turn to do me," at their partner. Even if you do get a willing massager chances are they’re not very good at it. Whether it feels so light that it may have just been a bird flying past, or it feels remarkably similar to unwittingly stumbling into the ring at the WWF finals, most people don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Luckily, humanity has evolved enough that you don’t actually have to be flirting, sleeping with or lording it over anyone to get unwound by someone who actually has a clue what they’re doing. This is where Whistler’s massage masters come in. When Dawn Miller Lang works the scene people crumble from hard chippy rocks to smooth fine sand. As with many masseuses, people start moving stiffly and groaning about their aches and pains in her presence. It’s like being at a 1950s cocktail party with a doctor. People just line up to list their symptoms. Dawn (who works out of the Revolution offices) specializes in knowing a wide range of techniques and styles. She employs deep tissue techniques with acupressure in the form of Jin Shin Do (which loosely translated means "the way of the compassionate spirit"). She will also use Reiki to re-balance your body’s flow of energy. Reiki involves channelling by directing energy without actually touching the person at the time. Weird as it may seem you can feel changes in temperature when she does it. "I don't usually go into the different techniques with people before I do them," says Dawn. "If you try you spend a lot of time explaining it... I just do it on them and then when afterwards they ask what that thing I was doing with my hands on their head was, I tell them about it." Dawn has worked on all kinds of people, from the hard bodies of Whistler to OAPs in a care clinic. Even though she puts herself more on the holistic side of the massage scale she has still seen her fair share of medical results. "One old man came to me just before he was due to have back surgery. He couldn't even sleep in his own bed. He had to sleep in a chair. After repeated sessions he actually cancelled the appointment for the operation and was also able to sleep in his own bed." Dawn deftly dismisses any talk of miracle cures. She just sees massage therapy as a vital and necessary part of everybody’s life. "When you're having a massage and you get to that point where you don't know if you're awake or asleep that's good. It gives your body’s energies a chance to re-balance." When Dawn "Reike-ed" my head she did make a comment about stagnant energy and it being "real busy" there. This leads me to imagine my misguided brain waves bouncing off some pain of glass like lots of little flies in a big futile dance. Dawn's technique can smooth out the general synapse mayhem and calm down stress. "Your mind can flutter away but if it does you can bring it back," she said kindly. One client reported feeling a resurgence of childhood memories as she worked on his meridians to release his tension. Watching her with clients it soon becomes apparent that the most common emotion people display after a session is total adoration. It’s like she’s somehow changed from a mere girl to immortal goddess in the space of the hour. Hands that can do that kinda stuff are rare. Still she claims not to notice. For whatever reason the cathartic release of muscle tension also turns your body into soup. When the massage is finished people slither off the table and then seep slowly out the door (pausing only to glance with reverence at their saviour). This is of course a temporary state in the modern world. A few weeks of working for the man soon has people resuming their former twisted shapes. Caroline Hachey, working out of the Chateau, also has the gift of healing hands. Her studies in Shiatsu mean that she’s one of the massage therapists people come flocking to when their bodies rebel against the stress. Jin Shin Do and Shiatsu both come under the school of acupressure. Like Dawn, she can equate blockages in the energy fields of the body’s 12 meridians with emotional tension. The meridians come in groups like the large intestine and lung, liver and gall bladder, kidney and bladder or spleen and stomach. Each field running through the body relates to an organ which in turn represents a specific area of the psyche. This can be quite disconcerting. It’s like suddenly discovering you’re in the company of a mind reader. Even if you manage not to fly off the table and cling to the ceiling like a cat in a padded boudoir when she hits a buzz point, Caroline can still feel the knots. She can then tell you precisely which particular emotions you're hanging onto with unhealthy determination. When Dawn came upon a zap spot on me she said it was probably about two or three years of tension. Now that would make it all Whistler tension. There’s a whole nodule of roommates, rent and service industry jobs all jammed together there for life. The main focus of massage in Whistler does tend to be related to physical activity. When all that lactic acid is released to hang about on street corners in your body you need the curfew-hands to come out and move them along. Maria Bernudez from the Esperanza Spa focuses on relaxing all the skiers, stressers and tense people about town with aromatherapy. "I get people to chose whatever smell they feel they want at the time," she explains. "If people don't know right away I ask them what kind of mood they're in. Do they want to be walking through a forest, smelling sandalwood and deep forest fragrances?" The Aveda products she uses are all straight from the earth in order to maintain people's interconnection with nature. This in turn is said to strengthen awareness of cause and effect on a personal level and promote living a balanced life in both an individual and global level. One of the most impressive aspects of all this massage therapy carry on is its use as a preventative treatment. According to the therapists, if you can keep the energy moving in the trouble spots you will reduce your risk of serious illness. If nothing else it's another useful tool in making sure mind and body don't fly apart at any inopportune moments. As the CMTA says, "When muscles are loose and circulation is sufficient, the result is better health and less chance of injury or dysfunction. Some other effects are not well understood, such as decreased anxiety following treatment. Some physical and psychological effects may be due to the release of endorphins, the body’s' natural painkillers."