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Woster: Finding my comfort level during (almost) full-body massage


This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

It was to be my first professional massage. At age 70.

To be clear, I wasn’t giving it. I was getting it.

And I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about it.

I’ve never particularly cared for the idea of a stranger kneading my flesh. Especially my uncovered flesh.

And this was to be not just a back rub, which was all I really thought I needed. This was going to be a full-body massage.

Or, almost full body. More on that in a bit.

I needed to know more about this massage in advance. So I asked my stepson, Padraic, who had recently received a full-body massage from the same woman I would see at a small business in downtown Rapid City.

Padraic described it in great, delighted detail, and concluded with: “And she worked my butt cheeks pretty good, to loosen up my hips.”

Of course, that got my attention. Butt cheeks?

To be clear, Padraic was wearing briefs. And the massage on that part was outside the underwear.

But apparently some people get that area massaged directly on the skin. To each his own, I guess. But that wouldn’t be my own.

As for the “butt cheeks,” I think a masseuse might say that she manipulated his gluteus maximus muscles, or glutes.

There are three of them, with the gluteus maximus muscle on each side being the biggest and the one that shapes most of the buttocks. Somewhere in there on each side are the gluteus minimus and the gluteus medias.

And that’s about all I know about them, other than they make it possible for us to walk, run and just stand around. So, they’re essential. And I suppose like any muscle, they could benefit from a rub.

A little more detail, please, on this “full body” thing

But whatever you call them — and usually they’re lumped together as “glutes” — Padraic’s response answered a question that had been lurking in my head: Just how much of a person gets massaged in these full-body deals, anyway? Apparently quite a bit.

So what’s in a name? Well, quite a bit, too.

The idea of working over the glutes seemed clinical and comfortable. The idea of massaging the butt cheeks was, well, something different. Especially to a 70-year-old man who was already hesitant about the whole process.

I didn’t bring up the glutes specifically when I called to chat with the masseuse who would be doing the massage. But I asked her to describe the process, in general.

“Do you want me to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes?” I asked, hopefully.

There was a pause. Then she said: “It really doesn’t matter what you wear, because you’ll be taking your clothes off, to whatever degree you’re comfortable with.”

She said that we would have a conversation before she started the massage about what I wanted out of it and what I was comfortable with. Then she would step out of the room and I would disrobe “to your comfort level” and slip under a cover, lying on my belly.

I immediately thought my comfort level would be a t-shirt and sweat pants. But I supposed I should do better than that to get the full benefit of the massage. I’d have to wait and see how much better when the time came.

Finally seeking professional help beyond the home

Mary was happy when I scheduled the massage. She had been encouraging me to do it for months. No, for years.

She gives me good back rubs. And they help with stiffness and pain in the shoulders and neck, and with headaches. But she says I still carry a lot of tension. In my back, in my shoulders and neck. And in other places, too, I guess.

“You just need more than I can give you,” she would say. “You need a professional.”

Probably. But it took me a while to warm up to the idea. Other than Mary, I don’t get touched much beyond a handshake — and even those are relatively rare since COVID — or brief hugs with friends or longer, more loving hugs with kids and grandkids.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much Mary, or hands off.

So it was with some trepidation that I stood on the sidewalk in downtown Rapid City on a blisteringly cold day — that last cold snap we had — and punched in the code the masseuse had given me on a locked door leading upstairs. It buzzed, but didn’t open. I punched in the numbers again. Again it buzzed again and didn’t open. I turned the handle, one way then another, and pushed on the door. No luck.

Then I heard footsteps coming down. The door was opened by a smiling young woman who was apologetic about the door.

“It sometimes does this in cold weather,” she said.

Then she punched in the number to check it, punching a lock symbol on the dial after the numbers.

“Ah,” I said. “I didn’t punch the lock thing. I’m not great with mechanical devices.”

She smiled and I followed her up the staircase to an upper floor and a hallway leading to a pleasantly decorated room with a well-padded table draped by a thick, fluffy cover.

“Do you run hot or cold,” she asked. “The cover’s heated, but if you don’t want it … “

“Cold,” I said. “I’ll take the cover.”

I’ll take the CBD, minus the THC

She left the room while I got undressed to my comfort level, which stopped at my briefs. She had assured me that I’d remain covered except for the particular body part she was working on at the time. At my wife’s advice, I was going to have all those parts, with the exception of the no-go zone under the briefs, worked over.

And the masseuse worked them over thoroughly.

She said she typically started a first-timer with medium pressure, which sounded good to me. She had said earlier that the massage would take an hour, which might sound long but that I would be surprised how quickly the time would pass.

She said I’d be on my belly for a little more than half the time and then on my back for the rest.

She also said I had an option of some regular massage oil or CBD oil, which she quickly pointed out did not have more than trace amounts of THC. Even so, I felt a bit like a risk-taker when I chose the CBD oil.

Soon I was on my belly on the covered table with my face down in a fuzzy, well-cushioned ring. And I was quickly warming to the experience, thanks to the delightfully pleasant blanket and the skillfully imposed pressure of hands that seemed to have an intelligence of their own.

They were intelligent enough to stop at the lines of my briefs, as if she knew or could feel my comfort level putting up a stop sign.

Beyond that no-go zone, my muscles and joints got worked in ways they never get worked, just to the edge of discomfort. Which was quite comfortable, oddly enough.

I was surprised at how much tension there seemed to be, not just in my shoulder, back and neck but also in my calves and thighs, and even my arms, hands and feet. And, yes, I was surprised at how fast the hour passed.

I was also surprised that, while feeling somewhat sore as if I’d just had a really good workout at the Y, I also felt invigorated and relieved, as if some overly tight belt on my muscles had been released.

I definitely plan on getting another professional massage.

And the glutes beneath the briefs?

I’ll have to check my comfort level when the time comes.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.