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When you think of relieving grief, what types of images come to mind? I often think of sleeping, shedding tears, sipping tea, writing, creating art, retreating from the world for a time, reading, and getting a massage.
Yes, getting a massage. And not just any massage, although receiving touch in any therapeutic form is good for you. I mean an intentionally grief-focused bodywork session with a sensitive bodywork practitioner.
I remember that I had a massage scheduled the day after my grandmother died in 2006. I was going to cancel the appointment, but my body craved touch. I wanted to feel cocooned in a warm room, on a heated massage table, my head face-down in a head cradle where tears could moisten the head cradle cover and no one would know. I wanted to feel warm hands between my shoulder blades behind my heart. I wanted to feel, well, something. I wanted to feel that I was alive, even though my grandmother was not. I wanted to feel authentic without talk, fake smiles, having to “show up.” I wanted to lie there like a little bird in need of healing. I remember leaving the session feeling grounded even while feeling deep loss. My loss did not disappear; it is still here to this day. But the important thing is that I didn’t disappear. The massage helped me connect to my own beating heart, the tightness in my chest, my breath that wanted to stay high and tight, but resigned to finally fill my belly.
When I work with my clients during times of grief and healing, I create a safe space for them to be as they are: quiet, messy, tearful, expressive, checked out, or checked in. And based on how they are feeling when they see me, I may incorporate different bodywork techniques to meet them wherever they are. I may use Reiki energywork to help soothe the aching heart; I may lead some guided visualization for my client to make sense of what he/she is feeling; I may just provide tissues throughout the session as my client releases tears.
Since massage calms the nervous system, many of the emotional or physical blocks we feel when grieving can loosen their grip on us. Often we tighten during grief. We are protecting ourselves from further pain. Bodywork can help to gently open these areas of tightness, to soften them, and to help us breathe easier. In all, bodywork can help us cope better because instead of fighting the grief, we soften into it and realize that we can hold it without crumbling. We can breathe fully without losing ourselves. We can feel open to healing not only on a physical level, but on emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, too. We can feel seen, heard, and acknowledged, and ultimately not alone.