Have you ever tried giving somebody a massage while at the same time watching an exciting, tense blockbuster movie? Not a very good mix. It is a bit like the childhood challenge of ‘patting your head and rubbing your stomach’. Your eyes are watching explosions, car chases and fight scenes, your whole body wants to flinch and jump but somehow you have to force your hands to ignore the carnage and continue gently and lovingly caressing the shoulders of the person in front of you. As the main character nearly dies, so to, does your partner from sustained deep tissue compression and asphyxiation. It turns out, the commonly used film review term ‘gripping’ has a very literal meaning.
I have been giving a lot of massages recently. Twice daily in fact. I concentrate on the lower back in the morning and work on the feet during the evening session. Of course I am happy to oblige. My girlfriends belly is heavy and her feet are swollen as she continues to carry our child who is now ten days overdue. At this rate she could be the first baby ever born old enough to formally introduce herself on arrival.
It is interesting how my massages have changed from an apathetic 5 minute neck squeeze into the primary source of support I am able to provide at the moment. They have become my outlet for feeling useful again. My own little specialism. Every evening we settle down on the sofa after dinner and I get to work. Rocking and pressing particular areas of discomfort and circling specific points that are known to induce labour. When there isn’t a film on in the background to distract me, I am fully focussed on the task. I think to say I enjoy it would not be entirely true. But it has certainly become an important part of our routine and is something I will miss when no longer needed.
I have a sneaky suspicion that my girlfriend had this situation fully in mind when she insisted that we join a twelve day retreat in Greece to study the ancient practice of Thai Yoga Massage earlier this year. It was a strange but interesting course, full of colourful people (and I don’t just mean in personality trait sense, they were actually all bloody colourful. Green hair, rainbow t-shirts and orange leggings seemed to be the standard uniform of choice). The teacher was a real life Guru. He had spent ten years living in a Thai Buddhist monastery, meditated for three hours a day and spoke very few words. One of his favourite words however was ‘Tats’. He ended every sentence with the word ‘Tats’. He told me at the beginning of the week that I had a good ‘Tats’. I covered my nipples and thanked him. It was three days into the course before I realised he was actually saying ‘Touch’ in a thick Greek accent.
I didn’t get off to the best start on the retreat. On our first evening we were told to meet in the studio for a welcome circle. When I arrived, around thirty people were already sat cross legged, their eyes closed and bodies softly swaying to the light mantra music playing the background. Everybody had a smile on their face as they deeply inhaled the positive energy up through their pierced nostrils. I took my seat, awkwardly folding one leg over the other and joined in. After a few seconds I opened one eye just to check they hadn’t all changed position or crept out of the room as part of some elaborate prank. My gaze was instantly drawn to a huge menacing hairy spider in the middle of the room. I really hate spiders. It began to crawl directly towards my exposed feet. I started blowing at it to try and change its course. It came at me faster. I tapped my feet forcefully on the mat to scare it off. My heart rate picked up and I could feel sweat gathering on my forehead. It continued forward, intent on sinking its fangs into my flesh. In a split second before it reached me, I smashed it with a flip flop.
There was a gasp from the room. Thirty angry militant vegans simultaneously opened their eyes, saw what had happened and glared at me. I peeled the remaining three spider legs from the bottom of my shoe and carried what was left of it outside, apologising profusely as I went. The next 12 days were tough. I am sure I could hear whispers of ‘murderer’ whenever I entered a room.
But aside from this awkward start. I actually did learn a lot. I discovered how massaging certain points on the body can release pressure in other areas. I learned techniques in manipulating joints and the effects this has on different muscle groups and, more importantly, I found out that I had good tats.
Massage is something us expecting dads can offer without any qualifications or training. It’s easy and relaxing, it helps your partner feel more comfortable and allows us to play a more useful role especially during the later stages of pregnancy.
Just perhaps avoid giving one when the football is on. Bruised shoulders are probably not the best look to enter a hospital with.
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