Water rolled down a slotted coffee-colored panel nestled in stones, simulating a stream bubbling over a bed of rocks. Soft music played from hidden speakers lulling me into another world deprived of the roar of traffic, the drone of people, the beeping and quivering of cell phones and computers. I listened to the faint whispers of leaves brushing against one another as I sipped a light rooibos tea sweetened with apple juice, mint and lemon leaves. I could almost feel my tension melting away in the serene environment. The mild scents of eucalyptus, lavender and lemon hovered in the air. I snuggled into my soft terry cloth robe and melted into a quiet rainforest touched with the warmth of the desert. A sauna hissed in the room, its steam vanishing like the vapour of hot breath on a cold winter’s day. A woman led me into a cozy room, laced with traces of lavender. Wisps of steam curled up from a metal container where smooth basalt stones warmed themselves. I lay on a cushioned table, covered in a warm blanket, while the masseuse rubbed a soothing blend of warm oil into my skin. The hot stones were gently placed on certain muscles on my back and I melted into their soothing heat, drifting away to auburn skies and blue seas lined with shores of white sand, hearing only the whispered poetry of the waves and gentle breezes.
I’ve heard massage can offer some benefit for those with RA by easing muscle tension, improving circulation, and reducing joint swelling. I never thought of it as therapy. I always thought going for a massage was a rare luxury, a mystical occurrence only for the elite. It had been a couple of years since my last massage and I had emerged from that session feeling like a truck had rolled over my body. The memory of a keen therapist striving to provide the ultimate deep tissue experience by rigorously kneading and pulling on every part of my body, including pulling on the fingers and toes, unnerved me. The arrival of RA had made my massage experience a precarious indulgence.
In the last several months, my body had absorbed the constant tide of my busy life like a dry sponge. Stress can exacerbate the symptoms of RA and after weeks of activity, the tension clung to me like an albatross, riddling my back with a raw tightness that waxed and waned with the phases of the moon. The increased muscle pain and swelling prevented me from regular exercise and I could almost feel my muscles shriveling under the lack of activity. I found moments of bliss in the healing waters of our local hot springs and hot baths at home, but I longed for the serene environment of the spa, the soothing scents of lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus, that ethereal feeling of being transported to an elevated place of tranquility. I deserved to have a little taste of bliss, to escape into a snug refuge away from an accelerating world. It was time to try again and see if there would be any benefit for me.
I decided to try a hot stone massage. It was described as a gentle method designed to soothe muscle aches and pains without the rigorous application of a deep tissue massage. The warmth of the smooth basalt stones rolling gently along my back was comforting. The aromatic steam pacified my raging joints. Massage, like any treatment, has its drawbacks as well as advantages, and like anything, it will not work for everyone. It’s always best to talk to your physician about the different types of therapy and follow their recommendations.
I emerged from that splendid session feeling light and refreshed. In moments of stillness, I can still feel the soothing pressure of the porous stones on my back, pulsating gently, like the quiet cadence of seawater skimming the shore. RA is a mental battle as well as a physical one. I took an opportunity to lose myself in indulgence, to escape the bitter days of November for a time, and found a renewed awareness that part of the journey of living well with RA is allowing myself a few stolen days of bliss.
“My friend, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find
The riches left, not got with pain,
The fruitful ground; the quiet mind”
Henry Howard, Earl of Surry
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.