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Bodywork in the Pandemic Age

After over three months with my practice shut down, I have returned to work with joy and relief – which my clients seem to share. My first couple weeks back on the job were the busiest I’ve ever had, thanks to pent-up demand, but now that I’ve been back for a while the pace has slowed, and I have time to breathe and reflect on what it’s like to do bodywork in the age of COVID-19.

To begin with, there are the precautions. I am doing everything I can think of to ensure that my office is safe, both for myself and for my clients. I wear a cloth face mask at all times when seeing clients, and require them to do the same. Before opening I stocked up on disposable masks, in case either I or a client forget to bring a mask to my office, but so far I haven’t needed to use those. Wearing the mask was annoying for the first day or two, but I’ve gotten used to it. Yes, sometimes it fogs up my glasses, but when that really bothers me I can take my glasses off, since I don’t exactly need distance vision to work on someone who’s right in front of me. After a few hours of breathing into my mask it becomes damp, so gets swapped out for a fresh one. This has all begun to feel routine. (From the clients’ side, I’ve heard a few comments that wearing a mask while lying face-down on the table isn’t the most comfortable thing, but absolutely nobody has asked to remove their masks, for which I’m grateful. Arguably it’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of a full-body massage.)

And then there’s the cleaning. I have increased the time between my appointments, both to avoid having clients bump into each other in my office, and to give me time to clean. After a client leaves, I strip the linens from my massage table and wipe the table down with hospital-grade disinfectant. And then I disinfect all the doorknobs, the chairs, the hand mirror, the surface of my desk, the bathroom, the bannisters by my entry stairs, and anything else my client might have touched. Only when that’s all done do I put fresh linens on the table for my next client. Again, for the first couple days this felt strange and even excessive, but I’d rather over-clean than under-clean, and at this point it’s routine. Also my doorknobs have never been shinier.

Has anything else changed? Not much, honestly. My schedule is different, due to the lack of child-care, but luckily I share custody of my kid with my ex, and I’m also no longer splitting my time between two jobs, so although I can only be in my office every other week I have more hours available there. Beyond that, well, rather than handling clients’ credit cards I ask them to read me the numbers. I now keep hand sanitizer on my desk for anyone who wants some. I’ve found that treating TMJ disorders is more challenging than before, since the masks prevent me from seeing jaw alignment, but the clients I’ve worked on still report benefits so I seem to be managing it by feel alone.

From my perspective, everything else is reassuringly normal. Bodies are still bodies: still problematic in all kinds of ways, still fascinating, still responsive to my work. And oh my goodness, but I had missed my work. I’d missed the income, of course, but even more I had missed the sense of purpose and satisfaction bodywork gives me. I’d missed the intense focus of it, the way I can tune out all the noise of the world and just concentrate on the client on my table, figuring out what’s causing them pain and what I can do to alleviate that pain. There’s so much I can’t fix in the world around me, but I find it tremendously comforting to be back in my office, fixing the small things that I can. If anything, the pandemic has only intensified that feeling.

Six months ago, I already believed that everybody could benefit from bodywork. These days I think everybody needs it even more. I don’t know a single person who isn’t under extraordinary stress at the moment, and we carry that stress in our bodies whether we’re aware of it or not. A great many of us are touch-starved, having been cut off from close contact with anyone we don’t live with. Many of us need pain relief, and many more haven’t truly relaxed for months. Therapeutic bodywork can’t repair all the brokenness of the world, but it offers an excellent start.

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