Knead to Relax?
Harvard is stressful--stressful enough to turn smooth shoulder muscles into knots the size of golf balls. In order to avoid becoming a walking advertisement for the PGA Tour, some students have decided to action, meeting on six Wednesday nights beginning in late February.
They come clad in shorts and "removable" shirts, ready to be rubbed and kneaded. Whether stressed, strained, or simply just curious, these students find that the massage class offered at Leverett House each year provides a welcome break from daily toil.
However, it is difficult to escape the sleaze associated with mere mention of a massage parlor. Massage possesses a certain mystique that shrouds it in mystery for most. "My parents think it's weird," organizer Lesley L. Chen '98 concedes, "but most people think it's pretty cool. It's therapeutic and relaxing, but the connotations out there are horrendous."
Mr. Tom Ernetta, owner of Muscular Therapy Works in Malden, has instructed Leverett's massage class for the past three years. Ernetta goes over techniques to massage the back, arms, legs, feet, and face--nothing too intimate. Indeed, Ernetta states that in his own practice he refuses to massage a woman's chest, since the so-called "medical necessity" of such a massage is a bit sketchy.
Ernetta begins by teaching the class how to properly undress, with what organizer Chen calls "a cool draping process." Next to the wall, one partner holds up a large sheet while the other removes her shirt behind it, and then wraps herself in the sheet so that nothing is exposed. Ernetta explains that "we want to respect people," and as such "no cleavage or gluteocleft shows."
The rest of the course is devoted to learning basic techniques, with a bit of anatomy thrown in along the way. Although not necessarily encouraged, some students bring in their own oils and lotions to use in the massage. (Ernetta recommends lavender aromatherapy for its relaxing qualities.)
Massage is not only relaxing--it can have practical benefits, too. Looking for an easy way to up your math or chemistry grade? According to Ernetta, students given a massage before taking an exam performed better than those who were not given one. At some schools, dorms even hire a masseur to come in before midterms and finals to boost scores and relieve tension.
Massage serves as an outlet for stress, which is something many Harvard students could certainly use. Ernetta explains that stress triggers a process that can lead to a cycle of pain and muscle spasm. Stress releases endocrines into the system, and if an individual does not return to homeostasis, muscles remain contracted and oxygen deprivation occurs. This deprivation hurts. Too bad Ernetta doesn't teach BS 2.
The everyday strains of daily life also take their toll on students' bodies. Some haul almost half their body weight in their book bags to and from class each day. Others succumb to e-mail addiction, spending hours glued to the computer screen, feverishly typing. Such repetitive strains can all be eased through massage.
Who enrolls in Leverett's massage class? Couples make up only a small percentage of the Leverett clientele. The class primarily serves people who interested in getting relaxed and learning how to give a good back rub. Often and men or women who are friends enroll together. Rarely, though, do guys who are friends enroll together.
After two hours of working and kneading, tension and knots begin to diminish. Not only that, but by the end of class, students are in a noticeably better mood.