I went paddle boarding for the first time earlier this week. I’d seen it done, and it looked pretty smooth and graceful when other people did it. I wasn’t nervous about it at all until the guy who was setting us up on our boards asked my fellow newbie friend and me if we’d ever surfed before or “done anything else extreme.” Was this extreme? I’m not extreme. I don’t want to get extreme.
Luckily, it turns out paddle boarding on a relatively mellow river is not actually extreme either (but thanks anyway, guy). You start out on your knees, paddling away from the dock so you don’t concuss yourself if you fall right away, and then you’re supposed to put your hands down on the board and hop from kneeling to standing. If you’re not into hopping right up, fear not! I have discovered an alternative. Instead of one smooth hop, you can just go ahead and squat awkwardly, still clutching the board, and yell a lot while gathering enough stability to stand up. I’m told my transition from kneeling was highly entertaining for onlookers.
I think I’ll really enjoy paddle boarding next time I try it. The first time was a little wobbly. A lot wobbly. Not so much from the outside — I never tipped far or came close to falling — but inside, I felt like my legs were pretty violently shaking for the first 10 minutes or so. There were moments of grace too, late afternoon sun glinting off my hometown Charles River, board slapping at the ripples made by passing boats, peace. There were times when I found my groove. I fell out, found it again, fell in and out a few more times. I noted that the times when I felt most stable were the times when I focused not on trying not to fall, but on paddle strokes, long and deep, as close to the board as possible. Counting strokes on one side, then the other, board gliding straight forward. Funny thing about focus, how the rest — the balance, potential wobble of legs, worries about crashing into other boats or falling onto rocks just beneath the surface of that murky, shallow water — takes care of itself when there is somewhere else to focus that attention.
Metaphors abound. I made a conscious choice that day: full attention to getting the best strokes possible. I thought about that Thich Nhat Hanh business about washing the dishes, about mindfulness in general. I thought about other areas of my life where I’d recently fallen out of my groove.
I’ve given a couple of massages lately that were less graceful and connected than I’d like. Not many, but I’ve been taking mini-vacations and working less lately, so the percentages are skewed, leaving me feeling a little off kilter. I suspect we’ve all had the occasional off day or awkward appointment. The gift certificate client who says flat out that he’s not comfortable with massage, the person who tenses in response to even gentle touch. Hell, I’ve been that person more than once. I know very, very well that we are all just people with our own little tics, different issues in our unique tissues, different comfort levels with touch on any given day. And I believe the job, as massage therapists, is to hold space for that, to not analyze or extrapolate or take it personally when a client flinches or gets ticklish or when upper traps do not melt into buttery softness under our hands in the space of an hour. The job is to be client centered, do our best and then let it go. That’s what makes massage therapy the best job in the world, but sometimes it’s a little wobbly. Sometimes the old ego pipes up. Sometimes there’s not much flow to go with.
So how do you find your groove if you’ve been thrown off in your work? How do you let it go, that nagging feeling of not doing an awesome job, and get present again? I find that breathing is a good go-to, and honestly not a no-brainer for yours truly (even after years of yoga and conscious breathing, I still forget to do it all the time). Repeating “compassion, compassion, compassion,” in my head seems to help a little sometimes, tapping into the shared tenderness of just being a human. As with paddle boarding, focus on the strokes can be helpful. How graceful can I make this glide? How accurately can I trace these muscle fibers? How mindful can I be in my own form? Sometimes shifting focus, homing in on one aspect of one small movement, helps the other stuff drop away and brings in a little more flow.
These are my modest suggestions, but it’s really not a rhetorical question. How do you find your groove when you’re a little bit off? How do you center and ground? Or are you just naturally graceful all the time? Please tell me all about it!