The pain paradox

Paul Adamson
December 10, 2016

In one of Lord Byron’s letters he talks about those experiences that are a mixture of pain and pleasure – ‘like having hot tea spilled over your testicles’. I’m not sure if deep-tissue massage can offer such an intense combination of these opposed sensations, but it’s undoubtedly true that nearly all my clients enjoy the ‘good pain’ that comes of having tight muscles stretched and pummelled. I have never understood why some people enjoy being stroked or caressed during a massage – it’s not something I do and when (rarely because I know how to avoid ‘therapists’ of this kind) I find myself undergoing a massage that has all the vigour of egg whites being folded into a cake mix, then I get up and leave. I once saw someone in the baths of the old Paris mosque ‘massaging’ someone by placing his hands slightly above the client’s body without actually touching him. While the masseur had clearly mastered the technique for preserving his hands, I doubt if the client was entirely conscious of the physical benefits of this novel method of extracting money from someone without actually doing anything.

Pain is in some ways a good thing – it is proof that we are alive (Souffrir passe. Avoir souffert ne passe jamais). And, oddly perhaps, some pain is exquisitely enjoyable. It’s the kind of good pain that I love when I’m getting a massage and it’s the kind of good pain that I almost invariably find a way to inflict on my delighted clients. But you’ll be glad to hear I don’t serve hot tea at the end of a session.

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