Life Support

Loosening up at Blissful Ayurveda.

As the kind of guy who treats every injury with some combination of ice, ibuprofen, and physical therapy, massage is not part of my therapeutic playbook. But after a referral from my boss, who claimed to have floated home on a cloud following some back and neck work on Elaine Doll’s massage table, I figured I’d give it a try. My lower back ached, my foot was recovering from a stress fracture, and I had patellar tendonitis in my knee. So I took a morning off work to spend some time at Elaine’s studio, Blissful Ayurveda, near Beall Park on Bozeman’s north side.

I walked (limped, really) into the well-lit basement studio in an old, cozy neighborhood near downtown. Elaine was warm and welcoming, easy to talk to. She practices a form of traditional Eastern medicine known as Ayurveda, which is based on the idea that bodily problems and diseases are caused by overall imbalances in one’s being. In essence, it’s holistic medicine—to which Elaine has applied her own flair and adapted to the Bozeman crowd. She hikes, gets out in the mountains, and has her own quirks. After our session, she was taking off on a weekend road trip in a mid-1900s convertible, fully dressed the part.

Elaine suggested we begin with “bodywork,” which means being oiled down and manipulated with a variety of tools—most of them designed to work on fascia, the connective tissue found between the skin and muscle groups, or between the muscles themselves. The tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes: some built for scraping, others designed to dig in, and others still to target pressure-points.

One of Elaine’s central tenets is that everything is connected. If something’s gone awry with the body, it’s not enough to just fix the problem. To actually heal, one must find the root cause.

Once I’d settled onto the massage table, Elaine quickly narrowed in on the tight spots in my back—all without my guidance. “Do you feel supported in your life?” she asked. “Usually when people have pain it their backs, it’s because they don’t feel supported.” I told her I felt pretty supported in life. Sure, there are highs and lows, but overall, yeah, I did. She didn’t probe much further, but I have the feeling she would have with some of her weekly clients.

It felt strange to blend a massage with life counseling. But in retrospect, it actually makes a lot of sense. One of Elaine’s central tenets is that everything is connected. If something’s gone awry with the body, it’s not enough to just fix the problem. To actually heal, one must find the root cause. That might be lack of sleep, poor diet, a dearth of exercise (or too much), or any number of things. Why did I go for that 17-mile run that I got injured on? Was it to relieve stress? Was it to prove that I could do it? After a little bit of thought, I realized that it was some combination of it all. Maybe Elaine’s onto something.

But I didn’t have too much time to ponder, as she shifted her attention to my feet. The foot, she told me, is representative of the body, with the big toe being the head and continuing on down. If people are experiencing pain in their feet, sometimes it will also manifest in a corresponding part of the body, or vice-versa. Sure enough, the spot of my stress fracture—you guessed it—was in the general vicinity of my back (to clarify, that’s the part of my foot that represents my back). Perhaps I could use more support in my life.

If you live a healthy lifestyle, you have leeway for benders every now and then.

At one point, and with a special tool that was part wand, part hammer, Elaine hit a spot on my foot that sent a shiver through my entire body, as if every nerve ending had just been activated. Something was being released, she told me—and I have to admit, I did feel looser after that.

Elaine says she’s gotten better at working with people’s energy over the years. At first, she felt overwhelmed—as though all her patients’ bad energy was passing through her as it exited their bodies. “I thought I was going crazy,” she explained. “I really did.” In one early instance, she recalls being overcome with the sudden urge to throw up mid-session. Since then, she’s learned how to let the energy dissipate, rather than channel it through her own body. But regardless of where the energy was going, it was working. In fact, by the end of our two-hour session, I was just about asleep on her table, my muscles melting into a relaxed blob.

Only when I got up did I realize how oily I was. The idea with the oils was to make a protective capsule, allowing my body to open up and relax into the space. While topical oils (like I experienced) are one option, Elaine also recommends daily mouth rinses to some of her clients. The daily ritual, she claims, can purge things from the body—be that bad energy or otherwise—and people who do it report feeling alive and rejuvenated.

My muscles melted into a relaxed blob.

Elaine and I chatted for a few minutes after the bodywork. We talked about her holistic approach, and how many little ways there are to improve one’s everyday quality of life. But at the end of the day, she recognizes that we have to be realistic about what’s feasible and practical. “If you were to do it all, you’d never leave the house,” she noted, in reference to Ayurvedic self-help practices. But if you live a healthy lifestyle, she continued, it gives you leeway for benders every now and then—be that a night out at the bars, or snacking on junk food during a road trip. It was almost as if she’d been a 20-something like me at one time, too.

After our session, I walked back to my office and sat down at my desk. After half an hour of staring unproductively at the screen, I went home, took a shower, and settled in for a nice long nap. It was some of the best sleep I’d had in weeks.

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