A little known fact is that one can discern my level of stress and anxiety by a mere glance at my cuticles. On a good week they are minimally frayed with a bit of shearing on the outer corner of, say, my thumb. On a more active week my cuticles are masticated and raw, looking less like something that belongs on a human and more like something found on a slaughterhouse floor.
What, pray tell, does it take to produce heightened levels of ”stress and anxiety”?
It depends on planetary alignment, how long it’s been since I got a haircut, if the cats make it to bed on time and little or no other provocation. Twiddling with my fingers is like a nervous twitch.
I pick, you see, and not even on purpose or for any weird gratification other than the nervous noodling of my fingers lingering on themselves, busily twitching.
Massage therapists always massage one’s hands right down to the finger tips, the knowledge of which is more than I can stand, though I sincerely want my palms palpated and my wrists wrung out.
So this guy I have the appointment with is really wonderful. He does a bit of a consultation and we talk about my posture, sore places and yoga practice. He is a yoga guy, too, though I haven’t met him in the “yoga scene”.
I explain right off that I want him to leave my fingers the hell alone. I don’t say it like that, but rather ask him to just pretend they’re not there. I tell him that sometimes when I’m anxious I pick at my cuticles and this has been a very unnerving week – schedule changes and whatnot. I laugh at my occasional anxiety, poo poo my weird idiosyncrasies and say, “Please don’t touch my fingertips. They’re sensitive.” And what I don’t say is that I’m sensitive about them.
I do hair and I have the habit of applying hair color with only one glove (I picked this up in beauty school for whatever reason) and my grubby fingertips often absorb color and so are often discolored. Because I work in a restaurant I try to wash my hands as often as I deposit dirty dishes in the dish pit and so in addition to being discolored they are also cracked and a bit dry. Dry and discolored cuticles beg to be picked on, especially when my mind is trying not to nit pick itself.
And so I ask my massage man not to touch my fingers. It would be more than I can stand, though I don’t let on about all that.
He says, “With all that yoga you shouldn’t have any anxiety.” He says this in a sweet it’s not a big deal kind of way.
I think, indeed. Because I figure he’s being cool about it but he’s also probably correct.
With all that yoga what business do I have being at all anxious? Isn’t yoga a magic fix all, neurotic shenanigans fleeing in its wake? Shouldn’t I be able to Om it all out, telling my nerves to cool out and breathing like a fine wine?
I think so.
But also, maybe not.
So I get on the table and I am most grateful for this gift of massage. This is the first day I’ve not had to run out of the house like my ass was on fire in two weeks. The only commitment I have is to get to the massage man on time. Note that I was ten minutes early.
I’m on my back and he massages my shoulders, then that tender and tense place that runs along the side of my neck. He works his way across my chest, down the slope of my biceps and below the curve of my elbow. He spends time on my forearms, which is marvelous and then draws his hand across my wrist. He swirls his thumbs around the circle of my palm, then he pinches the base of my pinkie finger between his thumb and index finger for the grand finale at my fingertips.
I wonder then if he’ll remember not to touch my fingertips. I wonder if he does, if he’ll feel the small barbs and brindles of my cuticles like the sensitive fingers of the blind reading braille. I wonder then if he’s not a bit curious about these fingers of mine and will pinch them to see if it hurts.
Just then, he concludes my hand massage at my last knuckle with a definitive pause and gently, totally, releases my pinkie from his grasp. He is still holding my hand, however, and performs this same final gesture with every finger on both hands. He pointedly, definitely, gently and completely ignores every single fingertip.
I feel totally relaxed. Extra breath leaves my body and fresh air has more room to enter. My fingertips couldn’t be further from my mind, and neither could any stress that contributed to my most terrible cuticles.
So in this case, my yoga isn’t so much about handling stress so completely that I don’t even register stress and anxiety like a regular human being. In this case, I recommend using yoga to remember that I’m a regular human being that in spite of my most ardent practices to the contrary, sometimes I just pick my cuticles.
In every respect, yoga practice in its entirety – not just the postures but the breath work, the meditation, the fine and sensitive seconds of holding our tongue when it wants to lash out, yoga can nurture us to the very edge of tenderness. It just takes lots and lots of practice.
This all reminds me of what a very inspiring yoga teacher said in class one time, “You’ve got to love it all.” This alone is a whole-hearted practice.