Last night, I cried while a woman rubbed my uterus.
I lay on a table, mostly naked, while she kneaded my belly, and when her fingers reached a certain spot, an electric jolt of pain went through me, and tears just poured out of my eyes and dripped onto the sheet. “Good,” she said. “That’s really good.”
OK, let’s back up a little bit.
Actually, this whole experience began three months ago when I began having some irregular menstrual cycles and painful ovarian cysts. After mainlining Advil and spending hours with my heating pad, I finally ran to my gynecologist, convinced that something was wrong. He did an ultrasound and shook his head sympathetically. “You’re fine,” he said. “Cysts can be uncomfortable, but they’re actually a sign that your ovaries are working.”
Um. Really? I mean, I trusted my doctor, but somehow this idea didn’t sit well. In most cases, pain is a pretty clear sign of a problem. It’s kind of how your body communicates that something is up. We feel pain for a reason. Right?
I texted a friend to complain about this:
Me: Stabbing pains in the pelvis. Have you ever had ovarian cysts?
My friend: Gah! Cysts!
Me: So yucky!
My friend: Have you done Mayan Abdominal Massage?
Me: Nope? What is it?
My friend: OMG we have to find you a practitioner. Hang on.
I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a little. I mean, the Mayans? Was this going to involve chanting? That silly action movie with John Cusack popped into my head. 2012! THE MAYANS WARNED US! Ahem.
But after some Googling, I discovered that this was actually a thing. Maya Abdominal Therapy was developed in the 90’s by an American, Dr. Rosita Arvigo. The technique is based on Arvigo’s apprenticeship with a "Maya Master Healer” in Belize and claims to provide a range of health benefits for women.
And then I went home and felt… lighter. Optimistic. Healed. It was bizarre.
It focuses on the alignment of the uterus, which can become tipped or prolapsed from things like falling, running on concrete, wearing high heels, or over-stretching during pregnancy and labor. Massaging the uterus and the muscles around it is thought to restore balance to the body and can cure everything from infertility to painful periods and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
More about the Mayans. Like many cultures, they believed that emotional trauma is stored in the physical body, particularly the abdomen. Yoga, acupuncture, massage, and other physical practices have been used for centuries to unlock this muscle memory and help people recover from painful experiences. Even psychiatrists have started to get on board with this approach and concede that trauma impacts areas of the brain that talk therapy often can’t access.
My skepticism started to waver. “Traumatic” was a pretty good word to describe my daughter’s birth nearly three years ago. I had endured a long and painful labor only to find that my placenta was severely embedded in the wall of my uterus. This condition, placenta accreta, prevents the placenta from separating and causes a massive hemorrhage that can be life- threatening. Things got very serious very fast in my delivery room, and I soon had to leave my newborn daughter and go into surgery. Before they put me under, I wondered if I would see her again.
Did I talk to a shrink about this afterward? Sure. Did it make me feel better? Not really.
I was curious enough (and annoyed enough with my ovaries) to make an appointment with a massage therapist who specializes in Maya Abdominal Therapy. The first hour of the session was just a conversation. I poured out my story to the woman who listened with calm empathy and asked many questions. Then I got on the table, and she started to rub.
"This is nice," I thought. "But what’s the big deal? It’s just a massage…"
And then something crazy happened. The rubbing reached one of my psoas muscles. These are the deepest muscles in the core that stabilize the spine and connect to the legs. When you feel fear or stress, the psoas contracts as part of the “fight or flight” response. When mine was touched, I started to cry.
It all came back. The pain of labor. The pool of blood on the floor. Having to leave my baby. The fear of death. It was all there.
I sobbed for a while in complete shock. And the massage therapist talked in a kind way about forgiving myself and letting go of the belief that my body had failed. And she had me speak directly to my uterus, which was pretty weird, but in a good way. And then I went home and felt… lighter. Optimistic. Healed. It was bizarre.
Will I still get ovarian cysts and horrific cramps again? I have no idea. But something in my body feels different, better.
The Mayans, man. They weren't kidding.