I was fortunate.
I received my first full-body massage at age sixteen when I asked for a gift card for my birthday. I had always been fascinated by the idea of massage. I’d even read in a magazine about the benefits of massage therapy, specifically the potential for massage to assist with alleviating headaches: something I had always suffered from
I’ll always remember walking out of that first service, feeling almost intoxicated.
It was more than just physical, and it went way beyond relief for my headaches. I felt a feeling of peace I’d never known was possible. I was hooked!
But I was also an active high school student working a part-time job to put gas in my car and Taco Bell in my stomach. Not much was left in the budget for regular massage therapy. I bought myself the occasional massage after I scraped and saved, and I asked for gift certificates on holidays and birthdays.
I never fell into a routine. Self-Care wasn’t a consideration.
Little did I know how important it would become in the future.
Fast forward to 2007.
I’d graduated college and had been working full time in the criminal justice field for a number of years. I was feeling fulfilled, but it was incredibly challenging. I was passionate about what I was doing to serve my community, but I was also exhausted. Run down.
As a young adult, on top of the world, regular self-care still wasn’t top on my mind, and it was starting to show. I was starting to feel less and less like myself. I found myself suffering from compassion-fatigue at home and at work, and I began to drift further and further from what I knew my true essence as a person to be.
How I was living wasn’t sustainable, and I was forced to start taking a difficult look at myself, my lack of self-care, and the the long-term self-sustainability of my choices — it wasn’t a good picture and I knew, in time, I needed to consider some changes.
As we get older, we start to understand that change has its own timeline, and it rarely waits for us to be ready.
I was no exception.
In my case, a major catalyst for that change came in the form of the unanticipated illness and untimely death of my young, and otherwise healthy and vibrant, mother. In two months, a rare brain disease ravaged my mom’s body and tore me apart. It robbed us of all of the memories we had yet to create and it tipped the scales, sending me into complete spiritual bankruptcy.
The year that followed was the darkest period of my life.
I was a shadow of who I once was, suffering from deep and lasting depression. I didn’t leave my house much because I just couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the loss I was still experiencing. I struggled with my feelings of the injustice of it all. I took time away from work. I gained weight. I cried every day.
Finally, somehow I mustered the energy and ambition to make an appointment to get a massage.
My seclusion, the depression — I hurt all over. But part of me felt guilty. Guilty for allowing myself to consider something like an indulgence for my body, for chasing the peace I felt during a massage when the world was still dark and my mom was still gone.
But I forced myself to go.
The feelings of guilt continued when I finally got on the table. Guilty about how good it felt. How much I was enjoying it. But that first appointment turned into more massages. Then eventually massages and also Reiki (a form of energy work).
They quickly became my unexpected lifeline. My safe harbor – the only peace I could find, the only hour of respite I felt from the unfathomable permanence caused by the loss of my mom. In that studio, with my massage therapist, I found my safe space. I experienced the true healing power of touch.
So I continued.
Eventually it became a routine. The body and energy-work grew into a path out of my seemingly endless pit of grief. It helped me start with one good hour at a time. Then one day. Then one week.
And as I slowly adjusted to this new ‘normal,’ moment-by-moment, I had an epiphany. What if my mom’s death could lead to some kind of positive change for me? What could that look like? Nothing could take away the unfairness I felt at her loss, but some part of me woke up to the idea that I had the opportunity to still make it mean something.
My mother’s words came to me:
I immediately thought of the relief and pleasure I’d been experiencing during my massage and Reiki appointments. With a flash, suddenly it seemed so simple. I thought back to my first massage and how powerful it was. It should have been no surprise that it would later become the way I was led to care for myself after the loss of my mother.
More importantly, what if I could offer others the same physical and emotional support? The same power of touch that massage therapy had given to me during the darkest period of my life? How many others were there out there, like me, just unaware that this incredible healing experience was available for them in ways they couldn’t imagine.
I immediately registered for massage school. I attended during the day while I worked the night shift at my regular job. Slowly over time, I felt my spirit lifting, softening slowly as I gave myself permission to make this change.
It was a change not everyone understood. But what appeared as a drastic shift in career choice to outsiders made sense to me. I was still working to provide a path for peace and service for my community, but now I could do it on my terms. I could be me. It felt right, and I felt empowered.
One day during a massage clinical…
I was assigned to work with a woman who was holding tissue and seemed upset. When we were in the privacy of the treatment room, she told me that she felt guilty having a massage because a family member had just passed away that day.
As she relaxed into my table, I assured he she was in the right place. She didn’t need to justify her self-care to anyone.
We don’t always talk during services; sometimes touch is best enjoyed in the power of silence. But I knew she was struggling, and I felt moved to share with her the story of my mother; my own feelings of guilt at receiving this kind of care after she passed away. When I did, her troubles seemed to melt away.
It was a moment of personal confirmation I will never forget.
Positive touch has profound physical and emotional benefits.
There are countless studies and texts that scientifically prove what I had felt all along. That moment of confirmation was just the start. In school I became close with some of the other students and learned many were on similar journeys to my own.
That experience has continued every year I continue to work in this industry.
I found my tribe. The exhaustion and restlessness I felt earlier in my career was gone. I felt like I was finally “home.”
I am now entering my ninth year on this journey.
And it’s my absolute honor and pleasure to create a completely judgment-free space where anyone who needs this type of relief and nourishing care can feel safe and supported while receiving it. When I’m working to make the studio feel warm and comfortable, when I’m teaching in our upcoming Partners Massage Workshop, or when you’re on my massage table trusting me with your self-care, I feel privileged to offer you the same change I had to rest, recover, and heal.
I keep a photo frame on my nightstand my mom gave to me.
It has the Mother Teresa quote which says,
“In this lifetime, we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Each night I’m reminded that I carry on the spirit of my mother, who inspired this fulfilling and powerful work I get to do. The power of touch. My small effort made with great love.
It’s my hope that everyone out there allows themselves the freedom to experience the incredible positive impact massage can have in every corner of their lives. As a Licensed Massage Therapist, I treat each client with presence and purpose, offering all of my energy and intention to create a safe space where your mind, body, and spirit can all feel supported and nourished. That’s why we all do it.
That’s the power of touch.
Michelle Vandeyacht is the founder of Komorebi & Co., LLC and is a licensed practitioner of both esthetics and massage therapy with nine years of experience. She has been a life-long advocate of a cruelty-free, plant-based lifestyle and is a mom to three children and one old Pitbull mix. She and her partner Dave enjoy cycling, enjoying the outdoors, and traveling whenever possible.