She was really getting into the story now.
“And this woman, she had fingers like iron, she was obviously a bloody farm worker or something, and she was digging them right into my skin, you know? It wasn’t relaxing at all.”
“Oh God, it sounds awful.”
“Everyone else was there all relaxed, and I am just being worked over by this woman. It was brutal. I think I’ll have bruises.”
I am in a random bar in Hua Hin, Thailand.
The woman complaining is a sunburned English specimen, one of those long cranky fibrotic looking people with a weak chin, a sundress, and a certain whiff of imperialism about her. You get the feeling from looking at her that she’s one perceived slight away from calling in the gunboats for King and Country.
And that she was happy, once, in 1988, for about twenty minutes.
However, right now, I need her. She just described a massage therapist who was insanely brutal. And while she and her companion are shaking their heads and tutting, how shocking, I need brutal.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing. That sounds terrible. … Do you remember where she worked?”
She names a massage place I don’t know, which is back from the fancy hotels along the beach. I find it easily the next day, and am hugely disappointed to find out that the brutal lady — whose name I have sadly forgotten — isn’t working. I settle for a regular Thai massage from a regular masseur, which is about as pointless as square bicycle wheels for me.
Because my muscles get tight. TIGHT.
Snare drum head tight.
Longbow string tight.
Why I Started Ironing Myself
I remember my first experience of realising I had more ‘stored tension’ than everyone else quite clearly.
It was in primary school. I am 5. We were lying on the floor pretending to be blobs of icecream. “Relax!” said the teacher, “Relax!” She went around and lifted people’s arms and legs at random.
“Wow, this icecream has melted!” “And this one! Sooo relaxed!”
She got to me.
“Well, this icrecream hasn’t melted at all!”
You bastard! I WAS relaxed! And how do you try to relax? It’s like saying “TRY REALLY HARD TO MAKE IT EFFORTLESS”. Why even open your mouth?
People who work on me have made similar remarks ever since:
”How the hell did you do this?”
“What did you say you did again?”
“Hang on, it isn’t quite there yet.”
Masseurs end up using sticks, elbows, feet and Babylonian war clubs on me. I prefer them wielded by a male masseur, generally one who looks like a relative of Ivan the Terrible and has palms like a dockworker. I tell masseurs that, and they often say the same thing: “That shouldn’t make a difference, it’s all about leverage.”
Well, Ivan the Terrible gets more leverage than you.
As might be expected, snide male conversations about sexy massages do absolute nothing for me — you might as well be describing a sexy mailbox or a sexy car crash.
“Heh, I got a massage from this chick who…”
I’ve already stopped listening. All I care about is the circumference of her upper arm and how far she’ll slip into sadism, because my back really hurts.
At home, it’s the same.
S.M. makes valiant efforts to rub knots out of me, and it’s extremely pleasant, but it’s largely decorative. The one thing we discovered which does work is rolling the knots out of my forearms with a rolling pin. It makes a noise like a fat man running over fresh gravel. I cried a bit once.
The one thing that actually, really helps (apart from boring amounts of pre-hab and mobility silliness) is heat.
For this reason, I am a fan — almost a connoisseur, really — of various muscle rubs and liniments.
At any point in time, I will have somewhere between 4 and 10 different jars, tubes or tubs. Some people are model train bores, some people are really into bicycles, some people collect coins. I am a liniment bore. I have made extracts from Trinidad Scorpion chillies and Naga Jolokias to make my own. They burn with the fire of a thousand suns, and if you inhale the vapour you probably die. I love them.
But there’s one other technique I use that never gets any airtime. I thought I’d tell you about, because as far as I know I’m the only person stupid enough to have tried it. At least, I haven’t seen it anywhere else.
Using an iron.
Yes, a clothes iron. The one with the cotton setting and the steam holes. An “iron my shirts, Jeeves” kind of iron.
Let me just preface this with a warning.
I am not a masseur, physical therapist, or widely recognised as a sober and sensible person. The information below is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only.
You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
And don’t come crying to me if you burn your arse off.
This is probably not safe.
Don’t do it.
Here’s how I do it.
A Fun Guide To Ironing Yourself.
Because it’s a ludicrously potent source of heat. Irons have a heavy metal and/or ceramic panel which retains a lot of heat over time. A LOT.
I have no explanation of why heat works so well to relax tight sore muscles. I’m sure it has something to do with local vasodilatation but I must admit I don’t know much about the process. What I do know is that it’s very effective.
That’s a terrible explanation, but I have done no research on the topic whatsoever. For once. Usually I have to know everything about something like this, usually I stay up nights. But for some reason this time I’m just happy to say ‘heat works’. Hot tub, bath, shower, liniment, they’re all just sources of heat and heat is good.
Here’s How I Do It.
- an iron, and
- a DRY, COTTON towel or shirt with no logos/decals.
Tip all the water out, every last bit(or pump the hilarious steam button until the lines are dry). The iron might be upside down while it’s being used, and the water might heat up and leak out. This would be a big old problem. If you hit the steam button by accident, this would also be a problem. You’re not a dumpling, you shouldn’t be steaming.
Choose a low setting. By ‘ironing’ standards, nylon is very low, silk is low. But by ‘sitting on your skin’ standards, nylon is hot and silk is boiling. Any higher is dangerous.
Heat it up. Sit it somewhere sensible, like an ironing board. Not a glass table or a plastic-covered countertop.
Make a determination that it’s hot. How do you do this? Touch it, quickly, through the towel or shirt. You won’t need much more than 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the iron. If you overdo it, well, wait.
UNPLUG IT. Not only will you need to move it around, but you’ll need to make absolutely sure no more heat is going in it, and that you can’t accidentally knock it on any higher.
WAIT 60 SECONDS. Don’t worry, it won’t go cold. The heat cycle can’t be trusted not to continue to heat up a little (or at least, it feels that way) even after you pull the plug out. Safety first.
Wrap it in the towel or shirt. No metal on any skin at any point in time. This includes your hand and the thing you’re pressing the iron into.
Use it. Continuously apply heat for minutes at a time in the same place.
If possible, get someone qualified or at least not stupid to do it to you. Communicate with them continuously.
Why I Like It.
- So. Much. Heat. This provides focused and intense heat, as might be expected, and much better than a heatpack. This unlocks savagely tight muscles better than anything I’ve tried. Usually I alternate between ‘ironings’ and mobility exercises.
- It’s controllable. I’ve had far worse pain using liniments, and I’ve scalded myself a number of times using a hot water bottle. These things are a dangerous bloody menace.
- The worst hotel in the world has an iron and a towel. You always have access to this everywhere you go. Good luck trying to buy Nicoflex ointment from your local pharmacy. “Nico-what?” But if you know how to iron safely, then you’ll never be able to leave it at home — there’ll be one waiting in every two-star fleabag flophouse you ever stay in. Now, that’s pretty handy.
- It’s free (unless you pay the electricity bill), and you can’t run out of it until you break your iron.
- Ironing yourself is pretty metal. Yes, I am still of sufficient maturity that I enjoy this. You’re not my dad.
What Not To Do.
- Don’t combine this with other methods of heating up your muscles and expect it not to hurt. If you have a hot shower, cover yourself in some muscle rub called Mr. Brutal’s Skin Flamethrower and THEN iron yourself, well, you’re going to melt.
- Don’t dig the tip in and use it to massage anything. It’s way too much leverage. You’ll hurt yourself, maybe even the iron.
- Don’t leave it unattended if you’re doing it to someone else.
- Don’t sit the iron on yourself where you can’t get away from it. For instance, you need to use it on your own back? Lie it on a bed, prop it up and lean into it, don’t try to balance it on your back like the world’s least interesting circus performer. Two reasons for this: 1) if it’s too hot, you’re screwed, and 2) it can fall off and leave a big hole in your floor (and break itself to pieces, of course).
- Don’t use a non-electric iron or one without low settings. Yes, people still have these. Hipsters, usually. You have no control whatsoever over the heat level. Unsafe.
- Don’t do it at all. Do not iron yourself. It isn’t designed for this. See the previous disclaimer.