Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pairing massage and yoga for great benefits

I know it probably shouldn't surprise me, but it does. Every time I talk with someone who's never had a massage or has never tried yoga, I find myself in disbelief. To me it's like someone saying they've never seen a computer or a cell phone before.

One look at the listings for massage and yoga classes and it's easy to see just how ubiquitous both have become.  But maybe the problem isn't the lack of options but the over-abundance of them that leaves people confused and unsure of what's best for them.

Since I'm also a massage therapist I thought I might share some of my insights into the wonderful world of massage for all you massage novices.

Just as there are many styles of yoga there are many types of massage. The key is to decide what you are looking to get out of your massage. Do you have chronic pain or tension? Are you stressed? Do you have an injury or aliment that affects your muscles and joints? Or are you just looking to treat yourself to something nice? These are all great reasons to have a massage.

Many people start off going to a spa since it's often the most well-known venue for massage. This is a great introduction to massage, just as a class at a gym can be a good introduction to yoga. But neither is likely to satisfy your specific needs when it comes to injuries and aliments.

Spas are wonderful for a "treat yourself" massage or general relaxation, but many clients I've inherited from spas say that  they need a more treatment-focused massage for things like lower back pain and frozen shoulder.This is the kind of massage I specialize in and enjoy doing the most. I often joke that I am a "fix-it" massage therapist.

When I first started teaching yoga, many students would walk through the door after having finished up a physical therapy prescription or because they had been battling an injury that they didn't feel needed a doctor's attention yet. Yoga often helped them immensely, but sometimes there would be lingering pain or stiffness that no amount of stretching could quite release. Enter massage.

Massage is great for loosening up those areas that yoga just can't seem to access. Sometimes it takes another set of hands, quite literally, to get the job done. Another way to think about it is a manual adjustment of a specific muscle or muscles bring the body back into balance.

What's great about pairing yoga with massage is that often yoga students are very aware of their bodies and can pinpoint where they hold their tension and what areas of their body need extra work. After a massage, I can recommend specific poses for them to practice to get the most benefit from the body-work they just received.

Yoga students are already adept at massage-breathing because the same breathing techniques are used in massage that are taught in yoga class. Deep breathing helps your muscles relax and release just as much on the massage table as on the yoga mat. I try to get my clients to use their breath when working on a particularly tender area.

Likewise, massage can often create greater awareness of areas in the body that need more attention on the mat.  When you know that your shoulder is stiff you may naturally try to do poses to stretch your shoulders. But when you know which part of your shoulder is tight and which part is weak, then you know which poses will help you the most. You will be able to start drawing connections between which poses feel good for your body and which poses you struggle with and why.

As for my massage practice, I am specifically trained in and specialize in Swedish massage; deep tissue; Trigger Point therapy, which releases inflamed nerves that can refer pain to other parts of the body as in the case of tension headaches that often originate in the shoulders; treatment for migraines and other types of headaches; TMJD; sciatica and other lower back and hip issues; pregnancy massage; massage for cancer patients including Manual Lymphatic Drainage for limbs that have had lymph nodes removed and post-surgical swelling; plantar fascitis; rotator cuff issues; carpal tunnel; and knee problems.

Phew! I know that's a lot of information to list and chances are if you didn't see your particular issue up there, I am able to treat it or I can refer you to someone else who can.

One final note for those who are a bit squeamish when it comes to the thought of another person touching you or being undressed on a massage table, you might want to try chair massage (like the kind you see in the mall or in an airport) first since it's shorter and you are fully clothed. As for the table experience, clients are always covered except for the particular body part that is being worked. There are ways of draping the covers to avoid exposing anything that shouldn't see the light of day if you know what I mean. 

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