East Bay Massage: Massage and Holistic Health

A recent New York Times article took an interesting perspective on why massage is good for us. The author was given an assignment to try out as many local massage therapists as possible, and to review his experience receiving bodywork (way to go, NYT!).

What I appreciated the most about John Jeremiah Sullivan’s article was the insight into his personal experience as a client receiving bodywork. Oftentimes, we massage therapists and holistic health educators are quick to cite all the many physiological health benefits of massage. Lowering blood pressure, increasing lymph flow, immune system boost, increasing range of motion, decreasing aches and pains– these are all legitimate, medically proven benefits to receiving bodywork.

Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate the other piece– that making an appointment for a massage is making time to take our attention, so often outwardly focused on accomplishing tasks, maintaining personal or professional relationships, processing information about events in our communities or around the world, politics, projects at home or at work, etc., etc., etc., and turn that attention inward. In this way, we can experience the anatomy of emotion as it resides inside us. Sullivan says:

After all, even if there’s something inherently funny about massage, down to the very word, massage, there’s also something unavoidably intense about paying that much attention to your body, not as an abstract concept but as the physical dying fact of it, lying in all its animality like a study by Lucian Freud. At certain moments I missed my old mode, which was to proceed as if I had no body at all…

In order to tolerate sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, not including that commute to and from work, it may require a little bit of droning out the messages from our body. In order to comply with societal norms, we are taught from a very young age to sit still, to complete tasks, to take things in passively. To accomplish this, we have to learn how to either manage our lives to include other opportunities for movement or for mindful stillness, or (commonly) we have to learn how to play by the rules and shut out messages from the body. This often to our detriment.

One recent client described to me how she had been working a string of 12 hour days, taking only two breaks a day to use the restroom. This kind of living pulls the life energy upwards from the body and fuels the brain, privileging its functions and awareness over the intelligence found throughout the body. We are amazing creatures, capable of such focus and will! But it’s important to give ourselves the opportunity to rest and to notice our own aliveness.

While receiving craniosacral therapy, the author also noted:

Whether something was being effected through the laying on of hands, perhaps through some unknown mechanism of the physical world, I can’t say. It seemed to matter less and less. Maybe that’s what massage is to a lot of people, those who don’t have chronic pain or migraines — it’s enforced meditation for those of us too distracted to meditate. You’re paying someone to meditate you. It’s not anything they’re doing, necessarily. It’s that they open a little window. They give you an excuse to lie there in silence and pay a deeper attention to the fact that you exist. The true value of shamanism may be a concealed one, that it holds us in place and says this.

Holistic health, a concept that includes a multiplicity of perspectives on health, includes this piece. Not only are we bodies with aches and pains, rheumatoid arthirits, or migraines, we are alive creatures, sensate beings that process the world around us. We are in relationship with the world, and we are in relationship with ourselves. Sometimes the greatest therapeutic benefit of massage is simply the opportunity it gives us to notice that we exist.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage.


East Bay Massage: Why Did I Cry During My Massage?

I can say from personal experience both as a recipient and as a practitioner of massage that sometimes, people cry during massage. As a recipient, it was such a powerful experience that it inspired me not only to move into the field of therapeutic bodywork, but to learn more about my self, too. Post miscarriage, I was in the throws of profound hormonal flux, and felt lost in grief. Massage gave me a window into my own pain at a time when I thought it was too overwhelming to navigate.

As a grad student in somatic psychology now, I am gaining in understanding as to how this happens and what can be done to support this process. As a massage therapist, my scope of practice includes craniosacral therapy and massage that allows for and supports people when they are negotiating intense emotions if they are ready to be expressed. Some clients think they are signing up for physical therapy-style deep tissue and are shocked to find how powerful touch is– even the gentlest, mellowest variety.

Because touch outside of very discrete circumstances (like, fighting, doctor’s exams/procedures, and sex) is culturally unusual for us Americans, we are often deeply impacted when we allow ourselves to truly feel what it feels like to feel. The truth is that it is normal and healthy to notice emotions!

Emotional release happens because we are finally in a position to let our guard down– we begin to notice how sensations are paired with emotions. For instance, the sensation of a tight throat is often paired with the emotion of sadness. The sensation of a tight chest is often paired with anger. The sensation of pain across the shoulders is often paired with a heavy sense of responsibility. If we feel safe enough, we might finally allow those emotions to fully manifest. While this might seem impossible or dangerous in our regular lives, sometimes the power of touch can guide those emotions into expression.

Most massage therapists are aware that touch can bring up intense feelings for their clients. Sometimes all you need is to be offered a tissue and the space to shed a few tears. Sometimes, in addition to receiving that massage, you can use your breath to let go of the hiss of anger. Next time you receive a massage, just try noticing if any emotions come up for you before, during, or after the session. Simply notice if there is anything there. If not, allow yourself to fully drop in to the experience of relaxation. If so, see what it’s like to have them with you.

Increasing awareness of the experience of your body from the inside– that is, its sensations and emotions– can go a long way in alleviating stress. Bodywork is a wonderful opportunity to get some therapeutic massage and a great chance to learn more about your self, too.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Why Your Shoulders Hurt And What to Do About It

upper cross syndrome x-ray

Our friend here is doing what most of us do at work and at home– updating his status. Take one look at his posture and you can see it for yourself that it’s true… Facebook bums us out. See how he slumps? See the defeat in his shoulders? See the way his neck juts forward and then up a little, like a turtle? See how his shoulder blades creep up his back and around his sides? This is a sad, strange little man. I mean, you could practically rest a drink on that hump.

What hump, you may ask? Well, as profoundly hunkered over as this guy is, the truth is that you probably resemble him more than you realize… or would like to admit.

The truth is that your 45 minute commute to the job where you sit in front of your computer all day isn’t doing your shoulders or neck any favors. The chronic pain between the shoulder blades and that all too familiar ache in your neck is likely due to muscles in the back that have, through the long years of thankless service, become chronically lengthened and basically so stressed out they hardly know what to do with themselves. They have been stretched forward beyond the point of reason; they have been stressed for so long that they are in a cycle of tension that creates pain and discomfort. It’s a signal, people!

And their counterparts in the front, your chest muscles? They’re probably all contracted and shortened, too, from being on the inside edge of that charming little hump.

If you want to know what you can do about your shoulder and neck pain, my first suggestion is to get thee to a massage therapist. This will afford your body some relief and help to break the pain cycle in the short term. But I’ll be honest with you, dear reader. The only way to truly remedy this situation is to change the way your body works. And that’s a long-term solution that takes a lot of time and patience. To that end, I highly recommend two things:

1) Be sure to break up the time you spend slumped over in front of your computer by doing something revolutionary. Stand. Up. And then: roll your shoulders back. Roll them several times. Imagine tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Rotate your neck. Do it frequently– at least several times a day.

2) Start Pilates or Yoga (but be sure your teacher focuses on flexibility AND strength). Seriously, I mean it. Do it. These disciplines will retrain your muscles to behave differently and it will change your posture! 

Continue getting regular bodywork, but truth be told, bodywork alone will not provide you with lasting results. It took your body a lifetime to learn how to be the way it is right now, it’s going to take some time for it to figure out how to be different. Reward it for making the commitment to be healthier with massage, but don’t rely on massage to change your body. Only you can do that.

The good news is that it can be done! You! Can! Do! It!

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Pilates

Straddle Rolling LIke A Ball

Those of you who know me know that I have the zeal of a new convert when it comes to Pilates. If you are a client of mine you may have even been entertained by my fitness stylings after a massage. I have a tendency to move the table out of the way to show clients ‘cool stretches’ that might help with certain range of motion or flexibility issues. It is the *only* kind of work out that seems to have worked for me. By worked, I don’t mean that I have six pack abs (I do like six packs, though, on other people, and to drink), rather that it’s a practice that is sustainable for me.

As a new mom, I thought a lot about ‘losing the baby weight,’ but could never seem to make any headway. I tried walking around the marina, restricting what I ate, and did actually try a Pilates DVD at home. That DVD totally infuriated me! I’d lay on the floor and attempt what the perky Pilates instructor on TV was doing so effortlessly. But what looked like second nature to her bore no resemblance to what I was managing. What IS this side-plank thing? People are not meant to do that! The physics of it are implausible!

Fast forward several years to my first Pilates class through my community center. What worked for me was actually having a real person present to make corrections to my form. The class was filled, but filled with people at all varying levels of practice. The teacher showed us options to make the exercises either easier or more difficult based on our level and our courage. Over time, I gained strength and courage. Guess who side-planks now?

THEN I took a cadaver anatomy class at the chiropractic college here in the East Bay. I keyed in to a concept that I hadn’t thought much about before. External pressure. Core strength (including the front abs and also the muscles of the back and sides) is central to healthy function in the body. A balance between the front and back is essential for holding the spine in alignment. Good posture takes pressure off of our respiratory diaphram and allows for better breathing and oxygenation of blood. Our diaphram and pubis cap off the middle area of our bodies– if we provide this cylinder with strong walls, the spine is supported in the position that affords us the most stability. The benefits of this are immeasurable– reduced risk of injury, reduced risk of muscle soreness, reduced risk of vertebral or other joint misalignment, reduced risk of headaches, neck pain, etc., etc., etc.

The “Roll Down” (pictured above) engages the muscles of that cylinder of support provided by our abdominals and back (eh, not to mention the glutes, inner thighs, quads and yes, even arms).

Pilates stretches the body as it strengthens it. Stretching those areas that are in contraction has tremendous benefit to our overall health and can yield surprising progress in chronically painful spots. Using a Theraband can help a lot when addressing tight muscles and is a tool that can be used in a variety of ways. Below is pictured one way of using the Theraband– extending the legs while supporting the stretch with an arm pull activates the muscles in the shoulder girdle as it elongates the hamstrings (my personal nemesis).

Leg stretch with Band

Pilates is an awesome way to stretch those muscles in contraction and strengthen those that have been stretched beyond healthy function. Perhaps what I like the most about Pilates is its whole-body approach. Instead of working just one isolated muscle, Pilates addresses the body as a whole, integrated system. Pilates includes the power of our imaginations, too– visual imaging engages the mind as we work the body. Picturing your bellybutton pulled in to your spine goes a long way in hollowing out the abs. To that end, if you’re thinking about a new approach to fitness, try signing up for a class with a teacher who can physically and mentally guide you into better shape.

Try looking at your local community center to see if Pilates is offered there– city classes are often affordable and offered at lots of different times. Give it a try and see if you don’t love it! After you are certain about your form, try getting a book like The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler to use at home. I like this book because it does provide mental imagery to use, has lots of pictures, and stays true to the original method pioneered by Joseph Pilates.

Happy planking!

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage, too!