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: Esalen

Although I practice a variety of bodywork modalities, Esalen massage was the first of my training and has influenced the way I perceive massage. Here is a little article I wrote on the basics of Esalen bodywork:

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In the book Job’s Body, author Deane Juhan tells us something important about the fundamental approach of Esalen bodywork. He explains:

Bodywork… is a kind of sensorimotor education, rather than a treatment or a procedure… I must enter into an active relationship with [the client]. The bodyworker is not attacking a localized problem; (s)he is carefully generating a flow of sensory information to the mind of the client… It is the mind of the client that does the fixing.

This passage speaks to me both as a massage therapist and as a recipient of massage. I believe it clarifies a fundamentally flawed attitude that massage therapists, health educators, and recipients occasionally bring to their sessions. “Fix me!” is a plea that I hear on a weekly if not daily basis from my clients who come to me with excruciating nerve pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and injuries. I have to check my ego quickly as I feel my massage therapist super-hero cape unfurling behind me in a promise of ease, health, and recovery.

Have you ever felt like you needed to “power through” a painful bodywork session? Do you believe in “no pain, no gain?” Worse yet, have you ever felt brutalized by an over-zealous massage practitioner who wouldn’t listen to you when you asked for less pressure? Have you ever been bruised after a massage?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I suggest you consider this: It is the mind of the client that does the fixing. In pleading with another to “fix” us, we not only give away the power we each contain inherently in our own bodies to heal, we assign the responsibility to someone else who is not capable of fulfilling our request.

Esalen massage is foundationally a relationship. It teaches us how to approach each other through touch by allowing for the greatest space and respect– listening to each client’s body and its assortment of protected postures, injuries, and narratives. You may not realize it, but when you take a deep breath during a massage, if you get goosebumps, if your eyelids flutter, your Esalen massage therapist notices and acknowledges it as permission to move deeper or as encouragement to linger.

It should not be miscontrued, however, that Esalen massage lacks depth of pressure. A session with an Esalen massage therapist will introduce varied depth of pressure, and when it is needed, the pressure does engage the deepest layers of muscle and fascia and includes stretching and other techniques unique to Esalen massage (more on that in the following paragraph!). The important distinction is that the client’s body is always in charge, because it is the client who will ultimately either let go of tension and stress, or retain them. It is not within the massage therapist’s scope or capacity to foist a ‘release’ upon the client. Clients should also always bear in mind that the session is in their honor; the client is in control, and if at any time any thing does not feel right for any reason, it is always encouraged to speak up right away. Massage therapists are often intuitive people who enjoy helping others feel better, but might not be able to read your mind.

During an Esalen session, you will no doubt experience what has been deemed Esalen’s trademark technique. The Long Stroke, aptly named, begins at the foot, flows up the leg, hip, glutes, back, neck and shoulder, and then travels down the arm and hand, connects to the hip and leg and finishes as it exits at the foot. The entire body is contacted, the entire body is re-membered. Imagine how an injured shoulder seems to scream for all your attention, and your nervous system seems able to hear only it. Much the way we are able to focus on one specific task amid a melee of other sensory input, the most urgent message is often heard the clearest. The Long Stroke effects the nervous system by integrating the parts of the whole– and even as the massage therapist stops to work with the loudest complainer in detailed work, it is encompassed again in the totality of the body through the Long Stroke.

If the client’s body is ready to let go of the pain resulting from the injury, it will do so as it is integrated with the rest of the body– supported by the massage therapist, but not due to her.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Suture Self! What’s that supposed to mean?

“Suture Self” is a concept that occurred to me in a moment of unadulterated nerdiness. It’s on all my business cards, frequent client cards, coupons, letterhead, gift certificates, etc.(Vistaprint is a dangerous, dangerous place….). I think it’s an important idea that might bear some explaining.  It came together as I pondered a few different ideas several weeks ago and as a result, has become the tagline for my business.

Concept 1: Anatomically speaking, the kinds of sutures I’m alluding to are cranial sutures. And no, they aren’t the nasty black stitches that stick out of your skin like bug’s legs when you get a nasty gash. Cranial sutures are the area between two cranial bones which is connected by ligament. Bones in the head fit together in several different ways, and because they are separated by ligament, do have some movement. If you think of the bones in your head like tectonic plates in the earth, you can imagine how two structures butt up against each other. If the bones in the cranium begin relating to each other in a way that is compressed, cramped, subluxated, or angled off in a weird way, it can create anatomical and energetic volcanoes, earthquakes, or new mountain ranges in the skull.

Huh? Bascially, if the bones of your head get out of alignment, it can create uncomfortable symptoms in there. Head injury, concussion, facial, eye, teeth grinding or clenching, or dental work can all contribute to a misalignment. This can effect the membranes that encase the brain, the way cerebral spinal fluid flows up and down the spine, and the way your nervous system functions. Some symptoms may include but are definitely not limited to: migraines, headaches, dizziness, neck or back ache, or emotional disturbance/discomfort.

Concept 2: Oftentimes, people struggle with justifying receiving bodywork. It is an expense that our culture and our present economy categorizes under the column of ‘want’ not ‘need.’ Sometimes it feels like people who receive body work must have extra money to throw around, and extra time. Or, perhaps more subconsciously, must be people who really think a lot of themselves to justify spending time and money on something as frivolous as relaxation. It’s a projection that people who afford bodywork really don’t mind taking up a lot of room for themselves, while the rest of us put everyone else first and do without, for the team.

Concept 3: There is a dirty little secret about bodywork. (No, not that.) It’s that moment of bliss after your session has ended, when the therapist leaves the room, and you are on the table, in total relaxation, still fully in the balmy glow of the session. For that moment, you don’t feel guilty about having taken the time or the money for yourself. You feel awesome. Like you’re having your cake and eating it, too. But what you might not appreciate at that moment is that your secret doesn’t have to be dirty! And it doesn’t have to be secret!

Bodywork feels good, sure. But, it’s also good for you. Go ahead! Take up some room! Suit yourself! You don’t feel this surrepticious after getting blood work, done, do you?

Concept 4: Bodywork, and especially craniosacral therapy, in my opinion, help people achieve their greatest version of health. Health looks a little different for each individual, but our bodies are all capable of finding greater balance. When we take a little time for self-care, we are more fully engaged with our lives, and by extension, becoming more fully our best selves. If our heads are on straight, we are better able to let go of dysfunction and embrace health that works. We begin to embody our Suture Self.

Suture Self is both a noun and an imperative. It is a way of describing ourselves in balance and harmony, and it is an encouragement to be that person who unapologetically takes a little time out for her/himself in order to do so, even if it feels self-serving. It’s a way of rewriting the concept that serving self is selfish or bad.

As the awesome Maurice Sendak said, “Live you life! Live your life! Live your life!”

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage. I’m off to get some bodywork!

East Bay Massage: TMJD and Intra-Oral Craniosacral Therapy

How many times have you heard a popping noise in your ear as you chew, yawn, or even talk? If you have, then you have experienced the primary symptom of Temperomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD). This tell-tale noise occurs when the disc within the join slips forward of the condyle of the mandible. Dysfunction of the TMJ can be exacerbated by teeth clenching or grinding at night and can refer pain to the ear or limit the jaw’s range of motion.

The Temperomandibular Joint and the surrounding musculature allows for movement in the jaw in side to side and opened and closed positions. It’s important! If you aren’t able to comfortably chew food or open your mouth all the way, it can get frustrating– what’s worse, it can become painful if the surrounding tissues, ear canal, or trigenimal nerve become inflamed.

Craniosacral Therapy can help relieve the symptoms and improve the jaw’s range of motion. Intra-oral work, or work done inside the mouth while wearing protective gloves, can help to release the soft tissues surrounding the TMJ. Certain cranial bones and deep muscle layers are only accessible from inside the mouth. Helping these areas (the lateral pterygoids which are the only muscles in a grouping of four that control jaw movement responsible for opening the mouth, and the bone of the mandible itself) decompress by creating room around the joint can ease TMJ symptoms. Taking the time to relax, supported by therapeutic bodywork, will help your body finds its balance and improve its ability to heal.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage! More on this effective modality to follow!

East Bay Massage: Naked, or How to Sit in a Chair

My boyfriend was making us dinner and asked me to grab the wine bottle opener from the drawer. I pulled out what I assumed was the right thing, but it was all complicated looking, not like the one I have at my house. It was all straight, with two leveled hooks and I couldn’t figure out how to use it.Then he was like, just peel the foil off, and flicked out this toothed blade and I got all overwhelmed. I felt really dumb– we needed wine, and in college, I once opened a bottle of wine with nothing more than a chopstick and a rubber glove! But this weird tool was freaking me out. I never take the foil off! Take the foil off? With this weird pokey thing?

And I felt like asking for help opening wine was like asking someone how to open a door, drink out of a cup, or sit in a chair. It should be pretty self-evident. Eventually I pleaded inadequacy and handed the bottle and his weird straight hooky thing back to him.

Months later, this whole event circled back into conversation. We were talking on the phone as he was opening a bottle of wine, and make a joke about how he was using the opener that I hated. You know what the problem is, I admitted, the problem is that I don’t know how to use one of those and what I need is for you to stand next to me and show me how to do it. I hate looking stupid– I need you to totally stand next to me, and be supportive. Like, hippie supportive. Like, close-talker, you’re-totally-groovy- just-the-way-you-are-even-if-you-don’t-know-how-to-sit-in-a-chair supportive. Here, go like this, bend your knees with me… and… sit! Awesome.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with older brothers who seemed able to do cool stuff long before I could walk properly– bike riding, tree climbing, woods exploring, tadpole and cricket catching, space travel, junior high… I guess I developed a complex about looking foolish and a fear of being either secretly or overtly dumb.

Rewind about four years to me, standing in my old kitchen with a friend who is a massage therapist. I was in a bad place in a lot of ways– dysfunctional marriage, post traumatic miscarriage, and overwhelmed by running a small child care business out of my 1000 square foot flat. But I had been doing research on somatic psychology and found out about Esalen massage. Then, in what I assume was a sign from the universe, a massage school I had never heard of before was offering a class in Esalen massage that started in two days and was a ten minute drive from my house. I signed up on the spot, and didn’t stop to think about what massage school would be like.

As in, you’re really naked a lot.

So as I stood there with my friend in my kitchen with lots of toddlers racing in circles around us, I asked: So, will I have to be naked all the time? And she smiled broadly and said, “Yes.” Hmmm… naked with a bunch of strangers… this might be weird… How naked are we talking here?

When I got to class, it was one of the first things we did. After a demonstration of the Long Stroke on a brave massage school veteran, we paired up and got to work on each other. The thing that’s difficult to articulate is the quality of the connection that developed within the class– it was absolutely hippie-supportive. While we were practicing, our teacher would come over, look into our faces and smile, stand parallel to us and make hands-on suggestions. It was the best kind of correction ever. Then he’d stand back, watch our technique for a second, give a thumbs up, and move on.

There was no shame. When we paired up, the one playing the client would undress behind a sheet that their partner held up for them with their head turned away. We weren’t lounging on divans eating grapes in the nude– we were learning together. We were learning a skill without the fear of being lame or dumb. Because then, you learn. 

I think having a place to go where I could be vulnerable and not feel bad about it was responsible for me becoming a massage school junkie. I fed off of safety. I thrived in learning the basics– and touch is as basic and as fundamental as it gets– with someone standing beside me, showing me how.

Who finds it difficult to sit in a chair? Well, sometimes someone who’s opened one too many bottles of wine, or else someone who desperately needs a massage. Either way, cheers! You’re totally perfect just the way you are.

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage! You’re a worthwhile human being.

East Bay Massage: 9/11

I just spent the afternoon volunteering some free massage. As I was driving to the location, I saw lots of American flags hanging on the fences on the overpasses and people gathering together there. On the radio, listeners called in to share their memories about 9/11 or to talk about loved ones they had lost. It’s clear that 10 years later, many of us still struggle to process what happened that day, and even though life has propelled us forward and demanded that we “continue on,” for many, there is still a wound which may be impossible to heal.

I spent four hours without a gap or a break, giving ten minute massages. It’s not like I was able to restore a long-missed family member or solve the complex knots in foreign and domestic policy resulting from 9/11 (alas, I am powerless against TSA). But this experience was really singular and unique– it seemed like the people who flowed without cease into my chair deeply needed to be touched. The response was one of warmth, community, and enthusiasm.

I can’t imagine a better way to commemorate 9/11. I think Kalil Gibran wrote in the The Prophet that “your work is your love made visible.” If we can cultivate love instead of fear, maybe we will be a little bit closer to healing the deep wound created in the soul of our country ten years ago.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage! And give someone a hug!

East Bay Massage: Sprains

Massage plays an important role in recovery from a bad sprain. A sprain occurs when a ligament has been torn. Ligaments can be thought of as a sheathing that connects one bone to another bone and do not have to ability to stretch the way a muscle or tendon does. The severity of the sprain depends on how much of the ligament is damaged. Sprains can be a mild injury of just a few torn fibers to a complete severing of the ligament. If a ligament ruptures, it will be incapable of supporting the joint it surrounds, creating joint instability. In a case like this, surgery will be necessary to repair the damage are restore functionality. Post surgery, a massage therapist can make a world of difference in the functioning of a sprained ankle or knee.

Massage will reduce adhesions and assist the healing process by helping collagen fibers line up in the right direction (scarring results in a patchwork of fiber directions). Massage will also reduce edema (swelling) and help to express toxic byproducts of the injury from the surrounding tissues. Increasing range of motion through movement and weight-bearing stress after the injury has had time to heal is the best way to promote functionality– this helps to orient healing in such a way that scar tissue becomes a functional part of the surrounding tissues.

It is generally safe to begin massage 24-48 hours after a sprain injury. This gives the body enough time to shift from the healing process of blood clotting on to clearing the area of cellular waste and to begin to repair fibers. If massage therapy is applied appropriately, the ligament will regain movement, the joint will have the support it needs to maintain its range of motion, and the client will be able to regain mobility.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

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