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.

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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!