The holidays are coming up and likely full of excitement and likely some stress. One of the best ways to lessen the affects of stress is to take some slow deep breaths down into your belly. Here is why. When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the system that says, "Get ready! We are about to be chased by tigers and lions and bears!!!" When it does, among other things, your muscles tense, your pulse quickens and your breath becomes shallow. This slows digestion and cell regeneration because energy is going elsewhere. Chronic stress leads to all sorts of illness as written in this article;
When you take a deep, slow breath down into you belly and expanding your diaphragm, you are essentially telling your nervous system, "We're good. There is no danger!" Even better, this "therapy" is completely free and accessible to anyone.
When I give people massage, half my job is to get their nervous system to slow down and trust my work. Your tissues are amazing and stronger than you may give it credit. If your nervous system is on guard, your muscles will not relax well no matter how much pressure someone gives you. For this reason, your massage is much more affective when you take deep breaths, especially if a spot feels particularly sore. This is also why I move and talk slowly during a massage, why I keep at least one hand on my client the whole time, why I choose music without words and with a slow tempo, why I take deep breaths while I'm massaging a person and why I use relaxed body language myself. All of this speaks to my client's nervous system and affects the outcome of the massage.
You can do these things as well. Next time you find yourself stressed, check your breathing, check how fast you are walking and notice what speed and volume you are talking. Bring it all down a notch by taking a few deep breaths, and you'll be amazed at the change in stress levels.
This means we work together. It's not about me as your therapist doing work to you. Especially with deep massage work that makes lasting change, it's about your participation. And how does that look because we need you to relax and receive as well.
When you first come in for a massage, we're going to talk about your areas of pain, tension or limitation. We'll talk about what you've tried for it in the past, what has worked and hasn't, what you do that aggravates the problem, what relieves it and what your goals are for your body. Based on that information, we'll come up with a treatment plan for our session and subsequent ones if we decide we are a good fit to work together. I am like a detective. You bring me a problem, and I'm going to find out as much as I can to uncover the cause of that problem. Many therapists address the pain only, but in working with thousands of people, I have learned that when I can find and address the cause of the pain or tension, it changes everything!
During the massage, it is my job to do my utmost to help you feel comfortable, safe and certain. When your mind and your nervous system trusts me, as your therapist, and the work being done, your body; your muscles will relax into the work. It is your job to tell me what you want, when something is uncomfortable and when you want something I am doing changed. You don't have to "put up with" anything! It's your body, and you are ultimately the boss! In this way we create rapport and trust, and the massage work's effectiveness increases exponentially through our session.
The second and very important way we work together is through discovering what behaviors of posture, movement (or lack of movement) are causing the tensions and pain in the first place. Then we discuss what changes in behavior are necessary, and develop a plan for you to slowly and consistently cultivate habits toward those new supportive movement patterns. Then with each massage, part of our check-in is to see how your body is feeling since your last massage, what things you did (your homework), and what changes you notice because of it. In this way we create a cadence of accountability which produces long-term results.
You can go get a relaxing massage and feel good for a little while, and it requires nothing of you but to show up, relax and pay for the session. However, if you are looking for some lasting changes, it does require your participation, and that is what I want if you are to work with me or the other team members here at Lifelong Wellness.
What questions do you have about receiving massage or taking care of your body? Leave a comment here.
Adinah Barlow has been a massage therapist since 2007 and Self-Care Coach since early 2017. She believes that when people prioritize their own well-being, everything else and everyone else in their life becomes exponentially better.