Getting the Most out of My Massage

Today it’s my turn to get on the table and receive a nurturing, nourishing massage. Yay!!! I’m so enamored with the benefits of gentle, healing touch that I aim to get at least two every month. Massage is a huge part of my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health care plan. It’s my goal to use holistic, alternative, and complementary medicine to cultivate the optimal health available to me.

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In order to get the most out of my session, I want to arrive in the most relaxed state that I possibly can. That way I can sink even deeper into my treatment, reaping the most rewards available to me, and experiencing the greatest peace and relaxation. Some days, the most relaxed state that I’m able to conjure up is, well, loosely described as a hot mess. And that’s just perfect. If I’m upset or agitated, there’s no greater cure than healing touch. I leave feeling like I’ve been restored to my essential, loving self.

However, when grace allows and I begin my treatment from the maximum state of relaxation I can achieve on my own, the therapist helps me arrive at a whole new level. So I take the time to meditate and clear my mind. While this is obviously not necessary and most people enjoy a massage without preparing for it with meditation, I’ve noticed that when I don’t, I spend the first 20-30 minutes just settling into my session. When I’ve meditated beforehand, I settle almost instantly, allowing myself to sink deeper quicker. For the same reason, I like to do some gentle yoga in preparation as well.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that late morning seems to be a really good time for me. I’ve eaten a hearty breakfast earlier and it’s mostly digested by then but keeps my blood sugar stable; I’ve hydrated quite well and don’t need to worry about a full bladder disrupting my treatment. I like to dry brush, so that I’m more able to absorb all the healing qualities of the natural oil being slathered on my skin.

Because I’m aware of the value of treating the muscles of the face, scalp, and upper neck that attach to the skull, I prioritize these benefits over my appearance. I don’t mind walking home with massage hair, and I imagine what people notice most about me is my calm presence and radiant glow. On the rare occasion that I have somewhere fancy to go, I let my therapist know to avoid my head and I protect my locks by tying them up out of the way.

Naturally I don’t want to feel rushed and I want to receive every minute of massage bliss, so I allow plenty of time for getting there calmly. It’s a beautiful day outside, and I’m blessed to have a gifted therapist within walking distance of my home, so I make time for a leisurely stroll there and back. Hurrying to or from a massage is a great way to eradicate most of the benefits by triggering stress hormones. No thank you! I make space in case I encounter every single red light, a long lost friend who wants to say hello, or an adorable puppy.

Perhaps the most essential strategy for getting the most out of my holistic health care via massage is to communicate my desires and needs clearly at the beginning of my session. I tell my therapist two or three things I’d like to focus on, as well as anything I’d like to avoid. Because I’m healing a torn meniscus in my knee, range of motion or stretching makes me nervous, which is the exact opposite of relaxation, and to be avoided for now. I have some tension in my neck that needs some therapy, so I mention that as well.

Now my work is done. I get to lie back, relax, and receive. I enjoy the greatest rewards when I turn off my thinking and let the therapist do the job for which s/he has been highly trained. Micromanaging is a sure way to interrupt the flow and interfere with my ability to release stress. Assuming that I know the best course of action discounts the therapist’s skill, experience, and intuition. Generally, I have a blind spot when it comes to my own tension patterns as I can’t see the bigger picture. Unless something is painful, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I get the most out of my massage by allowing myself to receive the gift that is being offered to me.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve probably been the recipient of over 400 session! I’ve only had a handful of what I would call “bad” massages, several mediocre massages, and loads of really wonderful massages. As I’ve been perfecting my receiving technique, I’ve noticed that much of the responsibility for experiencing a great massage is mine. Practicing the above strategies makes a huge difference for me, and I hope it will for you too.

 

Simple Headache and Computer Posture Antidote

Today my Reiki students helped me name this extremely useful position. Beach pose! It’s a powerful complimentary and alternative medicine and holistic therapy remedy for a wide variety of common complaints that arise from less than ideal posture.

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Beach pose

It’s my number one recommendation for people who suffer from headaches or neck pain, work at a computer all day, or do massage or any other activity with the arms forward (pretty much everything, right?!). When there’s only time for one hand position for applying Reiki, this is a good choice. If you have just 3-5 minutes, put yourself in this position, and invite the healing energy to flow. The results are instantaneous and potent.

There are benefits available to those who haven’t been trained in the magical powers of energy healing. This pose is a slight, gentle backbend; a counterpose to computer slump. It reverses the forward hunching, chin jutting position many of us find ourselves in when sitting at a desk behind a keyboard. It opens the chest and throat, encouraging respiration and circulation, and lengthens contracted muscles in the chest and neck.

But that’s not all! It puts the upper trapezius into slack, counteracting its habitual overstretched position and offering an invitation for this poor, overworked, unbelievably tight muscle to reset. Taking the strain off of a muscle that has been locked in an overstretched position not only relieves pain, but stimulates a physiological healing response. This technique is called positional release; it is super gentle and incredibly potent. Just like Reiki!

Wait, there’s more! Placing the body in this relaxed, confident posture sends a signal to the brain that all is well. Clearly we are safe and secure if we are willing to expose our vulnerable belly and throat. Add a few deep breaths, and now we’re triggering the relaxation response, feel good brain chemistry, and decreased blood pressure. All from lounging in a chair, wherever we may be, in the middle of the day! Just a few minutes can initiate a cascading effect of relaxation, which promotes productivity, focus, and pain relief. And the only side effect is a better mood. 🙂

The modification for someone with a shoulder injury that prevents the hands from going behind the head would be the Scarlet O’Hara pose, with the back of the wrist to the forehead. Switching sides after two minutes allows for equal shoulder release. If that’s too much for the shoulders, simply broadening the collarbones and looking up ever so slightly can do the job.

I call this strategy “stacking practices”. Accomplishing multiple goals with one action is the opposite of multi-tasking. Beach pose can positively affect the nervous, glandular, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, energetic, and emotional systems simultaneously. It fits in with my model of working smarter, not harder and addressing the root issue rather than attacking the symptoms. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

 

Healer, Heal Thyself: Listen!

My meniscus is healing quite nicely despite the absence of medical intervention. I’m not a doctor and do not wish to imply that I know what’s best for your own healing. Figuring out what is best for my own healing is quite the endeavor and I have no desire to project! I am, however, suggesting that whatever route you take, holistic techniques can be beneficial. I’m using them exclusively as alternative medicine, but they also work brilliantly as complementary medicine.

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I’ve reached a stage in which I rarely have knee pain, but my range of motion remains limited. In the past, I might have been tempted to power up and get aggressive. In my current level of wisdom, I’ve chosen to do otherwise. Healing does not come about through force.

It seems the most supportive course of action is to tune in and listen to what my body needs. This is a skill which, like every other skill, requires patience and practice. We live in a world that promotes overruling the body, giving it orders without regard for our overall well-being. We’ve been taught to ignore and suppress messages (AKA pain) that we receive and push on through. Well, I’m here to advocate for the alternative path.

Pain is a message that I am out of balance. Numbing the pain (or as I like to quip, shooting the messenger) might allow for a temporary reprieve, but the imbalance remains and will continue to send messengers until it is resolved. I’m taking a good, hard look at what I can do to create more balance. Just as importantly, I’m taking the action steps necessary to move my life in the direction of greater equilibrium.

For me, that means taking Sundays off so I now enjoy a 5 day workweek. Woohoo! It means resting and playing more. It means acknowledging the muscular imbalance in my legs and hips that puts strain on the knee joint, making it vulnerable; and it means learning how to revise my yoga practice to facilitate this rebalancing. It definitely mean receiving lots of Reiki and massage and choosing which thoughts I want to energize.

For the first several weeks, it meant using all the holistic potions that came across my radar. Plant medicine stimulates the body’s innate healing abilities, not at all like pharmaceuticals which tend to suppress symptoms. I had been happily applying essential oil and Ayurvedic oils topically, ingesting homeopathic remedies, smearing on gels and cremes, and taking a Chinese remedy made from deer antler (said to help stimulate cartilage repair without harming any animals). It’s impossible to say which of the these strategies worked, but the overall effect was one of increased rate of healing.

Now I’m no longer feeling the need for these tools. I believe they did their job and encouraged meniscus repair from the inside out. I will revisit them if there is a need. Right now it seems that time is the main ingredient, and I just to continue my quest for balance, listening to my body’s messages, and giving her what she needs.

Healer, Heal Thyself: Balance

Creating balance seems to be the key to healing. I aim for an 80% clean diet rather than restricting all foods that are less than ideal for me. I allow myself to enjoy some mindless, recreational screen viewing every week and make space each day for downtime. It’s important to make compromises and remain flexible.

So when given the opportunity to attend a Yoga Dance class with live drumming while visiting Kripalu, I couldn’t resist! Dancing is an expression of the joy in my heart. Certain music tends to move through me, using my body as a vehicle. I feel especially alive when my body is dancing; like a spring flower bursting through the snow.

Given the torn meniscus in my knee and my self-prescription for holistic therapy which includes lots of rest, I struggled with this decision. In the end, my heart won out. I realized that the joy to be gained was greater than the risk of set back. So I took it nice and easy and rested when I felt the first twinge of discomfort.

The next three days I was again presented with this opportunity to dance. Each afternoon I checked in with my body to see what was in my best interest. Each day I heard a “no”, loud and clear. While this was indeed disappointing, I chose to honor my inner voice.

If I had listened to my rational voice, I wouldn’t have danced at all. If I had listened to the ego, the voice demanding more More MORE! I would have taken all the classes. (And likely have re-injured myself.) Instead I tapped into my higher knowing, the voice of Spirit sometimes called the still, small voice within. It guided me to the path of balance and harmony. It always does.

All I need do is listen.