Just imagine easing fatigue, stress and chronic pain without the usual remedies. Imagine not ‘needing’ that double espresso to rev you up or those regular doses of ibuprofen to ease your aching back. Yes. It can be done. As a Yoga and Pilates instructor I am a great proponent of achieving this all by yourself through exercise and a good diet. A good workout in an ideal world would leave you feeling energized and ready to go. You have massaged your body from the inside out. Many of my students claim to feel as though they have just had a massage. And that is the goal. In performing a Pilates exercise or a yoga posture we literally massage the spine, stretch the muscles, oxygenate the blood and activate all the rhythms of the body.
Massage is an Essential Part of Your Health Routine
I have been a massage therapist now for over 20 years. I started teaching Yoga and Pilates in order to help people achieve the benefits and effects of massage for themselves. That being said, there are still those times when placing yourself in the hands of a skilled massage therapist or bodywork specialist is the best way to go. A good massage can put a tired and weary body back in action. It may be much more than the luxury service you dream about getting when you are on vacation or occasionally indulge in at a weekend spa event. A good massage can be an essential part of your health routine. Massage can get you through those stress filled hours at work, or give you the energy needed to do your household chores. Massage can improve your mood, ease those cranky symptoms that assault the best of us, make you more pleasant to be around. I am talking here about ordinary everyday stresses and tensions of everyday life. We hunch over our desks, carry heavy shoulder bags, lead frenetic lives – no wonder we get so stressed. Years of getting out a chair improperly, or sleeping with your neck scrunched up can leave you hurting too. Improper posture is a killer. Our energy cannot possibly flow correctly if we are not posturally aligned. And we don’t always have the time to exercise, eat right or get to bed on time. I agree that even drinking enough water every day requires discipline and focus.
Swedish Massage used to be a Daily Part of a Nurse’s Hospital Routine
It is hard to imagine that there was a time when Swedish massage seemed positively exotic to most Americans. And only a few years ago, nobody had even heard of hot stone massage. In the North West we use the term deep tissue massage to denote the idea a good deep therapeutic massage. This type of massage increases the circulation, improves lymphatic flow, relieves muscles tension and much more. If you have muscle spasms, backache, a sore neck, headaches, sciatica, and pains down your arms, you name it and a good massage will help. At the very least it will help you cope with and decrease the symptoms of more chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis. Again the list is endless. At the same time I will point out that massage was once part of a twice-daily routine for hospital patients in America. This was not all that long ago. I met a retired nurse recently at a chamber of commerce event, still very active in the community now doing other things besides nursing. She told me how she and her fellow nurses used to massage hospital patients twice a day, every day. It was considered an essential part of nursing. This has since been replaced by machinery and powerful new medications. Whilst modern medicine has brought great advances, it is a shame that we have had to eliminate the powerful healing effects of human touch. Other nurses tell me that they still use their massage skills especially on a quiet night, doing the evening shift. The power of touch is undeniable. It is soothing and relaxing, lowers blood pressure, eases stress and anxiety all of which may be heightened because of illness and being in a hospital, alone, frightened and away from loved ones. Nurse and patient get to know each other in a whole other way when therapeutic massage or that other well-known energy technique ‘therapeutic touch’ much loved and used by nurses is involved.
Craniosacral Therapy – A Gentle and Powerful Therapy
There are other forms of bodywork that can be done instead of or as well as your regular deep tissue massage. CranioSacral Therapy is one of those techniques that needs to be experienced to be believed. I have been using this form of therapy for over ten years now and find it to be particularly effective for relief of migraine headache, chronic illness such as fibromyalgia and arthritis, chronic neck and hip pain, sciatica, back and joint pain. It also helps motor coordination illness, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, emotional difficulties, TMJ and even posttraumatic stress disorder. It can also help alleviate visceral and digestive disorders, insomnia, chronic fatigue and even depression.
How does it work? There are many rhythms in the body. The beat of your heart has a specific rhythm to it. So has the cadence of your breath. Most of us don’t think about the craniosacral rhythm, but it is there chugging away, and when tapped into can reveal a great deal about our energy levels, our general health and well being. The therapist by focusing on this system using specific techniques can help improve the rate, balance, and depth of the rhythm. There is one technique used that literally unwinds a joint or body part, bringing that part of the body back to where it needs to be, slowly, at the body’s own pace, by nudging encouraging and gently unwinding that place. It is done much as we would do with a ball of twine that is all knotted up. If you pull or tug too much, you simply tighten the knots. A good example is that of opening or closing a drawer that is getting jammed. When trying to open the drawer, it is often a good idea to gently close the drawer all the way again, thus realigning the mechanics, and then opening the drawer again will be simple and easy. With the human body it can be the same. It is not always a quick fix. The therapist allows the patient to relax, giving the joint time to close all the way and then allow itself to open up fearlessly and become aware that there is no need to stay in spasm and tight, a natural protective mechanism of the body when in danger. The body needs to understand that the protective mechanism is no longer necessary. During the therapy session the therapist is constantly aware of what is happening to the patient by staying tuned to the craniosacral rhythm of the body. There are critical moments when the rhythm naturally shuts down so that the body can do its own healing work. The therapist has to know when to wait and when to allow movement to begin again. The patient’s own body literally does the work. The therapist is the facilitator.
“CranioSacral Therapy is equally beneficial for the well individual” says Dr. Upledger, founder of The Upledger Institute and famous for promoting this technique says in his book YOUR INNER PHYSICIAN AND YOU “healthy people who receive this form of therapy claim to have more energy, feel happier and more contented. They contract fewer infections and are sick less severely and for shorter periods of time”. He continues, “It would seem that the immune system is enhanced, stress levels are reduced, hormonal balance is improved and a sense of well-being is heightened”.
Shiatsu or Pressure Point Therapy
The word Shiatsu means finger pressure. In contrast to the more familiar sweeping and circular motions of Swedish massage and deep tissue work Shiatsu therapy uses pressure both light and deep to work along bands or lines of energy called meridians. Focus is placed on specific points in the body that are identical to those used in Acupuncture. Fingers, thumbs, fore arms and palms are used. The combination of the knowledge of the meridians of Oriental medicine along with that of Western knowledge of the physiology of the human body is an excellent one.
Shiatsu is an oriental bodywork technique that balances the body’s energies and strengthens the internal organs. To determine the state of energy of the client the practitioner use visual clues such as the condition of hair, skin, nails, eyes, the sound of the client’s voice, tightness or softness in certain places on the body, pulse points and asking questions. There is often a central focus on the abdomen which like the feet in reflexology has a story to tell that reflects the entire health of the individual.
Massage therapists usually have some knowledge of many different techniques and others go on to specialize in deep tissue, or CranioSacral therapy. or reflexology or one of the many massage techniques that are available today. How do you choose which technique is best for you?
How to best select a massage therapist for your needs.
Any technique is only as good as the practitioner who performs it. Massage is so personal that first and foremost it is important to trust and like your therapist. You will probably see them again and again. A friend may recommend someone to you. Or you may look in the yellow pages or answer an ad in the paper. There are key questions to ask your therapist before making an appointment.
Are you licensed? This is the first question. And a very important one. The next one is, how long have you been practicing? You may want to ask where has the therapist worked. Have they worked for a doctor or a chiropractor, or have they worked in a spa. Ask them what school they went to and what continuing education courses they have done. Have they specialized in any particular techniques? It is very easy for a therapist to claim to be a hot stone massage expert after attending a weekend seminar. But it is worthwhile asking a few extra questions to determine whether the therapist is certified in the technique or at least studying for that certification in which case they are taking regular courses. Once you engage the therapist with this line of questioning you will quickly get a sense whether this is the right therapist for you. Much depends on why you are looking for massage in the first place. If you have a frozen shoulder or herniated discs you will ask if the therapist has experience with this problem. Experience is not essential but it does inspire confidence. If you have Parkinson’s then again ask if the therapist has experience in the field. If you have a simpler issue such as a stiff neck from sleeping on your in-laws sofa then a licensed therapist will know what to do.