Breath is energy. Breath is life. Breath is grounding. Massage therapists can use breath to make their strokes more connected and effective. Although breathing doesn't require constant thought, when we turn our focus to noticing our breath great things begin to happen.
Have you ever watched an infant sleep? Their belly rises and falls as they breathe. This shows we innately know the correct way to breathe. As we grow responsibility grows and with age our breathing begins to turn away from our wise infant breathing. Most of us become chest breathers instead of belly breathers. Stop for a moment and observe your breath now. Is your navel or chest moving with inhalation and exhalation? Most adults breathe shallowly within their chest. Shallow breathing leads to tight muscles, tension, and can contribute to digestive issues. If we visualize oxygen entering through our nose and going all the way down to our belly it creates a deeper more full breath. Like a yogi whose practice includes breath work, massage therapists too should practice conscious breathing while working with clients. If you've never been taught to breathe consciously then here is a place to begin. It takes awareness and practice but using your breath while at the massage table makes for more effective strokes.
Do you have a routine before you enter a massage session? How do you prepare for the next hour with the person on your table? Some people may have been taught a sequence in school or made up their own as they entered the working world. I bet most massage therapists have some way to leave the world outside the door as they step into session. Think about those sessions you feel were a great success. Those are the ones where you were present and your breath was flowing (whether you realized it or not). Those are the times when intuition played a role in getting the result as well as technical knowledge and training. During those great sessions your work was more grounded due to breathing so your strokes felt more connected to the client although they rarely can put into words why the session was better that day. Your mind was calm, at peace and your breath was moving as it should.
Have you ever slowed your work down, or spent extra time on one small area? When you aren't rushed or distracted by outside thoughts a massage session can take a turn in a direction you hadn't expected. These are usually the sessions with little to no talking which allows you to get into the zone (breathing consistently) and really feel what is happening under your fingers. Is that an adhesion you don't remember being present before? Is the connective tissue near the origin of the muscle feel a little off? Does the tissue in the belly of the muscle relax with 2 minutes or 10 minutes of petrissage? Your breathing contributes to finding or missing subtle muscular changes. During a massage check in with your breath multiple times as you work. When you find yourself holding your breath or breathing shallowly tension soon follows. The scalenes, SCM and other neck and shoulder muscles tighten when our breath is shallow or restricted which then effects our ability to feel what's happening under our hands. When you find your breath needs attention fix it and after a while it will become second nature to breathe fully.
Think of breath moving with each massage stroke and maybe this will help you build a new habit for better breathing. As you deliver the stroke exhale and as you recover or connect back to the beginning of the stroke inhale. In exercise this is the same as exhale on the exertion. This works well with long effluerage strokes down the back for example. Standing at the head of the table, your effluerage would travel down towards the sacrum while you exhale and as your hands come back to the starting point you inhale. Combining the delivery or pressure part of the massage stroke with the exhale allows for more depth of pressure and keeps the breath moving which is what we're after.
Breath is an area where we all can improve but awareness and regular check ins are the first step. Our clients will appreciate a stronger, more connected stroke and our bodies will hold less tension which makes our work better. Taking care of our bodies comes first and better breathing goes a long way in stress reduction, anxiety control and relaxed upper body muscles. If it makes us feel better and makes our work better then why not breathe better?! Take the breathe better challenge. For one week bring awareness to your breath multiple times during your massage sessions. Keep your breath flowing and full and note the changes you find in your work. You will be pleasantly surprised. I can't wait to hear about your progress. Breath better. Massage better.
Until next time,
Be fit, be strong
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