Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? Mary Oliver
Inhale. Exhale. These actions are instructed many times during a yoga class. Inhale your arms up and overhead, exhale and fold forward. Inhale lift your heart, exhale allow your hips to sink toward the floor. The inherent nature of the inhale is to lift, to rise, to expand, while the exhale allows for drawing in, deepening, and release.
For the month of October, we will be exploring how the breath changes our practice. We’ll be looking at why the breath is important in a yoga practice, the anatomy of the breathing body, Pranayama, and how the shape of the body can change the shape of the breath.
Why does the breath even matter in a yoga practice?
Why do we link the inhale and exhale to certain movements? Breathing usually operates at the edge of our awareness. On average, we take about 16 breaths per minute. This correlates to 960 breaths per hour, 23,040 breaths a day. How many of those breaths are conscious breaths? Probably not many. Yoga offers the opportunity to create attention and intention around the breath. In fact, there is opportunity in yogic breathing to control the breath in various ways. Similar to a seated meditation practice, tuning into the breath can provide something to focus on during your movement practice.
In every yoga practice, breathing is closely attended to. Vinyasa yoga, specifically, links movement with breath. The word vinyasa means “to place in a special way”. A vinyasa specific class focuses on linking movement with the breath. Attuning to the breath can not only be a great link between poses and a focal point but also a way to warm the body to prepare for movement. Looking at the anatomy of the breath can help to illuminate how the breath can affect movement.
Anatomy of the Breath
The main goal in breathing is to move oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body. Every time you take a breath, air is pulled backward into the nose past the hard and soft palates. It then makes a 90-degree turn into the pharynx, a funnel-shaped region. From the pharynx, the breath moves into the larynx (where the vocal cords are housed). After the larynx, the breath passes through the trachea, the right and left bronchi and then into the two lungs. The lungs divide into smaller and smaller segments (bronchopulmonary segments, secondary bronchi, tertiary bronchi, bronchioles, collectively called the bronchial tree, and eventually into the tiny alveoli) and your breath is processed and assimilated into your body.
Your lungs are mostly comprised of air: 50% after full exhalation, and 80% with a full inhalation.
This inhalation and exhalation changes the shape of your thoracic and abdominal cavities. The thoracic cavity houses the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestines, kidneys, reproductive organs, and bladder. These two cavities are separated by a muscle called the diaphragm.
There are a few muscles in the body that enable a full and deep inhale, and the diaphragm is at the top of that list. This muscle creates the barrier between the thoracic and the abdominal cavities. The upper fibers attach to the circumference of the lower rib cage. The diaphragm attaches to the front of the lumbar vertebra L1, L2, and L3 (this is a simplified explanation of both the upper and lower attachments).
The diaphragm muscle is capable of creating a three dimensional shape change in the thoracic cavity. The shape of the diaphragm can be likened to a parachute or jellyfish. With a deep breath in, the lungs push the diaphragm down and make the belly push out. With a deep exhalation, the lungs deflate, the diaphragm returns to its dome-like shape, and the pressure on the abdominal cavity from the inhalation is released.
Try this, take a deep breath and notice how the shape of your rib cage changes.
Notice how your belly changes. The inhalation will change the volume of the thoracic cavity in three directions: top to bottom, side to side and front to back. Your ribs are designed to expand and contract with the inhale and the exhale. The lungs take up more room in your body as you increase the volume in the thoracic cavity, therefore pushing your belly out. You can also use the musculature of your belly (your abdominals) to create some control in this area. By doing so you can force the air more into the rib cage, allowing the ribs to lift and expand.
A quick note here of a few relevant accessory breathing muscles (the other muscles that participate in breathing). These muscles are:
- Internal and external intercostals
- internal and external obliques
- Transverse abdominis
- Pectoralis minor
- Serratus Posterior
Pranayama is loosely defined as the conscious awareness of the breath. Prana = life force, and ayama = extension. There are many different types of breathwork that can be practiced in a yoga class. We’ll bring up just a few that are great for those just beginning these practices. It is noted in most of the texts that discuss pranayama that these practices should be done with attention and that controlling the breath can have profound impacts on your body.
This is the most basic of the breathing techniques and is accessible to all practitioners. Ujjayi pranayama involves breathing through the nose with a very slight narrowing at the epiglottis. This breath produces a gentle wavelike, or whisper sound, originating from the constriction at the back of the throat. To find this constriction, imagine that you are sucking air as if through a straw at the back of your throat. Ujjayi breathing is said to warm the breath as it flows through the nose, thus warming the body.
Equal breath. Sama means same, and vritti means fluctuations of the mind. The hope of sama vritti pranayama is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. This breath pattern is practiced by making the inhale and exhale equal in length.
Alternate nostril breathing. This is practiced by closing the right nostril with your thumb, exhaling and inhaling once through the left nostril and then closing the left nostril with the ring finger, exhaling and inhaling once through the right nostril. You then move back to closing the right nostril with the thumb and start the cycle over. This practice can center the attention and calm the mind. It also helps to balance the nervous system.
There are many different types of pranayama, and various forms will be practiced throughout the month of November at the studio. Please note that if any of these practices cause anxiety, it’s always ok to come back to your normal breathing pattern and just focus on the inhale and exhale.
“Breathing has the dual nature of being both voluntary and autonomic, which is why the breath illuminates the eternal inquiry about what we can control or change and what we cannot.” Leslie Kaminoff in Yoga Anatomy
Breath in action
The shape of the breath can change with the shape of your body. By understanding the anatomy, as discussed above, we can start to look at how moving into certain yoga postures can change where our breath fills our body. For example, if we inhale and come into a backbend, our spine naturally extends and the breath in can help to support the heart opening and chest breathing that in inherent in backbends. The accessory breathing muscles of the back kick in as we breathe deeply to support the shape. The breath is forced into the upper chest region. Try this in a cobra shape. The feedback of the floor in this belly down backbend will help you see how the breath gets filtered more into the chest.
In twists, something similar happens. We constrict both the thoracic and abdominal cavities as we revolve around our spines. You might notice that you can lengthen more into your twist with the inhale, and then as you empty your lungs find a deeper twist with the exhale. You might also find that you have more constriction in either your belly or your chest, depending on the twist.
Regardless of what your practice looks like, paying close attention to the breath can deepen and sweeten any yoga asana practice.
The breath can be the doorway into a deeper experience of your body and your internal spaces. The breath can help to identify and release the tensions of the body and help to attain equilibrium. Keeping the lungs open can be an especially hard thing to do this time of year as we start to get our winter colds. We'll be exploring these concepts from different angles, including Chinese medicine, in upcoming articles.
If you’re interested in learning more about the breath and pranayama in meditation and movement, I encourage you to come to any class in October to explore these practices in your own body.
If you’d like further reading on the breath, I utilized the following texts in this article:
- Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter
With the return of Fall and the recent Autumnal Equinox, the change of the seasons and the harvest time invite us to think about what is and is not working for us. It’s time to reap what we’ve sown over the summer months. For me, after the busy-ness of the summer the change of the seasons is like a fresh breath of cool air.
Autumn is a time to reassess and come into greater balance with yourself and the external world.
Summer always feels so frantic, and with the returning of the fall-time routines (back to school, less travel) we can view this as an invitation to come into balance.
Throughout our day we’re given the opportunity to find physical balance many, many times. Every time we take a step we’re suspended in a short moment of balance before our foot comes back into contact with the ground. In yoga, we’re given many moments to find balance in poses like tree pose or warrior 3. These poses ask for our complete focus and attention as we try to maintain our connection with the earth on one foot.
A balancing pose isn’t a destination that one can find, but rather a constant recalibration process as we try to find a sense of stability. Our muscles work hard to find harmony in the pose. Our focus and attention become attuned to maintaining an upright position. It’s easy to become frustrated if we fall out of our balancing posture, especially if everyone else seems to be effortlessly maintaining the pose.
In these poses, there is an opportunity to play with your own boundaries around feeling safe even when things are wobbly. With practice, you can maintain a sense of steadiness through the constant calibration and feedback from your body. The wobbles become smaller and your body adjusts to them more readily.
Let’s take a moment to look at the physical mechanisms of balancing
Good balance depends on coordination between your eyes (visual system), your muscles, tendons and joints (proprioceptive input), and the organs of the inner ear (vestibular system) to tell you where you are in space.
Proprioception is the ability to know where you are in space. Taken from the Latin proprius, meaning “one’s self” and capio, “to take or grasp”, proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body.
Maintaining balance becomes much more challenging when we close our eyes and take away our visual input. The added challenge of adding closed eyes to a balancing posture takes away one of our methods of input (visual system) and becomes an opportunity for us to further hone our awareness of where our bodies are in space. This added challenge increases our proprioceptive awareness.
This knowledge of where your body is in space can be a game changer in real-life situations such as walking on a slippery or uneven surface. With practice, we learn to trust our bodies and our balancing capabilities and become more resilient over time.
With an intentional movement practice, there is always an opportunity to take what you learn about your body and your self on the mat to your life outside the yoga studio. Learning to understand the constant changeability and recalibration of your body by practicing balance can help you understand your own resilience as things in life shift. Balancing in class can help you understand how you can work toward harmony in other parts of your life.
Benefits of balance poses:
- Improves strength
- Improves focus
- Improves proprioception
- Helps you to get out of your head and more into your body
Balancing in yoga can look like many different things. For example:
- Standing poses balancing on one foot such as Tree pose or Warrior 3
- Maintaining a solid center while transitioning from one pose to another
- Balancing on your hands in handstand or crow pose
- Finding balance through the spine and heart in backbends
- Focusing on finding an equal length inhale and exhale
- Closing your eyes in horse pose and finding a sense of stability and grounding.
We’re looking forward to exploring all things balance related in our October classes. Check out our schedule of classes at our Astoria yoga studio. Here are a few of our favorite poses that incorporate balance:
At the beginning of a yoga class, sometimes I’ll posit the question: Anyone have anything that they want to work on today? Invariably someone will say: SHOULDERS!
What I understand this to mean, in most people’s bodies, is that area between the shoulder blades that often gets mucked up and crunchy, as well as the junction between the upper back and the neck. These two areas, the upper thoracic area and the upper trapezius area, are two common places that most people I know hold some tension. It’s also a common pain area for folks coming in for massage therapy.
In my massage practice, my clients often ask if everyone has tension in this area, or if theirs happens to be particularly bad. In general, most everyone I’ve massaged has some level of tension here.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the shoulder:
The shoulder is made up of three bones:
- Clavicle (collarbone)
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Scapula (shoulder blade)
The shoulder blade, collarbone and arm are all part of the appendicular skeleton which rests on the axial skeleton. The clavicle provides a fairly stable strut, while the humerus maintains the widest variation of movement possibility. The scapula helps to keep the peace between the two structures by providing extra stability for the clavicle and support by way of the glenoid socket (where the upper arm bone and the scapula meet) in order to manage the shifting of the humerus. This whole structure helps to provide some stability in movement of the arm on the torso (the axial skeleton).
The shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint that moves in a variety of planes. The muscles of the shoulder and arm are amazingly diverse – they span across the width of the back attaching the scapula to the rib cage, neck, head and arms.
The primary movements of the shoulder joint and scapula are:
Shoulder (glenohumeral joint)
- Abduction (bringing your arm away from you)
- Adduction (brining your arm toward you
- Horizontal Abduction
- Horizontal Adduction
- External Rotation
- Internal Rotation
Scapula (shoulder blade)
- Retraction (shoulder blades towardone another)
- Protraction (shoulder blades away from one another)
- Upward rotation
- Downward rotation
There are 17 muscles that articulate with the shoulder blade
- Serratus Anterior
- Teres Major
- Teres Minor
- Triceps Brachii long head
- Biceps Brachii
- Rhomboid Major
- Rhomboid Minor
- Omohyoid inferior belly
- Lattisimus Dorsi
- Levator Scapula
- Pectoralis Minor
An imbalance in any of these structures can cause pain and decreased mobility in your shoulder and scapula mobility.
The shoulder blade wants to be in a balanced position, but when one muscle or group of muscles gets chronically shortened or lengthened, the placement of the shoulder blade on your body can be impacted.
In a yoga class, having integrated shoulders is an essential part of your practice. What do we mean by integrated shoulders?
- Shoulders that have strength, flexibility and MOBILITY that allow you to do the poses that you want when you want.
- Shoulders that are well balanced both muscularly and structurally.
- Shoulders that support you with integrity while putting weight on your hands.
- Shoulders that work well for you in your daily activities, such as reaching for things over your head, or supporting yourself while mopping the floor on your hands and knees (does anyone else do this?!).
Let's look at a few yoga poses that integrate the shoulders. You can see in the images below that poses such as backbends, arm balances and poses that have arms overhead can all incorporate some good honest shoulder awareness.
Interested in feeling better in your shoulders as well as learning more about the anatomy and function of the shoulders? Come to any class during September for some shoulder love.
See you on the mat soon!
Believe us – we understand that entering into a yoga studio as a student for the first time can be overwhelming!
Far from feeling relaxed and de-stressed, you might have a hundred questions swirling around in your mind:
- What if you don’t have the right equipment?
- What will everyone else be wearing?
- What if you mess up and everybody sees?
- What if you don’t know what you’re doing?
- What if you're worried about how your body will look as you move around?
- What if you can’t keep up, or if you don’t understand what’s happening?
- What if you have this injury, and that might keep you from doing what everyone else is doing?
That's just the beginning, of course, our personal insecurities and past experience with yoga will both influence the anxieties that crop up.
What it takes for you to get to your first class is a willingness to be vulnerable. To put aside the “what ifs” and have the courage to try something new. One of our hopes in offering yoga in Astoria is to help you
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Whatever your reasons for wanting give yoga a try, if you can approach your first yoga class in Astoria without trying to be perfect, chances are the class will go a lot better for you than anticipated. You see, we all start somewhere. And not knowing how to do something doesn’t mean that you are a bad person or that something is wrong with you.
What it means is that you don’t know how to do something. And it’s our job to teach you!
Our beginning level class happens weekly so you can come on a consistent basis, for as long as you like, and learn the ropes of what it’s like to move your body in the context of yoga. You WON’T know what you are doing at first, and that’s GREAT! We hope to teach you in a manner that is safe for your body, informative and that allows for lots of questions and self exploration along the way.
Our beginning level classes all include:
- Help on how to sit comfortably – more difficult than it sounds!
- Some introduction to breath work and linking movement with breath – one of the foundations to healthy, lifelong yoga practice.
- Basic yoga postures (called asanas) that will help you gain strength, balance and flexibility – all with plenty of instructions to help you adapt each exercise to your particular body state.
- A solid introduction to yoga movement for those who want to continue on to more advanced classes. We want you will grow as a yoga student for many years with Watershed Wellness!
If you’d like this class to be offered at a different time, let us know what works for you! We’ll do our best to accommodate schedules as we figure out what works for most people in our new community.
Looking for a massage therapist in Astoria, OR?
Finding the right massage therapist can be a frustrating process. There are only so many to go around! Maybe you used to have someone that you really loved that you no longer are able to see. Yep – we know how it is – you feel that every massage therapist after her has paled in comparison!
…Or, maybe you haven’t ever had massage before. But, you thought you’d try it out for your lower back pain after your doctor recommended it. You don’t really know if it will work, and you don’t want to waste your time. How do you discover the right massage therapist for you?
…Or, maybe something has changed about your body and you are feeling nervous about coming in for a massage. Pregnancy, weight gain, age; all can change the way you feel about showing your body to a medical practitioner, or being touched for any reason.
…Or, perhaps you are a member of a group of people who have traditionally not been treated with respect or care by medical professionals, and you don't know how to find someone who can keep you safe while you're vulnerable on the massage table.
There's no question, even in wonderful places like Astoria, OR, it can be tough to find a massage therapist that is right for you. We hope our website – including this and future follow-up articles – can help you learn how to find a person that works for you. Whether you choose to go with Watershed Wellness, or find another perfect massage therapist, we're glad you're here to learn!
Here are 5 special things about our massage therapists that will help you decide if getting a massage at Watershed Wellness in Astoria Oregon is right for you.
We're non-judgmental and actively cultivate safe space
Our massage therapists have seen a lot of bodies. When we look at your body we are assessing for lots of things in a manner that is non-judgmental about how you look. We look for postural patterns, tension holding, breath patterns and lots of other things that help inform the work we do. Here’s what we don’t look at: wrinkles, fat, unshaven legs, or pedicures. If any of those things are holding you back from getting a massage, know that none of those things is a concern of ours during the massage.
We are also focused on continuing to educate ourselves about the full diversity of human experience so we can be of service to our whole community. We're listed on the the Resources PDX site for trans-informed practitioners (listing currently being updated), and consider ourselves strong allies of the LGBT community. We are consistently educating ourselves about the different economic, ethnic, religious and other facets the Astoria community has – and lending our time and money to causes that make sure that the most vulnerable in the North Coast area are taken care of.
In other words – the massage appointment is a safe space for all bodies, in all states, at all times. You can relax with us – all of you.
We like to know how the body works. If you're interested – let us know – we LOVE to share what we know with you. We’ll suggest stretches, show you the bones and musculature, and recommend things that you can do at home or at work that will help you feel better. Our knowledge – and our lifelong learning habits – mean that you're always getting the best of the science and art of massage therapy.
We’ve got a lot of experience under our belts. Our hands know where to find your tension, and we’ve been able to help lots of people with common concerns that massage can address. To name a few: headaches, neck pain, back pain, sciatica pain and stress. When you come in to see any of our practitioners, you will notice how we are able to find the source of your pain and take care of it. Knowledge is great – but it is experience that allows us to adapt what we know to your specific concerns.
We ask many questions before the massage that will help us provide the massage session that you are looking for – and needing. Along with details about what has worked for you in past massages, we'll work to understand your goals for treatment, and check in with you about any parallel health concerns you have – and anything else we need to know. We like to create an open, communicative environment for massage. Also, we want your feedback about your massage experience in Astoria. We will use that feedback to make sure everyone's experiences with Watershed Wellness are sublime.
One thing is certain – we've got the skill you need for what ails you. We've given thousands of massages of all different types. First timers as well as seasoned massage therapy veterans. We've seen people only once or twice and can adapt to whatever comes our way. Yet, we're also comfortable nurturing lifelong regular treatment relationships. We've seen all types of pathologies, and talked with countless different types of people with dramatically different goals for treatment. Many, many hours in a massage room have given us some great tools that help us to decide how to best approach your massage session.
Most of all, we work hard to make sure that you are getting the massage that you need in a comfortable, non-judgmental way.
We meet you where you are, and address your concerns as best we can. And, if you are open to it, we offer some education that might be helpful to you and your body. We love to answer your questions – if there's anything that you have specific questions about, please reach out at email@example.com. Watch for more expansions on these aspects of Watershed in future articles.
If you are ready to schedule your first appointment, you can do so here. We look forward to working with you!
Earlier this year, I realized that I needed a change in my life.
Portland has been getting busier and busier, and I was starting to realize that this busy-ness, the daily stress, was starting to have a cumulative effect on my body. In essence, I was shorting out. My nervous system couldn’t calm down and I’d developed an eye twitch. In my daily practices of yoga and meditation, I couldn’t let go all of the way. I knew that something had to change.
You may think that the life of a massage therapist has to be stress free, right? We spend long hours in dark rooms with relaxing music facilitating an environment that promotes stress relief, pain reduction and a possibility of letting go. But my life, like any Portlander’s life, is filled with complications, challenges, stress and the realities of living in a burgeoning city. I realized that I needed a change in my life. I realized that stress was starting to creep into my life, and into my body, in a way that was unexpected and that felt potentially harmful in the long term. What I needed was some serious stress management.
The more I learn about the negative effects of stress on the body, the more solid I get in why I chose massage therapy as a profession.
I talk to my clients all of the time about the effects of stress on their bodies, and I was starting to feel those effects in my own body in a real, and serious way. Heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gut problems – stress is a major contributor to all of these common health problems. Common health problems that we can, hopefully, prevent by managing our stress!
Massage for relaxation and stress reduction is often less valued than deep tissue or therapeutic massage. I often have clients who tell me that they don’t feel like they’ve had a massage if they don’t feel like you’ve “worked it out”. Sure, I’m all for getting into those points of pain and tension that we all feel, but I’m going to do it in a relaxing context. I’m going to facilitate and promote a sense of letting the body sink in and let go.
How does massage relieve stress?
Massage induces a relaxation state that slows your heart rate and breathing rate, your blood pressure goes down and your muscles relax. Massage also releases oxytocin into the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is, interestingly, a stress hormone that is pumped into your body as part of the stress response. It motivates you to seek support in times of stress. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood vessels stay relaxed during stress. It is enhanced by social contact and is known as the “cuddle hormone”. When you choose to connect with others when under stress, you become more resilient to stress. Oxytocin release lowers anxiety, facilitates healing, enhances digestion and increases trust.
Massage is one of the best ways to get oxytocin release into the body.
Seeking out massage for stress reduction is a safe way to connect with another person. Massage therapy is one of the few ways that we are allowed safe, non-agenda touch from another human. Even light touch has been shown to be helpful in releasing oxytocin.
Massage (even relaxation massage!) is not a luxury but rather a natural and enjoyable way to get some much needed stress relief in this world that seems to be moving very fast.
The massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are committed to providing therapeutic massages in a relaxing context. We love to work out the aches and pains, but we also realize that we provide a much needed reprieve and repair from the stressful things in life. We love what we do, and it comes through in our work. In fact, we get a similar oxytocin release by giving massages!
If you want to know more about how we can help, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we're happy to answer any questions you may have. If you are ready to schedule, you may do so online here.
P.S. There's a great TED talk that changes perspective on stress that we found to be helpful for this article.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends and colleagues about recent massages that they’ve received. Some of the feedback I heard about their massages with other practitioners was problematic, if not a little alarming.
A few things that I consistently hear about massages that weren’t the best include:
- the massage therapist talked too much
- pressure was off – either way too much or too little
- care was not taken to make sure you were comfortable – from the temperature being off, to the therapist leaving the room or not providing any closure to the session, to draping issues (it’s Oregon law to drape appropriately, by the way)
- being massaged in places/ways that you weren't comfortable with.
There’s certainly work that goes in to creating a comprehensive massage session. An artful massage will not only include skillful techniques that are effective and relaxing, but will also combine education about what the therapist is seeing in your body, as well as make sure you are comfortable with what’s happening in the room at all times.
Here’s the Watershed Wellness primer on how to get the massage you need:
First and foremost, make sure that the therapist understands why you are coming in for a massage.
I’m usually overt about this, asking “what were you hoping I could do for you today?” If your therapist doesn’t ask right out, make sure that you let them know. Maybe you’ve been extra stressed and just need some relaxation time. Maybe you’re training for a marathon and need some muscular tension relief in specific areas. Whatever it is for you on that day, make sure that your therapist knows why you are coming in.
Let your massage therapist know what kind of pressure you like.
Again, a good therapist will address this in the intake, but if they don’t ask please let them know. Also, if during the massage the pressure is off either way, be sure to ask for an adjustment. Don't feel like you have to grin and bear a painful pressure, and conversely don’t feel like you have to withstand the irritation of pressure that is too light and not quite getting to the problem spots.
If you feel uncomfortable at any time, let your massage therapist know.
If the temperature is too hot or too cold, if you hate the music, or if something is distracting you from completely letting go. Your massage therapist won’t be irritated or give you a hard time about this – they’ll just adjust to suit your needs.
The number one complaint I hear from clients is that their massage therapist was too chatty. It's awkward to tell your massage therapist that you don't want them to talk so you can relax. An easy way to deal with this is during the intake. Let your massage therapist know that you prefer a quieter massage, as this helps you relax. Remember: your massage session is not your massage therapist's social time, it's time for you to unwind and get great bodywork. Setting the framework from the beginning about your expectations are will go a long way – hopefully resulting in getting the quiet time that you are looking forward to.
Draping is not an option. Period.
In Oregon, we’re legally bound to cover our clients in a way that protects their modesty. To put it frankly, if your breasts or butt crack are showing, that is not ok. If you feel uncomfortable with your glutes being massaged, for instance (and there wasn’t a question about what you would prefer not to have massaged on the intake form) tell your massage therapist. There are ways to address areas like the gluteals and the stomach without compromising your own comfort. And always, if these are places that you’d rather not have your massage therapist work on, let them know!
Massage works best if you can to find a massage therapist that can work with you consistently.
Your massage therapist will get to know your body, your tension patterns, your comfort around pressure, music, temperature etc. You’ll have less of the “getting to know you” part of the session each time you come. Your LMT will be able to start to tailor the sessions to your needs with even more detail after a few sessions.
Your massage therapist will want to know if you had any adverse reactions to the massage.
One friend I spoke to had recently had a massage that caused her neck to spasm shortly afterwards. She felt that the massage therapist had not taken enough care when massaging in this area and had gone too deeply. Even though your massage therapist may have touched hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies, they don’t know your body more than you do. If you are feeling any discomfort during or after the massage, we want to know!
P.S. As a side note, we also like to know if things were awesome. If you feel better, that’s great feedback!
Our massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are all very adept at making sure that you have a great experience and leave feeling better in your body. It is our goal to understand what brings you in for massage, and to meet those needs in a way that is thoughtful and comfortable to you. If you are interested in scheduling with one of our excellent massage therapists, you can check out our online schedule. We hope that you'll have an excellent experience and let others know. If there are ever ways that we can improve, I sincerely hope that you'll let US know!
This November celebrates the official 10 year anniversary of my career as a massage therapist. I am so grateful to be able to sustain this practice that I love in a way that works for me. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about achieving mastery. He posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing something to achieve mastery. I figure that I've averaged between 800 and 1000 massage hours per year. While I may be getting close to Mr. Gladwell's mastery number, I also delight in how much more there is to learn about my clients and how I can help them.
Countless massages and conversations with people have helped me to understand not only how amazing the human body is, but how many commonalities we have with one another. This job is incredibly unique, and I wouldn't be able to do it without the support and dedication of my many clients over the years.
Ten years in, here are a few observations I’ve made:
We’re all worried about getting older.
Maybe it feels too late to get in shape, or you’re starting to have some aches and pain that you used to not notice after normal activites. Bottom line: we’re aging, and we don’t always handle it very gracefully. We live in a culture that values youth over the wisdom we gain from aging. Getting older isn’t something that most of us look forward to, and yet it’s coming for us all. Having open, honest conversations with ourselves and each other about the changes that are happening to our bodies and the way we are able to relate in the world can be a first step. Recognizing that we’re not always going to look and feel like our 20 year old selves forever is the hardest part. I always ask people when they express concern around aging: what would you go back and tell your younger self if you had the chance? We are the younger version of our older selves RIGHT NOW, so that advice might be still be relevant.
Movement is really important.
Truly. The difference between my older clients who have had active lives and those who have been sedentary is quite stark. They have more mobility, their quality of life is better, in general they are on less medications, and they aren’t having the same issues in their muscles and joints as my clients who don’t move their bodies. It’s never too late to find some sort of movement that inspires you.
We rarely receive positive touch in a way that doesn’t have an agenda.
I have people who come to me who are very overt about their need to just be touched by someone. I can’t really think of another opportunity that we have to have meaningful touch with with another person that isn’t driven by some agenda or desire. Massage is very unique in this way, and it’s a way to connect with another human being who has been trained to provide a safe space and help you feel good in your body.
We’re moving really fast, almost all of the time.
We’re constantly connected and often multi-tasking. There’s really nothing to do during a massage but settle in and relax. It’s a opportunity to shut off the constant chatter of to-do lists, email checking and constant status updates. We’re over connected, and this can be a nice time to unplug from that for awhile.
We all have stress, and it manifests in our bodies in very similar ways, but also in very unique ways.
Every person I’ve massaged has, at some point, had a request for upper back and shoulder work. It’s just a place where we hold our stress. It’s most likely due to computer usage, driving and doing most of our tasks in front of us. Every time we reach forward, we have the opportunity to roll our shoulders forward. This creates a stress and tension pattern between the shoulder blades and in the neck. Many of us have this stress pattern. But we also manifest stress in unique ways, and that’s one of the fun parts of being a massage therapist: unlocking these patterns that are unique to your body, and yours alone. You earned these patterns by imprinting your life on your body. The way your body presents its stress tells a story of your life and how you’ve adapted to everything that’s thrown at you on a daily basis.
In general, most people don't know that much about their body.
I’m always surprised when I realize that my clients don’t know much about what’s happening under their skin. They have some thoughts about the general area that might hurt, but don’t know much else. I’m always happy to whip out an anatomy book with anyone who shows even the slightest interest in knowing more. If you’ve always wondered what exactly it is that is hurting you and what you can do, we’re happy to do our best to explain it to you and show you pictures, as well as help you find ways to stretch and be more in tune with that part of your body to help alleviate some of your pain and tension.
We still think that taking care of ourselves is often a luxury that we either don’t deserve or can’t afford.
It takes both time and money to take care of yourself. These are two things that many of us don’t have in abundance. I’ve heard many people talk about massage as a luxury that they get as a treat. I’m not sure when taking good care of ourselves became a luxury, but I somewhat blame it on the spa industry. This industry caters to indulgence and pampering yourself. It’s great that so many people are receiving massages and other treatments in a spa like setting, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that their marketing efforts have done a disservice to the efficacy of regular massage from a health perspective.
As for the affordability of massage and other self care practices – in the long run taking good care of yourself is much more affordable than a potential, and possibly preventable, health problem down the road.
We still think that it has to hurt in order to be doing something.
Push through the pain and we'll come out on the other side a better person, right? I've learned that deep tissue massage is the not the answer to everything. I think that it has it's place, but there are many instances where I think another approach might be better and more effective. Many of the more subtle bodywork approaches can be just as, if not more, beneficial.
We don’t take enough time to connect with one another, especially in a healthcare context.
This is one of the great things about working with massage therapists, acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors. We all take the time to understand the bigger picture and how we can fit into it. Here at Watershed Wellness, we take the time to sit and understand your concerns, how we can help, and most importantly, how you can help yourself. It’s been a pretty consistent critique of conventional healthcare models that they don’t have the time to follow through about what happens after you get surgery, or what you can do to make your situation more comfortable. Taking into account the larger context of your quality of life is important to us.
I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to do a job that is so closely aligned with my own values. Working with people in such intimate proximity has given me perspective and empathy that isn't common in many careers. And of course, many thanks and lots of love to all of my clients, mentors, coworkers, friends and family who have given me advice, encouragement, and feedback over the years.
Most people can count on one hand how many times they have received a professional massage
People look toward massage only in the case of serious trauma (as in a car accident) or when “everyday” aches and pains become so severe that daily functioning is no longer possible. The only other common use of massage is on vacation or on a special occasion. While these are all valid reasons to get a massage, of course, it doesn't unlock the true power of this critical form of healthcare.
Massage is truly remarkable
While creating a relaxing experience and therapeutic space, being massaged immediately takes one into a state of healing. Massages, while making someone feel good simultaneously remove the build up and debris of living life from your tissues! Massage works in the body to suppress inflammation and engender mitochondria. Mitochondria increase cell function and cell repair. This means simply that massage makes your body heal and recover faster. It increases your body’s resiliency and ability to respond to the stimuli that are meeting you in your daily life.
Let’s contrast this with the common Ibuprofen popping phenomenon we so often see around us
Ibuprofen also suppresses inflammation – which reduces pain. Ibuprofen does not, however, increase mitochondrial function. Suppression of inflammation without the additional increase in mitochondrial function will only increase the time it takes for the tissues to heal. By contrast, with massage we do not have to compromise healing in order to have relief from pain.
Have you ever had a professional massage?
Are you one of those people that can count how many massages you have had on one hand? You're not alone. In fact, our entire culture tells us that we should work harder and longer, taking as little time off as possible. If you take that time off – it is seen as a “luxury.” We are all given the message that this is a luxury we cannot afford.
Through media and other forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal – we get a consistent social message:
- You don’t have time for massage!
- Massages are only things that people with lots of time on their hands get to enjoy!
- You work too hard, how can you make time to get a massage if you can’t even make time to cook dinner?
This message shapes how we look at healthcare – and it creates an environment that has real consequences for our bodies.
Have you ever suffered from injuries out of nowhere? One day you wake up and you can’t move your neck? All of a sudden, your back has lost over half of its mobility? The body does its very best to maintain integrity until the bitter end. We think, “Oh I bent down incorrectly, that’s what made my back go out.” The body rightly feels insulted, “Why aren’t you considering the days and days it took for me to get to a place in which I would be compromised by something so innocuous as simply bending over?”
Instead of actually being able to have verbal dialogue, the body sends us signals of tightness, stiffness, and discomfort to try and begin a conversation. Instead of listening, we often push those things out of our awareness and continue on our day. Over time, our lack of listening to our body can result in patterns of chronic inflammation – and the resulting pain.
This is the result of that societal message communicated in so many ways in our day-to-day lives. But we do have a choice to change all of that – to engage in a healthy dialogue with our bodies through regular, preventative care.
Instead of seeing massage as a luxury or acute-care modality perhaps we should start seeing it as an integral part of our healthcare routine
You can get started on this journey at Watershed Wellness – schedule your next massage today!
Taking off your clothes for a massage is, at best, slightly unnerving.
Did I remember to shave my legs? Is my deodorant working? Should I leave my underwear on or off? What happens if I fart? I feel so old/fat/wrinkly/fill in the blank, who would ever want to touch me? Painful stuff!
I know that people think these things before they get on the massage table. I do have a few people who are actually brave enough (or nervous enough) to verbalize these worries. Never fear, faithful massage goers, I'm going to tell you what's actually on my mind when I massage you. And let me say, it's not your fat, your wrinkles, or even your farts. Read on to see what I'm really looking for when I massage. Spoiler : it's nothing like what you're fearing.
Top 10 things I look for after the clothes are off
1. Postural Patterns: in an ideal world, we'd all have perfect posture. But, the reality is it requires endurance to retain an upright posture. It's easy to let things go and create patterns of tightness and weakness in the body. Some examples of postural patterns that I look for are both shoulders rolled forward, one shoulder raised higher than the other (or both of them up to your ears), and if your head and neck are craned forward rather than balanced on your spine.
2. Symmetry: If you've got a muscle or bone on one side of your body, you have a corresponding muscle or bone on the other side of your body. I look to see if there's a all those muscles and bones are reasonably symmetrical, or if something is tighter on one side that it is on the other. It can tell me a lot about how you use your body if all of your muscles are tight on the right side but the left side looks completely different.
3. Muscle tone: Are your muscles super tight or are they flaccid? Normal muscle tone helps to support your body and normal motion. If your muscles are over tight your movements may be restricted. If your muscles have low tone, it may mean that you are favoring an injury or that area of your body isn't functioning at a optimal level.
4. Breathing: I watch your breath to assess how you are doing with my pressure during the massage. Invariably you'll start breathing faster when I'm doing something that is painful, or on the borderline of becoming painful. I'll ease up if I see you breathing faster. I also pay attention to where you are breathing. If you are taking a bunch of short, quick breaths high in your chest, I'll suggest taking some deep breaths from your belly to help promote a more relaxed state.
5. Trigger points: Trigger points are hyper-irritable spots within a muscle that often produce pain when touched. Some trigger points are severe enough to cause pain without touch. When I'm able to find a trigger point, you'll produce what's called a “jump sign”. Your muscle will visibly twitch when I hit the point, and you'll have a pain response large enough to want to “jump” away from the pressure.
6. Holding patterns: Along with the postural patterns, you may have holding patterns in your body. Think of these patterns as the places that you feel the most tension in your body. For example, I have one client who feels like her shoulders are always up by her ears. Her upper shoulders are where she holds her tension. Even when she's on the table her shoulders will creep up toward her ears. Even if it's not a great pattern, it's what is comfortable and familiar for her body.
7. Fascial health: Your fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all your muscles, muscle groups, bones and organs. Fascia holds all of this in place. Fascial shortening, adhesions (you'll find more information on adhesions below), restrictions due to inflammation, trauma, surgery or postural imbalances all can affect the health of your fascia. Symptoms (aches, pains, funny sensations) that appear unrelated might actually be transmitted from one part of the body to another due to fascial imbalances.
8. Skin abnormalities: Getting a massage is a great way for someone to see parts of your body that under normal conditions you rarely see yourself. I'll let you know if I see a mole that looks a little abnormal. I look for swelling, bruises, areas that are hotter or colder than normal. All of these things can point to underlying conditions of which you may not be aware. This gives you the option to have them checked out by someone who knows more about those kinds of conditions.
9. Muscular adhesions: These are bands of fibrous scar tissue that bind together muscles that are usually separate. You'll associate these adhesions with the bumpy, crunchy things that you can feel in your shoulders when you sit in front of the computer too long. Working these adhesions out will help restore proper muscular movement.
10. Lipomas: A lipoma is a benign tumor composed of fatty tissue. Usually these will not cause you problems, but sometimes larger ones can cause restrictions in movements. There are some sources that claim that lipomas can become malignant, however this has not been proven. Regardless, I'll let you know if I see one just to make sure that you are aware of it so you can see out treatment if you so choose.
Fact : Taking off your clothes can unsurface lot of insecurities.
In this case, and as is often the case, your worst fears don't necessarily reflect reality. I'm am looking at your body, but not in the way that you fear! I'm not here to measure your body hair, wrinkles, body fat percentage or anything like that.
At Watershed Community Wellness in Portland, we work hard to create a space that is free from judgment, and I've seen enough bodies to understand that there's no one perfect way of being. So – relax and enjoy your massage!