Body Sense

WINTER | 2015

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www.massagetherapy.com—your resource for all things bodywork 9 awareness of all these stimuli, your brain and body are aware and working hard to keep you safe and alive through all the twists, turns, and detours of life. How this translates into something worthy of your attention is when you begin to have unfavorable physical symptoms that negatively affect your health and well- being, such as agitation, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, neck and shoulder tension, and poor digestion. Luckily, you have two powerful tools readily available to you: breath and bodywork. During stress, breath can be shallow, meaning that instead of inhaling deeply, which can be monitored by the expansion of the rib cage and belly, inhaling is limited to the upper chest and neck area; the purpose for this is efficiency. The brain seeks ways to accomplish tasks as efficiently as possible, and breathing during stress is no exception. Since you need blood and oxygen to get to the brain and body tissues as quickly as possible, hormones speed up your heart and breathing rates automatically, and your breath becomes short, quick, and shallow. When this pattern is repeated due to persistent stress, the muscles responsible for assisting in elevating your rib cage during breathing take on a more primary role. The result is overused and overstressed neck and upper chest muscles. Headaches, along with neck and shoulder tension, tend to shortly follow. Some of the most profound massage sessions I have experienced as a massage therapist are with clients who consciously breathe during the session. Receiving massage and bodywork is an exceptional way to cultivate conscious, deep breathing, soften those overworked neck and shoulder muscles (and the domino effect into other parts of the body), and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest state) to come forth and relieve the sympathetic nervous system of its guard duties—even if only for an hour. When I'm working with a client who is choosing to take deep breaths into the fullness of the rib cage and belly— front to back and side to side—and who is completely present with the relaxation of the experience, the muscles respond to touch and technique much more easily. It's like butter under a heat lamp! Clients report better sleep, better digestion, less tension, and a more peaceful mind-set after a massage using deep breathing as a healing tool. BRING BALANCE TO THE BODY At your next massage appointment, talk to your massage therapist about breath. Let her know you would like to incorporate conscious breathing into your session, and ask if she has any suggestions or, even better, if she is willing to take deep breaths with you. As a client, I find when my massage therapist breathes deeply and consciously, it facilitates staying in touch with my own breath. A breath of fresh air is all it takes to bring balance back to your body and being, and to reduce the symptoms of chronic stress. It's an extraordinary and free "service" to add to your next massage or bodywork session, and it offers lasting results. And consequently, when you consciously choose breaths of fresh air, you become a breath of fresh air to everyone around you. B S Cindy Williams has served the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor since 2000. She enjoys the challenge of blending structure with creative flow to provide balance in her classroom, bodywork practice, and life. Did You Know? The lungs breathe in between 2,100 and 2,400 gallons of air each day—the amount needed to oxygenate the approximate 2,400 gallons of blood pumped through the heart each day. Source: National Geographic

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