This article is part of a series on how to maximize the benefits of massage therapy. Read the rest of the series here.
In addition to using self-massage to maximize the benefits or your professional massage experience, as described in Part 2 of this series, you can do the opposite: learn from your professional massage experiences in order to make your self-massage routines more effective. Here’s how:
1) Pay attention
If you want to learn how to change your oil, don’t stare at your iPhone while you’re at Jiffy Lube… watch the mechanic, ask questions, and take notes. Similarly, if you want to learn how to massage yourself, don’t zone out while on the massage table; rather, take advantage and pay close attention to what your therapist is doing while you’re there.
Some strategies for being alert and attentive during your massage, instead of zonking out (which I fully admit to doing sometimes):
- If possible, schedule your massage around a time of day you tend to be more alert
- Workout or do whatever you know will give you an energy boost before your massages
- Refrain from doing anything that you know will make you tired beforehand (e.g. eating yourself into a food coma, drinking sleep-inducing tea, overexertion/lack of sleep the day before)
2) Ask questions
Sometimes I forget that the hands touching me on a massage table are connected to intelligent brains with a deep knowledge of the body and mouths that can communicate that information. Many massage therapists and body workers know a lot about anatomy and physiology and use this to inform their practice.
Instead of laying there thinking about what’s for dinner, be present and engaged and ask them to describe what they’re doing (e.g. “What muscle is that you’re touching right now?”, why they’re doing it (e.g. “How come you hold pressure on that spot for so long?”), or even how you can do it to yourself (e.g. “What’s the best way for me to replicate the last 5 minutes you did when I’m at home with my therapy balls?”). Be respectful of course, but if the person giving you your treatment doesn’t want to answer these questions or doesn’t encourage an open dialogue about their methodology and how you can translate that to self-massage, I suggest finding a new practitioner.
3) Replicate what you feel
Listen with your body and try to replicate what you felt during the massage once you’re home. For example, if your massage therapist worked on a spot on your rib cage you had never thought to knead, pull out a YTU Therapy Ball and experiment with how to create a similar sensation at home.
Try with different sized therapy balls; try lying down and leaning against a wall; try with and without a foam yoga block. I’ve found that the sooner I try this after my massage, the more easily I remember what it felt like on the massage table, and the more likely I am able to recreate the sensation.
Once you learn how to perform self-care on your soft tissues, you’ll be able to replicate A LOT of what the professionals do. Treating yourself saves time (driving both ways, waiting at the office, etc) and money (a pair of Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls costs a fraction of what a good massage does, and can be used time and time again).
That being said, well-trained massage therapists and body workers certainly can offer some benefits that you just can’t replicate yourself. Even the most experienced self-massager will tell you how limited some of their techniques are compared to the hands of a pro.
Not only does their expertise give them an advantage, but the fact that you are lying down, still and calm, while receiving a massage from someone else, means that you can passively and consciously keep your muscles relaxed (as opposed to you, for example, trying to keep your glutes and nervous system relaxed while trying to precisely “cross-fiber” the muscle fibers of your own gluteus medius with a ball, while lying curled on your side). It’s a lot to think about, and frankly it’s difficult to do, even for an experienced self-massager.
So, treat yourself to the hands of a massage therapist every once in a while, but when you do – prepare properly, try to take away some new body knowledge from the session, and appreciate the amazing therapeutic benefits that they can provide. This way, you can ensure that you truly reap all the benefits from your massage!
Trying to explain to clients the why behind using YTU therapy balls has always been a hard question for me to answer. Seem I come up with a varied response every time. This 3 part series makes it a lot easier for me to express the importance of self massage and give me a resource to forward to clients on the fence in regards to self massage.
Great series of articles, I liked the component on trying to recreate the sensation. I think there is probably something in conditioning as well – ie trying to “program” the body to relax in certain spots that may have been effective when they were massaged by the professional.
Thank you for this, I have had one session with an osteopath since the end of my L1 training and I just could not stop asking questions haha. I think it’s really worth trying to stay awake while being massaged, that way you can surely take some of their tecniques home and apply them yourslef. Self-care is a beautiful process!
I have a massage coming up this week with a lovely RMT friend of mine! I’m so stoked to get my YTU therapy balls, I’m going to bring them with me and pick her brain for tips. I’ve lately tried paying attention to my appointments, and I find that some of the most horrifying feelings are the ones that translate to the most helpful releases. Thanks for the tips on how to stay curious, awake, and proprioceptive!
What a great idea! Going to see a massage therapist is a real treat for me. I tend to zone out and relax into a blissful snooze. I hadn’t thought to “take home” some of the techniques performed by my massage therapist. Next time, I’ll try to stay more alert!
This is a great idea. I have already learnt a few unexpected things about my body while being on the massage table.
I learnt that the shoulder that has pain is looser than my pain free shoulder. I have used this information to make sure that I don’t just focus on the areas with pain and neglect the silent parts of my body during self massage.
I already did exactly what you describe and my therapist was so happy that I was interested in all his work 🙂 Next time, I definitely will take my YTU balls with me, so that we directly can transfer his work with the balls… Thanks Max.
Thank you, I never thought about asking the massage therapist to more clearly explain what they are doing. The analogy at the beginning is brilliant! So often we want to learn more, but more often than not we miss the opportunities to learn because we revert to old habits.
This was a great series of posts! I know that my massage therapist encourages her clients to use the balls between sessions with her because it speeds up healing. I like the idea of trying to replicate some moves at home right after the massage when it’s still fresh in your mind.
As someone who tends to get massages a good bit in order to relieve pain and tension I found this post to be very helpful. It was extremely interesting to learn that there are certain times of day that are more beneficial for massages. I have also found my Yoga TuneUp Balls to be extremely helpful with self-massage and have found ways to access points in my body that I typically cannot access.
I really like the way you think and how your taking care of your recovery. Encouraging the client to become involved in the session and asking questions with definitely increase recovery time. Our goal should be the same.
Great advice! I’ll definitely be asking questions at my next massage appointment and following up with YTU balls to see if able to do similar treatment in between massage appointments.
Thank you, Max. I just went to a ‘couples-massage’ workshop with my partner, which touched upon some of the wisdom you share here. For my partner, however, paying too much attention while giving massage was actually counter-productive; he wasn’t able to relax when massaging and exerted too much pressure. The massage therapist suggested for him to actually tune out just a bit in his mind – so that he could feel more with his hands. With this cue, he was immediately more able to intuit appropriate pressure and stroke for the area he was working on. That being said, I agree with your point about paying attention while receiving massage! Receiving tactile feedback is such a great way to learn about what’s happening under our skin, and we should take advantage of that whenever possible!
I continue to learn so much about my body when I receive bodywork. I have been working with the same guy for nearly two years now. There are many times I redirect him back to a spot and have him hold while I play with my breath or activate the muscles/connective tissue around where he is working. It often feels like an improvisational dance.
This is such great advice. I will think of scheduling massages as part of my continuing education. Wonder if we could declare it as a tax deduction ☺️☺️☺️
So true! It’s easy to drift off and have your mind elsewhere. I have a terrible habit of trying to multi task from my job. Will make the effort to switch off and focus!
love it, i’ll be asking questions next time and use it a class time as well as relax time. Thank you ~ peace
Je ne suis pas du genre à parler lorsque je me fais masser car j’ai dans l’esprit de me détendre au maximum. Par contre, je constate la pertinence de poser des questions au thérapeute depuis que je me fais des massage avec les balles YTU. Prochaine fois que j’irais me faire masser, je verrai cela d’un autre oeil, surtout après avoir lu les 2 premiers article sur ce sujet.
As a massage therapist myself, I really liked the analogy you gave about watching the oil change if you want to learn how to do it. I love to learn new techniques from other therapists as well as translating them into using the yoga tune up balls. I start most days with a 10-15 minute ball session and my body feels awesome to begin my day. Many nights, after a long work day, I do a series to release the tension from my daily living activities. I do choose to get professional massage, however I feel that my self care practice really keeps
my body feeling so much better.
I commented on your previous article, part 2 of this blog. I wanted to add that what you continue to write about here is amazingly good advice. As a somatic therapist, I am able to use massage during my yoga and Pilates sessions with private clients. As I teach a client to do their own self-care using YTU therapy balls, I ask them to remember how it felt as I worked out their blind spots. YTU self-care goes hand in hand with professional bodywork.