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!