Yoga for Massage-Therapy Self-Care

From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Simple Self-Care Strategies Promote Career Longevity,” by Robert E. McAtee, in the March 2010 issue. Article summary: Because massage is physically demanding, involves repetitive movement, and tends to place biomechanical strain on the practitioner, self-care is critical to maintaining a sustainable long-term practice.

by Anthony DiTomaso

In this day and age, massage therapists find themselves moving through life at a mile a minute—and more and more of us do not get the down time we need in order to recharge our batteries and maintain our active lives. Yoga is a great way to keep your body rested.

The more stressful our lives, the more time we spend in the sympathetic mode of our nervous system, the fight-or-flight response, and the more worn down our bodies become. Yoga helps stimulate the parasympathetic division of the nervous system, the rest-and-regenerate mode.

With the start of a new year, many massage therapists resolve to take better care of their bodies by getting more rest. Yoga asanas (or stretches) help to promote restful sleep by stimulating the bodies’ parasympathetic response.

The parasympathetic response is one part of the autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that deals with the body’s automatic functions. The other part is the sympathetic response. During the sympathetic response, our nervous system is very active. T his occurs when we experience stress (including “good” stress). Breathing, blood pressure and pulse are all elevated, along with increased levels of adrenaline released into the bloodstream which helps to keep the body on alert.

The parasympathetic response, (the opposite of the sympathetic, or fight-or-flight response), is known by many massage therapists as the “craniosacral outflow” system. The neurons of this system travel along four cranial nerves and carry signals throughout the body that deal with calming the system.

When in the parasympathetic mode, nutrient-rich blood flows to our internal organs and the body’s’ repair response is stimulated. This is the time the body will repair any damage, try to restock nutrients by increasing the digestion and absorption of food, and get some needed rest. By performing asanas that promote the parasympathetic response before going to bed, the body can fall into deep sleep much faster, allowing for a more regenerative night’s sleep.

Examples of asanas that promote parasympathetic responses and sleep are:

• Seated or standing forward bends (paschimottanasana or uttanasana)

• Child’s pose (bala asana)

• Corpse pose (savasana)

• Supported shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasan)

• Downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)

• Legs up the wall (viparita karani)

Anthony DiTomaso, N.C.B.T.M.B., is a health-and-fitness professional, massage therapist, Yoga Alliance-certified instructor, anatomy-and-physiology instructor and professional fitness model. He is also an experienced instructor in personal training, nutrition education, and Fifth Element and traditional Chinese medicine theory, and creator of the Yoga for Massage Therapists DVD. For more information, visit www.yogaformassagetherapists.com.  

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