Breast massage therapy, although uncommon in many massage practices, and sometimes controversial on the health front, should be a higher priority for women and their physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.
The complicated issues women often face with their breasts, from oversexualized belief systems and femininity, coupled with the range of emotions women face following breast surgeries like biopsies, lumpectomies and mastectomies, call for the need to address this vital organ in a healthy and comfortable way.
By instituting breast massage treatment as a regular health practice, we can prioritize preventative breast care and encourage a healthy and open connection to one’s breasts—free of shame, innuendo or societal taboos.
Effects of Cancer Treatment
Invasive breast cancer treatments can result in tissues losing their gliding ability. In one study published by the Breast Cancer Research Treatment Journal, these limiting effects were more prominent for women with more recent treatments than those who had their procedures done a while ago.
In the study, “Risk of breast cancer recurrence in patients receiving manual lymphatic drainage: a hospital-based cohort study,” the effects of manual lymphatic drainage were examined on breast cancer survivors with breast cancer-related lymphedema, a common complication that may appear immediately or years after treatment of breast cancer.
Breast cancer lymphedema causes pain, heaviness and a limited range of movement in the upper limb and shoulder. Manual lymphatic drainage, a gentle massage technique that follows the anatomic lymphatic pathways of the body, is widely used in treating breast cancer lymphedema.
The practice of breast massage aligns with the centuries-old healing wisdom tradition of ayurveda, which teaches that in order to maintain a state of balance, the whole person must be addressed.
In many healing practices, the breast area is often overlooked. Ayurvedic breast massage addresses this gap in treatment to meet the needs of all women—healthy women, women who have been diagnosed with or are survivors of breast cancer, women who have fibrocystic breasts and women who are recovering from breast augmentation or reduction or cardiac abnormalities.
Massage is a way to nourish and maintain healthy breast tissue and musculature before potential issues arise, and to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually after life-changing disease such as breast cancer.
At the Chopra Center, we use the Spurgeon–Shulte Method combined with traditional ayurvedic technique and marma therapy for breast massage that helps to flush toxins through the lymphatic system, reduce pain, improve range of motion and increase the flow of prana (life energy).
Breast Massage–The Spurgeon-Shulte Method is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and is available to massage therapists and other types of health-care providers.
The technique applies light strokes to mimic the pumping action of lymphatic vessels and encourages lymph flow. When healthy movement of the lymphatic fluid becomes restricted— whether from compromised health, surgeries, restrictive clothing like bras, or even tense posture—toxins can accumulate and potentially lead to disease.
Exercise is effective at pumping lymph fluid around every part of the body, except the breast, where the flow is often restricted by tight clothing.
Benefits of Breast Massage Therapy
Breast massage clears the lymphatic channels and can facilitate release of toxins in the breast. In addition, by clearing fluid that is stuck in the tissue, pain can be reduced in the breast as well as the entire body.
Breast massage includes muscle release techniques to open up the shoulders and chest. In those who have had breast surgeries such as augmentation or reduction, this can restore range of motion that has been often severely restricted. This is also extremely beneficial for anyone who regularly sits at a desk, drives a vehicle or works at a computer.
In another study, “Natural Killer Cells and Lymphocytes Increase in Women with Breasst Cancer Following Masage Therapy,” women diagnosed with breast cancer who received message therapy and regularly practice progressive muscle relaxation reported happier moods and less anxiety and body pain.
Dopamine levels, natural killer cells and lymphocytes in the women studied were reported pre- and post- study. Women that underwent the massage therapy had higher dopamine levels and increased natural killer cells and lymphocytes.
Ayurvedic breast massage therapy helps maintain healthy breast tissue by encouraging a healthy lymphatic flow to the breasts. While the lymphatic system is usually aided by movement or exercise, breasts do not get this same benefit as they’re often restricted under bras and other tight clothing. The massage adds movement into this part of the body to help lymphatic flow and flush toxins out of the body.
Breast Massage at the Chopra Center
Using the the Spurgeon–Shulte Method and marma therapy, the massage techniques we use employ use a combination of lymphatic strokes, active muscle techniques and marma point therapy. Marma points are energy centers similar to acupressure points.
Breast massage therapy starts from the sternum, then the diaphragm, then the shoulders to bring awareness of congestion or limitations in range of motion, then the breast tissue. The massage then finishes with more attention to the neck, shoulders and marma point therapy.
Breast massage helps recovery after surgical procedures by keeping the healthy flow of lymph and blood, ideally for faster recovery. The massage also minimizes adhesions and scarring for better overall results and healing.
To encourage healthy breast care outside of the spa, therapists are encouraged to work with their clients to show them how to conduct their own self-breast massage, a recommended daily routine.
By also working on their own bodies, women can better understand what a normal breast feels like, and become more aware of any abnormalities about which they can then consult a physician and receive proper medical treatment if necessary.
Considerations & Contraindications
Breast massage poses no significant risk; the movement of lymph and blood are similar to what you would experience in exercise or regular daily movement. However, any massage therapist should check their state or local lows to make sure breast massage is within their legal scope of practice.
Additionally, women interested in receiving breast massages or therapies like manual lymphatic drainage should always consult their physician prior to their treatment. Some state regulations require a referral from a health care physician before treatment, as some patients warrant different techniques or have limitations given past medical history or procedures.
Breast massage should not be conducted on anyone with an active cancer, or over surgical incisions or wounds that are still healing, and therapists should work in conjunction with the client’s primary health care providers for a fully comprehensive approach.
More In Tune
Shifting from reactive to proactive health practices allow us to be more in tune with our bodies and improve the health and well-being of body, mind and spirit.
Beyond the physical effects that breast massage therapy has on the body are the endless benefits to the mind and spirit when women become more comfortable and connected to their breasts. Understanding and feeling connected to the body and its movement allows women to own their femininity and take control of their health.
Treatments such as these empower healthy women to take charge of their breast health, and to be proactive in treating issues early on. For women that have undergone painful or invasive breast procedures, these treatments give them the power to nourish and love their bodies physically, mentally and spiritually.
Regardless of one’s health status or stage in life, a massage, or any other health treatment, should examine the entire being—all parts physical, mental and spiritual—in order to best get to the root of any problem and treat it comprehensively.
About the Author
Jennifer Johnson is the spa director at The Chopra Center, a premier health and wellness spa and one of the first places to offer ayurvedic breast massage on a large scale and provide extensive specialized training for their female massage therapists.
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