by Anthony DiTomaso

Contact sports have a way of revealing the makeup of a person. When we watch football on a Sunday afternoon, we are enthralled with watching people cause injuries to themselves by slamming their bodies into one another. They make this sacrifice to their bodies for the entertainment of those of us who do not have the courage to sacrifice our bodies in such a way. Boxers, some of the greatest athletes on the planet, take blow after life-shortening blow for the joy of fans. Allowing the body to take such punishment year after year is not normal for the average, prudent person.

In the health-care field, massage therapists are the athletes. We sacrifice, strain and punish our own bodies more than any other health-care provider in order to provide others not with entertainment, but with a better quality of life, making our sacrifice truly honorable.

We should begin to think of ourselves as athletes, especially in the way we care for our bodies. If we train our bodies like athletes, we will be able to perform at the high level we are expected to while avoiding injuries to the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, back, legs and feet (did I miss an area?) that are common to all massage therapists.

One of my first massage-therapy instructors told our class the average massage therapist only practices for five years until burnout due to injury occurs. At the time I heard that, I was eating a healthy diet and was very athletic, going to the gym almost every day and enjoying lots of biking and swimming.

Like most massage therapists, I worked hard trying to build a career for the first several years in the industry. I would take the extra walk-in client at the end of the day, or book appointments on the one day off I had every two weeks. I got past the five-year mark without any major injuries or even chronic aches, and felt lucky considering all of the therapists I knew who were experiencing problems. I attributed the luck to my active and healthy lifestyle and continued to train my body the same way.

But as we get older, our bodies respond differently to the stresses put on them—and I was no different. It started with a clicking sound when I moved my wrist a certain way, which then developed into a constant pain that quickly metastasized to my elbow and shoulder, and then my back. Like most of us, once my body started hurting, my motivation quickly faded. Unhappiness with my body and my career crept in, and my physical pain was now joined by mental and emotional frustration.

A co-worker told me she suffered similar problems and found great success in alleviating her aching body by practicing yoga. Yoga combines fluid movements and stretches with rhythmic breathing in order to tone and strengthen the physical body while bringing calmness to the mind.

I was a little skeptical because I felt I was already pretty flexible, and adding more stretching was not going to make much of a difference for me—but I was desperate, so I took a yoga class at my gym. As we moved through the postures, one of my first thoughts was that I was not as flexible as I thought. The instructor’s voice repeated throughout the class, “Focus on your breathing. Allow your muscles to release their tension.” As I breathed with more awareness, I could feel my muscles relaxing and my bones aligning correctly.

I was amazed I was working up such a good sweat when all I was doing was stretching and breathing. After the class, as I was walking to my car, I realized I felt really good. Physically there was still discomfort, but my mental state was great.

Mentally, yoga not only helps to relieve the stress we have built up, but also teaches us how to deal with the stresses we have yet to experience by focusing on our breathing. When we experience stress, we often hold our breath. Breathing delivers oxygen, an essential component for life, to the cells and takes away harmful waste products like carbon dioxide. Getting the right amount of oxygen heightens brain functions, and when our brain is functioning efficiently, stress no longer feels quite as challenging.

As I continued the classes, I found those chronic aches and pains in my body gradually decreasing, and my ability to mentally and emotionally deal with everyday stress increasing. In just a short time, I was back to my normal level of productivity and gradually increased my ability to handle more work. Yoga helped improve my mind and body.

Physically, yoga can be one of the most effective forms of exercise in maintaining balance in our muscles and tendons. It does this through using the resistance of your own body weight against gravity. Each of us has muscles and tendons that are designed to resist a certain amount of weight, and this amount is based on our body size. By using our own bodies against gravity, we find the ideal amount of resistance for maintaining a balanced level of tone and strength in the muscles and tendons.

There are many ways to add yoga into your life. DVDs allow you to practice in the privacy and comfort of your own home; yet, if you prefer a more social environment, you can take a class. Most health clubs offer yoga classes at no charge to their members, and for a more intense experience check out your local yoga studio.

In today’s world of rising health-care costs, the need for preventive care like massage therapy is more important than ever. Massage therapists need to take their part seriously by being in the best mental and physical shape possible.

Anthony DiTomaso, MASSAGE MagazineAnthony DiTomaso is nationally certified as a massage therapist and yoga instructor, and proudly offers the DVD Yoga For Massage Therapists at www.yogaformassagetherapists.com.

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