There are many helpful self-care tools, but few are more necessary than the practices of meditation, breathwork and stretching.
You may never have had this much free time; and while worrying, working on your practice and learning new skills may be demanding your attention, it’s also essential to practice self-care during this challenging time. Doing so will help you emerge stronger, more focused, and ready to book the clients who are waiting to see you.
Meditation is so much more than an option in our practice; in fact, a regular mediation practice is vitally important in maintaining professional integrity. By this I mean we must be willing to explore allowing ourselves to be completely free from our own feelings of negativity or stress.
By meditating on a regular basis, we give ourselves permission to be excused from the weight of all that would keep us from being our best selves. In meditation mode, there is no right or wrong. There is just being.
We rid ourselves of all ego during meditation as we enter into oneness with the present that cannot be changed. The present just is. When we meditate, we allow ourselves to surrender to that which is without making changes. We are here and this is where we are. Deep meditation is our release from perception and personality traits of ourselves that we do not like or take too much pride in.
In my experience, having a regular practice of meditation connects us to all that is possible in our world. While you meditate, you release all resistance. It is as if you are spilling out of yourself, making much of your surface area available to occupy the space you are in.
Permission to be and exist is extremely healthy. Meditation brings us to a place of thoughtlessness during practice, which leads to greater thoughtfulness during non-meditative times. When we are in this state it gives us the ability to realign with positive self-worth, and to discover areas of our own body that need to experience complete relaxation and release.
A regular habit of meditation gives us many health benefits: Meditation has been shown to decrease anxiety, headaches and high blood pressure while instilling creativity and peacefulness.
With their 2015 study, “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Perceived Pain Intensity and Quality of Life in Patients With Chronic Headache” (published in Global Journal of Health Science), for example, investigators concluded that subjects who practiced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction exercises, which encompass meditation, body awareness and yoga, saw “significant improvement” in quality of life and pain levels compared with a control group.
And a just-completed study from New York University indicates that eight weeks of consistent guided meditation reduces anxiety and increases cognitive function.
“The findings from this study revealed that [Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction] can be used nonpharmacological intervention for improvement the quality of life and development of strategies to cope with pain in patients with chronic headache,” the authors noted.
Having a routine of meditation can have lasting effects of tranquility and balance—and our clients deserve a massage therapist who is mindful of what is required to incorporate a healthy lifestyle. From this place of balance we move forward through our workday with ease and fluidity.
Next, let us consider the art of breath and breathing exercises—not only the physiological aspect, but also the mindfulness of a breathing practice.
We would be remiss if we did not enter our workday without allowing our body, mind and soul to rock to the rhythm of our breath. Spending 15 to 20 minutes each day practicing the art of deep breathing exercises has been shown to decrease blood pressure for 30 minutes after the exercise has ended.
An article published by Harvard Health Publishing for Harvard Medical School notes that deep breathing helps quell the stress response. “Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response,” the author notes. “The first step is learning to breathe deeply.
“Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration,” the article continues. “When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.”
Breathing delivers oxygen to muscles, restoring the balance of electrolytes necessary for cellular exchange. Deep breathing has many other benefits as well. Massage therapists can practice the art of breathing as a way of centering themselves and decompressing from the stress of everyday life.
Breathing exercises can offer a quality of calm that stays with you throughout your day. Starting your workday with deep breathing gives you energy and allows a charge to your body. Deep breathing delivers negative ions throughout your body to revitalize your energy.
As massage therapists, we are looked at as role models for a healthy lifestyle. By centering yourself, you make yourself completely available to any session. This is a tool that will help you perceive what clients’ needs might be. Just the same as you perceive your clients and their needs during the session, the client will also form a perception of you as a professional: While working, your confidence is showcased in your hands but much of your confidence shows up in your breath as well, and the rhythm of your breath can portray a calm, professional therapist.
The tranquility of slow, rhythmic breathing can be hypnotic to the client, helping them achieve a state of deep relaxation. With your breath, you can help your client establish a pattern of relaxation. Now you have given both the client and yourself an optimal experience.
Developing a time and place dedicated to a regular program of stretching must not be overlooked if you wish to extend the life of your career, counterbalance the aging process and avoid injury.
Stretching is as essential to our bodies as breathing. I have watched many infants spontaneously stretch their small bodies. They really have no control over this activity. As we age, we seem to lose this built-in feature. It becomes controlled and less spontaneous as we age and become aware of our bodily functions.
As a professional with many years of full-time practice, I believe I have avoided many overuse conditions that plague our industry, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and low-back conditions, as a result of regularly stretching.
Maintaining a regular stretching program can keep muscles limber. Stretching allows blood flow to circulate through tight muscles, surrounding tendons and ligaments while removing toxins and lactic acid waste from the body. Stretching restores muscle flexibility and reduces inflammation from overuse. Another added benefit of stretching is that it activates the lymphatic system, giving your immune system a boost.
While the aging process is inherent to everyone, developing a regular habit of stretching can help us avoid stiffness and injury. If you are not stretching daily you may be compromising your body mechanics around the table to accommodate for technique during your massage sessions, which could promote injury.
For example, the 2017 study “Acute effects of static stretching on the shear elastic moduli of the medial and lateral gastrocnemius muscles in young and elderly women” (published in Musculoskeletal Science and Practice), indicated that five minutes of static stretching, where each stretch is held for 10 to 30 seconds, may be effective for decreasing rigidity in calf muscles of both young and elderly women.
The great thing about a regular maintenance program of stretching is that it does not require any special place or cost. There are many areas of your home or office that you can explore that give you the support and resistance needed for stretching. Developing a regular routine can restore tired muscles, tendons and ligaments and will more than likely give you an overall sense of well-being.
Promoting a healthy lifestyle of stretching is a benefit to your clients as well. Keeping up with a regular program of stretching can have the added benefit of less time out of the office needed for recovery.
Be creative and design a program that fits your needs. You can practice breathing while stretching, and you can also incorporate active meditation into your daily stretching routine.
In any career, there are performance requirements that contribute to ability within the profession. As massage therapists, our schedule will dictate whether or not we are successful, and so it is a choice of ours to incorporate the health-promoting practices of meditation, breathing and stretching.
Giving oneself the full potential and opportunity to allow one’s body to perform at its optimal level is a quality that separates the less passionate, less career-minded individuals from those of us who choose to extend the life of our professional practice.
About the Author:
Christina Strickland, LMT, has practiced full time massage for 30 years and counting. She owns Halcyon Center Therapeutic Massage and Healing Arts in New Hope, Pennsylvania. She studied liberal arts at Bucks County Community College with an emphasis on human anatomy and physiology, and graduated from Boulder School of Massage. She practices the meditation, breathing and stretching techniques outlined in this article.