Not the sit-and-zen-out type? Here's an exercise from Morgenstern that still gets you in the moment and out of your head: As you stroll, engage your senses. Note what you see (buildings with interesting shapes), what you hear (the rustling of leaves), and what you feel (the breeze on your face). Bonus points if you're out in nature; it's more likely to decrease rumination than being in an urban area, per a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Deep tissue massages are usually “cross-grain,” moving against the muscles to relieve aches or pains rather than moving with them. This can sometimes feel a bit more painful as a result compared to standard “relaxation massages.” However, the pressure involved in deep massages is actually a good thing. It provides many of the benefits that this type of therapeutic massage has to offer. Deep tissue massages also tend to be slower-paced and longer than many other massages, ideally about 1.5 hours long, which gives bodily tissue enough time to warm up and then relax.
You’d hope this sort of thing would be rare, but it’s not. Readers regularly tell me about massage therapists who do not ask them what they want, who dismiss their patients’ concerns about pressure, and who ignore signs that their clients are in pain. They display a “doctor knows best” arrogance — ironic for an alternative health care professional — imposing their own idea of the “right” intensity.
A great may of the massage modality empires are based on a basic guiding principle or school of thought I call “structuralism” — an excessive preoccupation with biomechanical and postural factors in pain problems, AKA the biomechanical bogeymen. Structuralist techniques are all fixated to some degree on straightening or improving your meat, because they believe that you are crooked or unbalanced in some way. This notion is easy to sell, but the entire school of thought has little merit. It is debatable at best — and debunked nonsense at worst. This is another topic I have covered in (great) detail in another article: Your Back Is Not Out of Alignment: Debunking the obsession with alignment, posture, and other biomechanical bogeymen as major causes of pain.
I agree with almost every detail of the article and wrote a letter of support to Dr. Barrett, which is published as an addendum to it. That said, the article does neglect some nice things that can be said about massage therapy, and it contains a few minor errors. But I applaud the intent and embrace and welcome most of the criticism. I wish it weren’t mostly true, but I believe that it is.
Recovery. Therapeutic massage helps the body recover from the stresses of strenuous exercise, and facilitates the rebuilding phase of conditioning. The physiological benefits of massage include improved blood and lymph circulation, muscle relaxation, and general relaxation. These, in turn, lead to removal of waste products and better cell nutrition, normalization and greater elasticity of tissues, deactivation of trigger points, and faster healing of injuries. It all adds up to relief from soreness and stiffness, better flexibility, and less potential for future injury.
Kicking back in front of one screen or another does have its place, says Andrew – but it depends how you do it. “Sometimes people describe not being engaged in what they’re looking at – totally zoning out, not knowing what they’ve done for the last half-hour,” she says. “You can view this almost as dissociation, periods of time when your mind is so exhausted and overwhelmed it takes itself out of the situation. That’s unlikely to be nourishing in any way.” Maybe that is why, after I have spent an evening staring emptily at Twitter, or dropping off in front of the TV – less Netflix and chill, more Netflix and nap – I wake up feeling as if I have eaten a load of junk food. I have confused feeling brain-dead with feeling relaxed.
For example, I worked on the Indiana Sports Massage Team starting in 1989, as well as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships and National Championships. I coordinated massage for the 1992 Olympic Trials and was on the 1996 Olympic Massage Team for the Atlanta Olympics—the first time massage therapy was part of the medical staff for the Olympics. These were all volunteer positions, but I loved it!
The titles masseur and masseuse (the feminine form of the word masseur) have a long and colorful history related to massage. Both terms were used to describe men and women, respectively, who provided massage in exchange for payment. But these terms, especially masseuse, were hijacked by irreputable women operating under the guise of “massage,” beginning in the 1950s. Over the past 30-plus years, massage professionals have worked to help get laws enacted that protect titles that reflect their training and professional standards. Today, state laws protect titles including massage therapist, massage practitioner and massage technician. Still, the words masseuse and masseur live on as ways of describing the kind of touch not practiced by educated massage professionals. ‘"Masseur is to massage therapist as stewardess is to flight attendant,’”
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Let go of guilt. Many religious and cultural beliefs instill the value of hard work very deeply. Over time, and increasingly so with the advent of smart technology that keeps us hyper-wired 24/7, many of us have come to believe that being "on-the-go" constantly is the only way to prove our value. Having an unrealistic interpretation of "hard work" will end up wearing you down. Hard work is giving your tasks the attention they deserve at the time they deserve, not letting it bleed into all hours of your day!
Plus, this is not the kind of study where a large number of subjects is needed to be convincing. Of course, replication and more subjects are always a critical part of science. But the claim of detoxification is what we call a “brittle” claim — it breaks easily, because anything less than a clear positive effect is not enough to impress anyone. For brittle claims, even just a lack of effect is always news, because there should be a worthwhile effect, according to the claim. In this case the claim is that massage meaningfully reduces lactic acid … and in this experiment, it didn’t just fail to have an effect, it had the opposite effect. That evidence is definitely news, whether it’s proof or not. BACK TO TEXT
The second reason it is not that commonly found is that it requires special training. Many American massage therapists are serious students who have traveled to Asia for intensive programs, but others might have to take a weekend workshop. You might want to inquire about their training before you sign up. If you live in a major city, you might be able to get a high quality, no-frills Thai massage for a reasonable price.
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More technically and most seriously, massage research is plagued by a “stark statistical error”: the error of reporting statistical significance of the wrong thing, or the wrong comparison.5 Dr. Christopher A. Moyer is a psychologist and a rare example of a real scientist — someone trained and expert in research methodology — who has chosen to focus on massage therapy:
Seriously, walk away from the screen(s). In fact, once you finish reading this article, you can walk away from this screen, too. Today, there’s so much time spent taking in information. You read the news, have your most personal conversations, and work, all from the same little screen. So, leave it behind. Taking regular breaks from your phone and computer can help reset your brain and bring relief. And doing so before bed (at least 45 minutes before) will help you drift to slumber without a heavy mind.
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The skin does get flushed and warm, of course. That’s just superficial, cutaneous hyperaemia: capillaries in the skin respond to mechanical stimulation by dilating (which is likely an immune function: the body transports blood to the site of possible skin breakage). Blood is hot, so the skin gets quite toasty! But it’s clinically trivial and superficial only, and it has nothing to do with the intention of the claim that massage works by increasing circulation. BACK TO TEXT
Develop an invisible shield between yourself and stressed folk. This is really a visualization technique, in which you imagine that you are cocooned against the negative vibes of overly stressed people around you. See their behavior and attitudes for what they are, recognize what their stress is doing to them but refuse to let this penetrate your shield.
Referred pain basically just makes trigger point stimulation feel bigger, more important. Press on a small spot … feel it down your entire arm. Wow! Impressive! Even though it’s just a thumb on a trigger point, it feels as though that “itch” is being scratched throughout an entire region. Referred pain amplifies the good pain effect — or the bad pain effect, if the pressure is too intense!
For others, the notion of being in touch with their own needs and desires is totally alien, says Andrew. People who grew up in a family environment that centred around the needs of a sibling or a parent might have spent their whole lives never being asked about what they wanted to do. “It might genuinely be something they’ve never considered before,” she says. For those people, identifying something they might find enjoyably relaxing, and pursuing it, can be a huge, life-changing shift. “It can be quite dramatic.”
Massage of Chinese Medicine is known as An Mo (按摩, pressing and rubbing) or Qigong Massage, and is the foundation of Japan's Anma. Categories include Pu Tong An Mo (general massage), Tui Na An Mo (pushing and grasping massage), Dian Xue An Mo (cavity pressing massage), and Qi An Mo (energy massage). Tui na (推拿) focuses on pushing, stretching, and kneading muscles, and Zhi Ya (指壓) focuses on pinching and pressing at acupressure points. Technique such as friction and vibration are used as well.
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Connective tissue stimulation. A lot of therapists are keen on stretching connective tissues — tendons, ligaments, and layers of Saran wrap-like tissue called “fascia.” I’m not a huge fan of this style, but certainly it’s a way of generating many potent and novel sensations, which may be inherently valuable to us — another form of touch. Although “improving” the fascia itself is implausible and unproven, perhaps fascial manipulations affect bodies indirectly, just as a sailboat is affected by pulling on its rigging. People have written whole books full of speculation along these lines. So, as long as the sensations are not like skin tearing (that’s an ugly pain for sure), you might choose to tolerate this kind of massage if it seems to be helping you.
Massage in China is an extremely popular therapy, the city of Shanghai alone playing host to over 1500 foot massage centers while there are more than 3000 in Shenzhen. It is one of the biggest service industries in China with workers in Shanghai numbering in the tens of thousands. The average rate of pay for a worker in the massage industry in China is over 10000 yuan per month, making it among the highest paid jobs in China’s service sector. China’s massage parlors are frequently linked to the sex industry and the government has taken a number of measures in recent times to curb prostitution and the spread of disease. In a nationwide crackdown known as the yellow sweep ("Yellow" in Mandarin Chinese refers to sexual activities or pornographic content), limitations on the design and operation of massage parlors have been placed, going so far as requiring identification from customers who visit massage establishments late at night and logging their visits with the local police.
These results make typical so-called advanced massage really look bad, and they make the popular modality empires and structuralism as a paradigm look ridiculous. The technique gurus push and sell the idea that their methods are dramatically more effective than humble Swedish techniques. If they were even half-right, these “advanced” therapists should have gotten results at least 50% better than their lesser-trained comrades — not just better by a statistically significant margin, but much better, impressively better, decisively better, undeniably better, argument-stopping better, better with bells on …
Accept that sleep is a very important part of life. During sleep, your mind continues learning in ways that are not possible during waking hours. Sleep restores and refreshes your body in myriad ways that cannot happen when you're awake. Do not be tempted to devalue the worth of sleep. Moreover, the alleged ability of some people to thrive on four hours sleep per night is the exception, not the rule — most of us need the six to eight hour sleep cycle for full restoration. Dreaming is an essential part of sleep; you can explore your inner fantasy and have many experiences that you never encounter in the waking world.
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Many training programs are now available throughout the world that require a minimum of 500 hours of basic massage therapy training, in addition to continuing education credits that can require up to another 400–500 hours. (19) Always make sure you’re “in good hands” by first checking that a therapist has proper qualifications and experience, specifically asking about training in NMT, trigger point therapy, sports massage, pain management, myofascial release and orthopedic massage.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, up to 25 percent of American adults had a massage at least once during 2016-2017. And, they have a wide range of reasons for doing so. More and more people -- especially baby boomers -- recognize the health benefits of massage. They choose from among many massage styles to get relief from symptoms or to heal injuries, to help with certain health conditions, and to promote overall wellness.
Aquatic bodywork comprises a diverse set of massage and bodywork forms performed in water. This includes land-based forms performed in water (e.g., Aquatic Craniosacral Therapy, Aquatic Myofascial Release Therapy, etc.), as well as forms specific to warm water pools (e.g., Aquatic Integration, Dolphin Dance, Healing Dance, Jahara technique, WaterDance, Watsu).
In massage therapy, so much can be achieved while inflicting only good pain on patients that bad pain must be justified by vivid, quick, and somewhat lasting benefits — which is a high bar to clear. All health care practices must be justified by benefits. As risk and pain and expense increase, the benefits must also. There is simply no point in tolerating — and paying for — painful treatment without an obvious return on the investment.
Lactic acid is not a dead-end, “bad” metabolic waste product, and it does not cause post-exercise soreness. This is a pernicious and seemingly un-killable myth. It originated with “one of the classic mistakes in the history of science,” according to George Brooks, a Berkley physiologist. I will not give the myth any further air time here. See Gina Kolata’s clear overview in the New York Times, or a concise professional summary by Robergs in Experimental Phsyiology. For a deeper and geekier, but excellent read, see Dr. Goodwin’s entertaining rant about the prevalence of the lactate myth in the 2012 summer Olympics coverage. BACK TO TEXT
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“The ritual process brings us renewed balance, empowerment, energy and comfort,” writes Jennifer Louden in her book The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life. This gives you a specific time to focus on nurturing yourself and your needs. The key, according to Louden, in creating a daily ritual is repetition. Here’s an example from the book: