Often people come in for a massage with a “No-Pain, No-Gain” mentality. While this seems to be a common theme, it is often counter productive when looking to relieve muscle tension. While having a massage, you definitely want that deep sensation that lets us know we are hitting the right spot, but make sure you check in with your breathing. If you find yourself catching or holding your breath, this is your body’s way of telling you that there is too much pressure and too much pain. Not only is this usually accompanied by a tensing up of the muscle that is being worked on, but it also stifles the necessary oxygen supply necessary to flush out metabolites while keeping the nervous system in stress mode. So don’t be afraid to tell your massage therapist if the pressure is too much and you need to adjust it to your personal comfort level, and remember to keep your focus on your breath throughout your treatment.
Taking this a step further, you will want to practice using diaphragmatic breathing. One of the biggest signs of stress and anxiety is constricted breathing. This occurs when you are taking quick, shallow breaths, becoming more dependent on the accessory respiratory muscles such as the muscles of the shoulders, neck and ribcage. These accessory muscles are meant to be used when there is a need for quick bursts of energy rather than on a consistent basis. When in a state ofoveruse during situations of chronic stress these muscles become tight and shortened, leading to a cycle of restricted breathing.
Massage can therefore play an important role in teaching and training the body to relax and help improve breathing patterns. Massage techniques can lengthen and relax these overused accessory muscles, improving breathing capacity and letting oxygen reach the deepest part of your lungs where it can be absorbed at higher rates through the alveoli. As an added benefit, elongating these shortened muscles can also improve your posture, leading to an expansion of the chest area, decreased back and neck pain, and a more balanced and flexible spine. If you suffer from respiratory issues such as asthma, allergies and sinus problems, then consider reaping the benefits of massage therapy and help your body learn how to relax. Once your body recognizes what true relaxation feels like, your mind can more easily recreate it, leading to a more balanced and oxygen filled life. Never underestimate the power of breath.