Self-Healing With Self-Massage
by Monica Emerich
Try these do-it-yourself massages to heal, strengthen and rejuvenate your body and spirit.
Bears do it. Lions do it. Most mammals love to do it. And humans do, too — especially once they realize it doesn't just feel wonderful but also provides health benefits. It is massage, specifically self-massage: a powerful, inexpensive and pleasant way to ease tension, relieve chronic pain and treat health conditions.
"This culture has a difficult time understanding the value of touch," says Meir Schneider, Ph.D., L.M.T., director of the Center and School for Self-Healing in San Francisco, where patients with chronic degenerative conditions are taught the methods of healing movement and self-massage. The value is great: Massage can strengthen immunity, improve posture, ease stress, enhance sports performance and increase flexibility, according to the American Massage Therapy Association. Massage may also help relieve some of the symptoms associated with medical conditions, including allergies; anxiety; arthritis; asthma; bronchitis; carpal tunnel syndrome; chronic and temporary pain; circulatory problems; depression; digestive disorders; eyestrain; headaches; and insomnia. "The best news of all is that we can easily perform massage techniques on ourselves," adds Steve Chagnon, R.N., L.M.T., founder of Adirondack Massage in Glens Falls, N.Y., which specializes in treating patients with chronic conditions.
All massage involves moving the contents of soft tissue, Chagnon explains. Massage improves the flow of lymphatic fluid and helps muscles eliminate lactic-acid buildup that can cause soreness. Some massage techniques encourage muscles to massage each other. "Self-massage teaches us to discover the body's needs," Schneider says. "Kinesthetic awareness — a deep sense of movement — is the key to accessing one's own self-healing powers."
The Power of Movement
When he was a young boy, Schneider was told he would never see and was certified legally blind. But at age 17, he learned the Bates Method of eye exercises (a series of eye movements that strengthen eye muscles and may improve vision) and practiced faithfully. Within 18 months, he could read without glasses. Today, he holds an unrestricted California driver's license. Schneider's story is a remarkable testament to the healing power of simple body movements and self-massage. In fact, manipulating eye muscles to massage each other through small movements is a form of self-massage, says Schneider, whose program for vision improvement is described in his book and video Yoga for Your Eyes (Sounds True).
Self-massage calls for a gentle touch. The adage "no pain, no gain" is not applicable here. To get a feel for it, try the following easy techniques:
A Rising Warmup — Before getting out of bed, gently massage each leg with a rotating motion from the feet to the hips. Massage one area until it becomes warm, Schneider says. This simple exercise will improve the circulation to the exterior of the body.
Keyboard Cramp — Hold each finger and massage with the opposite thumb. Place your hand on top of your desk, palm downward, and massage in a circular motion with the heel of the opposite hand.
Eye Yoga — In this palming method from Tibetan yoga, first rub your hands to warm them and place over eye orbits without touching the eyes. This relaxes the eyes. Next, massage with fingertips around eyes and along cheekbones. Gently stretch the skin from the bridge of the nose to the temples, from the base of the nose to the ears. Gently "walk" your fingertips along your brow bone and back again.
Computer Break — Gabriella Ward, L.M.T., of Lafayette, Colo., teaches her clients Japanese self-massage techniques called Do-in. The following set of exercises can gently rejuvenate the sedentary worker.
2. To invigorate the mind, tap the top of the head and along the sides of the skull with your fingertips.
3. Stand and raise arms to the sky and bend at the waist. Bend the knees and slowly rise.
4. Allow the head to easily and gently fall forward, then to the side, to the back and to the other side. Do this circular motion slowly three times and then reverse.
Carpal Tunnel Toner — In his book, Carpal Tunnel Massage Program for Yourself and Others (Steve Chagnon), Chagnon recommends rotating Chinese exercise balls in one hand (see photo on page 46).
Shoulder Stretch — Reach behind you with one hand to the opposite shoulder to the crease where arm meets shoulder and back. Massage the crease toward the neck.
Healthy Breasts — Using a light palpitation, begin at the nipple and massage gently in a rotating motion spiraling outward to the edge of the breast, then reverse the direction. This improves blood and lymph circulation.
Cellulite Buster — Massage the affected area daily with your hand, a soft brush or loofah. Gently work toward the heart in a rotating motion.
In addition, the acupressure point located in a depression on the sole of each foot, one-third of the way from the base of the toes to the heel, is the body's balance point, according to Marc Coseo in his book, The Acupressure Warm-Up (Paradigm). Activating this pressure point can alleviate muscular imbalances throughout the body. Lower your foot onto a tennis ball so that the ball is in direct contact with the pressure point and until you feel an ache — not pain. Retain the maximum pressure you can bear without pain for as long as possible until the ache subsides.
Hundreds of self-massage techniques exist to target a number of specific health conditions. These techniques are best learned from a qualified massage therapist who is trained in anatomy and therapeutic touch. "The ancients knew the power of self-massage," Schneider says. "The art is being resurrected today as we realize the importance of using all our senses to be whole and healthy."
Monica Emerich is president of Natural Information, a communications firm based in Lafayette, Colo.
Photography by Joe Hancock