We’ve all seen photos of super-bendy folks contorting their body into the shape of a pretzel. Pretty intimidating if you can’t touch your toes or have trouble turning your head to the right.
What is yoga?
Yoga originated as a practice to prepare the body for meditation. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, yoga is defined as the quieting of the mind. Yoga practice is composed of many things. Breathwork, meditation, chanting. Your flexibility will not limit your practice of these aspects of yoga.
But mostly we associate yoga with the physical (asana) practice. When we’re talking about how flexible you need to be to start yoga, we mean asana.
The Physical Practice of Yoga or Asana
Let’s be honest.
When I say “yoga,” you picture this:
Am I right?
How am I supposed to walk into a yoga class when the folks are doing THAT and I can’t even touch my toes?!
Some folks are naturally flexible and super twisty poses come naturally for them. But some of us can’t touch our toes. And that’s okay.
I’ve been practicing yoga for years, and a lot of the time, I can’t touch my toes in a forward fold. And that’s okay. Yoga’s not about twisting your body into the perfect pose. Yoga is breathing better, calming the mind, and yes, increasing your flexibility. Even if that means just coming a millimeter closer to touching your toes.
How flexible do I have to be before I can start yoga?
Not. at. all.
You can start breathwork to deepen your breathing at any time.
You can start meditation to calm your mind at any time.
And yes, you can start the physical practice of yoga at any time, even if you can’t come close to touching your toes. Maybe you will be able to one day. Or not. Either way is perfectly okay.
Massage therapists see a lot of skin. All colors, all textures. Freckles, scars, stretch marks, moles. Skin with lots of hair and skin with none. Skin doesn’t surprise us.
Except when it does. That brown spot on your shoulder blade? It wasn’t quite that big when you came in a month ago. And it looks less like an oval and a little more like a blob. Maybe you should have that checked out?
Skin we love. Skin cancer? Not so much. Which is why you’re here on your massage therapist’s website, reading about sun exposure. Because even though I’m not a dermatologist and you’re not going to burn while getting a massage, your skin is a friend I see regularly. And I want to be able to keep working with it for many healthy years to come.
What happens when you get a sunburn?
You’re exposed to the sun and then your skin turns red and itchy, right? Well, yes. But there’s more to it as well.
When you step out into the sunlight, you’re immediately bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of your DNA in the nucleus of your skin cells, which is dangerous and can lead to cancer. As soon as this starts to occur, your skin jumps into protective action redistributing melanin, the pigment that causes suntans, and which helps to protect your DNA from further damage.
But if you’re still outside and the damage doesn’t stop (especially if you’re fair skinned and don’t have much melanin to go around), you start to see an inflammatory response. This is the same kind of inflammation that you see when you sprain your ankle, only spread out across your damaged skin. Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection-fighting cells to your skin, making the it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain result, a warning signal from your body that something is wrong. You may feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair itself.
If the burn is bad enough, you’ll start to see blisters as the plasma leaks from inside cells into the space between the dermis (the bottom layer of skin) and the epidermis (the top layer). These blisters form a cushion of fluid over your damaged tissue (at this point, your body has already written that top layer of skin off).
Eventually, even if you didn’t have any blisters, you will get flaking and peeling of the top layer of your skin. Interestingly enough, these skin cells weren’t killed by UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called apoptosis, and it’s the reason you see massive numbers of skin cells coming loose at once.
So to be clear: all sunburns, no matter how mild, contain the beginning stages of skin cancer. It’s only because our skin kills itself off before these cells go haywire that we see as little skin cancer as we do. Even so, more than 5.4 millioncasesofnon–melanomaskincancerarediagnosedintheUSeachyear, and 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. UV radiation will play a role in many of these cases.
How can you protect your skin?
The short answer: Stay away from UV radiation. This means avoiding tanning beds as well as sunlight.
The longer answer: Unless you plan to become a vampire, you will probably be exposed to sunlight at least some of the time. The trick is to reduce that exposure to a safe level by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen.
How much sun is safe?
This depends on two main variables: the UV Index and your skin type.
The UV Index is a measure of the level of UV radiation in your location at any given point in time. It’s something you can easily look up on your computer or phone before heading out the door. In general, global UVIndexrecommendations look something like this:
1-2: Low. Enjoy being outside!
3-7: Medium. Seek shade at midday, put on a shirt and hat, wear sunscreen.
8+: High. Stay indoors at midday, seek shade as much as possible, sunscreen is an absolute must.
With the exception of people with albinism, everyone has some melanin in their skin. Those with more of the protective pigmentation are less susceptible to DNA damage in their skin cells from UV radiation than those with less.
Type I: Very pale, burns quickly, never tans.
Type II: Pale, burns easily, rarely tans
Type III: Burns moderately, tans over time to light brown
Type IV: Burns minimally, tans to medium brown
Type V: Rarely burns, tans to dark brown.
Type VI: Never burns, rarely tans, deeply pigmented skin.
People with Type I skin can burn after as little as five or ten minutes, while those with Type VI skin can sometimes be outside for an hour without damage.
Note: You might have seen a skin type scale that goes from I-IV, especially if you are looking in an older medical textbook. That’s because the original Fitzpatrick scale was made in the 1970s for white people. This is the same scale, but expanded to include everybody.
Is sunscreen safe?
A 2001 study raised concerns that oxybenzone (the chemical that makes most sunscreens so effective) might impact hormones. In this study, rats fed large doses of oxybenzone developed enlarged uteruses. Studies in humans haven’t been conclusive. What we know for sure is that if you’re a rat, you shouldn’t drink sunscreen.
Some pediatricians recommend sticking to mineral-based sunscreens for infants and very young children just in case, until long-term studies are concluded over the next twenty or so years. But these are thick and need to be reapplied regularly. If your children are experiencing sunburns with mineral-based sunscreens, they are being put in significantly more danger than any potential hazard from oxybenzone.
What about vitamin D?
Yup, you need vitamin D in your body to stay health. And yes, your skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV radiation (people with lighter skin types make more vitamin D with less sun exposure than people with darker skin types). So shouldn’t you go without sun protection sometimes for the nutritional benefits?
Luckily, there are a number of sources of vitamin D that don’t also cause skin cancer. Fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products are all excellent sources. And if you’re a tremendously picky eater, there are also vitamin D supplements you can take. For the severely deficient (diagnosed with a simple blood test), there are high-dose supplements or injections your physician can prescribe.
Caring about your skin isn’t about vanity.
It’s a critical organ, like any other. If you exercise for your heart and quit smoking for your lungs, then preventing sunburns is just another healthy habit.
Massage therapists love skin. We work with it on a daily basis and appreciate all it does to keep your insides in and your outsides out. It keeps you cool, it tells you what’s around you, it prevents infections, and it repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!
Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?
What is stress? What is anxiety?
Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.
People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.
Anxiety (not to be confused with anxiety disorders, see below), on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated futureor potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include
Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.
Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.
What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?
While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.
Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.
There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.
What does all this mean?
People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.
Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.
Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.
There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.
We aren’t a high-touch society. We don’t touch strangers, and we may even feel weird touching our friends and family. So it can be awkward to get massage. We don’t know what we’re supposed to do.
Just telling us to “Relax!” doesn’t cut it.
To start, allow the full weight of your body to sink into the table and take full, deep breaths. This can be difficult. Don’t be hard on yourself. If you notice your mind racing, thinking about all the things left to do today, bring your attention back to your breath. If you’re clenching your jaw rethinking an argument with a friend, allow the muscle to soften.
Again, this can be difficult. Don’t be hard on yourself. But if you’re clenching your jaw or holding your breath because the massage hurts…
What if it hurts?
Sometimes, when getting a massage, folks describe feeling a “good pain” or a “good hurt.”It’s an intense sensation, but it feels right. Like sweet relief. This is totally fine.
But sometimes, pain is just pain. If you find yourself tensing your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain, tell your massage therapist. We can adjust the massage so it doesn’t hurt. We’re here to help you feel better, not worse.
Should I talk?
Although some people prefer to talk throughout the massage, don’t feel like you have to make conversation with the massage therapist. Many people close their eyes and try to relax. Your massage therapist should take the cue from you.
But please be sure to speak up if you:
Feel too hot or cold
Are in pain
Have any questions about the massage
Forgot to mention a health issue during the consultation
What if I fall asleep?…or drool?!
Falling asleep during a massage is very common. I almost always fall asleep when I get a massage. It’s totally fine to snore or drool.
What if I have to pee?
Please tell us. We have a bathroom in our office. Holding it for the duration of the massage is not relaxing!
So there you have it. A few guidelines for what to do during your massage. Did I miss anything? Let me know.
And remember, your massage therapist will ask about the pressure and your level of comfort. This is your massage. If you are too cold or hot, if the pressure is too light, deep, or painful or if anything is interfering with you relaxing it is important to speak up.
Welcome to myth #4 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series. Be sure to check out Myth #1, #2, and #3.
Myth #4: You can’t get a massage if you weigh too little or too much.
There are so many variations of this one. Skinny people don’t have enough “meat on their bones” to get a massage, so they’ll just bruise. Overweight people can’t get a “real” massage because there’s too much fat between their skin and their muscles. People without perfect bodies shouldn’t show their skin to anyone. (And so on. Blah, blah, blah.)
Big people like massage. Small people like massage. In-between people like massage. And massage therapists love providing massage to all kinds of people. It’s a perfect combination! Are there different techniques better suited to bodies with specific needs? Of course. Is weight or size a prohibitive factor? Nope. Not by a long shot. The folks who make these kinds of arguments in the name of “health” are either misinformed or just being mean.
Massage myths aren’t usually malicious, but they can still hurt. Who knows how many people avoid getting a massage due to some myth they heard from a source they trusted? If you’re one of them, why wait? Since you now know truth from tale, get that bodywork you’ve been dreaming and schedule your appointment today.
Welcome to myth #3 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series. Be sure to check out Myth #1 here and Myth #2 here.
Myth #3: You can’t get a massage while breastfeeding.
This myth is so insidious, because nobody needs a massage more than postpartum parents. The idea behind this misunderstanding is the belief that massage somehow squeezes toxins out of a person’s tissues, which are then released into the bloodstream. Since the body is “toxic” after a massage, the story goes, any breast milk produced at this time is also toxic. The choice is between “pumping and dumping” after receiving bodywork, or avoiding massage therapy altogether until the child is weaned.
Fortunately, this isn’t even one of those half-true-but-it’s-complicated situations; it’s 100% false, no question. Normal cell byproducts are filtered by the body and are not a danger to breastmilk, and massage doesn’t release toxins anyway. And keep in mind that massage can improve depression, body image, and (perhaps most importantly to new parents) SLEEP.
If you’ve ever gotten a massage, chances are good your massage therapist has told you that you should drink a lot of water afterward. Many believe that deep tissue massage releases toxins from your muscles and that water is needed to flush it out. Let’s start there.
What toxins are we taking about here?
Toxins are a bit of buzzword. Seems every time you turn around someone’s trying to sell you something to “detoxify” your body, like a special diet or a fancy drink. They don’t really mention what “toxins” you need to ditch. So we’re not quite clear what toxins we’re talking about.
Is massage detoxifying?
Often massage textbooks teach budding massage therapists that massage breaks up knots, releasing toxins in your muscles and flushing them out by increasing circulation in your body. Water is supposed to help with the “flushing.”
This is based on old, but pervasive myth about how massage works. We want to understand how massage works, and the idea that it removes toxic substances that are causing pain is a simple, appealing explanation.
To be clear, toxins do actually exist. Any chemical in a high enough concentration can be toxic to the body. Some things like pesticides and lead are more toxic than others. But massage doesn’t help get rid of these things. When these things do end up in our body, our body has ways of dealing with them, like processing in the liver or sweating.
So, should I drink water after my massage?
The reason many massage therapists recommend drinking water directly after massage isn’t supported by science. But our bodies are composed of quite a bit of water. It’s essential to life.
I’m usually thirsty after a massage. That’s why I offer you water.
Welcome to myth #2 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series. Be sure to check out Myth #1.
Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers.
You’re hurting, so you schedule a massage. But then you’re still hurting, so you take some ibuprofen … should that stop you from getting the massage you’ve scheduled?
This myth states that taking a painkiller leaves you unable to tell whether your massage is too deep, which can lead to a massage therapist injuring you accidentally. And this can be a realistic concern, especially if you’re taking strong narcotics for pain. Drug side effects like dizziness, easy bruising, and low blood pressure can also impact your massage session.
In most cases, though, this can be dealt with through open communication, rather than avoidance, especially if it’s a simple NSAID or other over-the-counter medication. When you let your massage therapist know what kinds of painkillers you’re taking, things like pressure, positioning, and duration can all be adjusted to make sure that your session is both satisfying and safe. There is no reason that painkillers and appropriate bodywork have to be mutually exclusive.
They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?
Different types, different causes.
Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.
Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury, or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.
Headaches and Massage
Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.
More good news!
It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues, not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.
Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.
There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.
When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!
Headaches can be a real, well, headache. But there’s help.
Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.
For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.
Contraindication is a long word with a simple meaning: a reason you shouldn’t receive a particular treatment, such as a massage. There are local contraindications—things like a small wound—that shouldn’t be massaged directly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a perfectly good massage on other parts of your body. Then there are general contraindications, or situations in which you shouldn’t get a massage at all. Contraindications can be an illness like the flu, a treatment or medication like a strong blood thinner, or even something environmental, like a bedbug infestation at home.
But there’s another kind of contraindication that also seems to make the rounds on a regular basis: the mythological kind. Despite all the scientific advancements we’ve made in studying massage therapy over the years, there are a few persistent misunderstandings that just won’t seem to die. And while tales of mermaids and unicorns can brighten an otherwise dull day, these massage myths unfortunately prevent too many people from getting the professional bodywork they deserve.
Myth #1: You can’t get a massage during the first trimester of pregnancy.
This myth is based around the idea that there is an acupressure point around the ankles that can induce premature labor. Since the first three months of pregnancy are also the time of the highest risk of miscarriage, the wisdom says that it’s best not to get a massage at all during this time.
Of course, this doesn’t take into account the fact that pregnant women regularly do all sorts of things that put pressure on the ankles.
Like wear shoes.
And given that most people go at least a few weeks before they’re even aware that they’ve conceived, this is basically saying that anyone with the sort of working parts that could lead to pregnancy should stay away from the massage table… just in case.
Luckily, there’s no evidence for any of this. Still, it’s a good practice to give your massage therapist a heads up if you know that you’re pregnant so that they can be prepared to make adjustments for things like loosening ligaments or a sudden sensitivity to smells.
One caveat, if you are having complications with your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or call us before scheduling: (217) 352-7944.