Over the past few months i'm noticing more and more how my massage practice is being informed by my Yoga practice, they may seem very different from the outside, but I apply the same principles to both.
The beginning of a yoga class sets the tone for the whole class and I always begin the practice both when I teach and when I do my own practice at home with a few minutes of "grounding", this very simply means to begin to connect with and deepen the breath, to let go of to do lists and slowly allow my mind to quieten so I can be more "present" rather than thinking of the journey to work or what I am going to eat for dinner. I have the exact same ritual prior to doing my massage treatments this enables me to be able to feel what's happening underneath my fingers, knuckles, forearms, elbows or whatever is in contact with the client, so i'm not just going through the motions. When I am able to be present with the person in front of me whether they are on my massage table or in line at the checkout that's where the magic in life happens, not when we are checking out from life and all it has to offer.
Whilst many people will be familiar with the Asanas or the physical postures, Yoga's underpinning philosophy is based on Patanjali's eight-limbed path the physical postures being just one of these. The first and possibly the most important is Ahimsa which is often translated as non-violence but can also be thought of as doing no harm in thought, word or deed. Fortunately for many people massage and harm couldn't be further away from each other, but for others especially in the sports massage world they often come hand in hand. Many people have the outdated belief that there's no pain without gain and that bruising following massage is the norm. Causing pain and trauma to the body in any way is craziness! Thankfully many sports massage therapists are coming to the realization that a gentler approach often gets even better results, this is especially true with Myofascial Techniques.
For those of you who are familiar with the physical Yoga practice there is a fine line between finding a comfortable level of sensation, where your body is opening, you can feel the change occurring in your muscles and connective tissue and you can soften in to it rather than feeling like you are fighting with your body and that everything is tensing up in response to that, putting yourself in a position where you may be causing yourself pain and possibly injury and to quote Erich Shifmann "Somewhere between these two points is a a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do". For those of you who come to my yoga classes you will know my classes are very breath centered for several reasons one of which if you are able to breathe smoothly and deeply whilst in a posture the chances are you're not going to be pushing yourself further than you should in any given position. If the breath is strained in any way its a good indication you've gone too far and should back out to a place where you can find that sweet, juicy spot.
Every time I place my hands on a clients body I am refining and deepening my "listening touch", I work slowly so that that I can feel through the layers of the clients body, waiting for the clients tissues to allow me in rather than pushing my way through in an invasive way and I feel for the softening in the muscles and the connective tissue so I am then able to work deeper if necessary. Sometimes during a massage there are areas in the body that are tender to the touch but it should never be painful, your muscles should still stay soft and not feel like you are bracing yourself and the breath should be full and deep, if you are holding your breath waiting for it to be over that's not a good sign!
At the end of each massage session I end with some still work either holding the feet or the head depending on what part of the body I have been working on, it's like a mini shavasana or relaxation that happens at the end of the yoga class where all the effects of the massage or Yoga practice can be integrated into the body, it's a really beautiful and magical moment as it has a powerful effect on the nervous system. Deane Juhan so beautifully wrote "When you touch someone they are touching you back" its a magical exchange that happens at the end of the session as I simply cradle the clients head and have a moment of stillness and silence and feel that its not only calming their nervous system but a feeling of calm just washes over me and I feel like I could sit there all day!
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.