Western culture is ambitious and driven. Our values of diligence and will-power have allowed us to accomplish many industrious undertakings. However, by focusing our energy so heavily in this direction, we have become out of balance and lost touch with the more perceptive and intuitive aspect of human nature. As a culture we have generally become mentally over stimulated and desensitized to our bodies and the valuable insight they can offer about our health and well-being. By reconnecting to our bodies and learning to listen more closely to their cues, we may become healthier and better functioning.
While challenges and excitement in life keeps us engaged while promoting learning and positive motivation, there are definitely times when we find ourselves operating in toxic circumstances that do not serve us well. With our strong-willed mentality set to tough things out, sometimes it can be difficult to decipher the healthiness of a situation. If we pay attention to our bodily cues, we will notice that there are plenty of physical indicators available to help us know when we are on the right path or when we need to make a shift in order to be healthy and perform at our best level.
One of the best ways to become more consciously familiar with how our body feels is through the use of touch. Touch is so not easily ignored, it draws our attention to a specific point of contact. It shifts our focus from external distractions and brings our awareness to what is happening physically, right here right now. Massage therapy, as a touch-based healing art, offers a perfect opportunity to gain more insight into our bodily sensations and sharpen our mental consciousness of our physical form. We all tend to have holding patterns for different kinds of tension and we are all unique. For instance, maybe anxiety over a problem at work will manifest in a stiff neck and shoulders but concern for a loved one presents as a tightness in the chest. Maybe nervousness is carried more internally showing effects the digestive system while fatigue or sadness shows up as a low back ache. Being aware of our individual tendencies is the key in taking a preventative approach to out health care.
During a massage, try participating in the following ways and see what works best for you in getting to know your own body.
–Be observant. Even though it can be tempting to fall asleep during a massage, try to stay present as an experiment. Pay attention to what areas feel the best when touched, what areas are ticklish and what areas you don’t enjoy having worked on. Notice what areas have the most tension, what areas have the least, which places are easy to relax and which ones are more difficult. Pay attention to your preferences. Do you prefer lighter touch or deeper pressure. Is it soothing to you if your therapist moves your limbs around or stretches your body parts or is it difficult for you to let someone do this. There are no right or wrong answers and it’s all good information about you and for you.
–Be patient and be open to a variety of outcomes. It’s not always easy to let go of tension and sometimes we have more of it than we thought we did. Sometimes we think our only problem spot is our right shoulder but then realize that our chest, neck and entire left side is tight too. This is ok. It’s likely all connected and as we address one concern we are gaining information and healing on a systemic level.
–Take deep breaths. This will help in the process of relaxing, quieting the mind and softening the muscles. When something hurts instead of clenching up against it work with your therapist to find a comfortable level of pressure and then envision your breath going straight to the area where you feel the pain. Take note of the quality of your breath. Is it naturally deep or shallow. Is it easy for you to breath into your sternum but not your lower ribcage or vice versa. Perhaps there are places that you don’t want to send your breath to at all. Often the places where it is more difficult to breath deeply are holding the most tension.
–Be creative and have fun getting to know your body. As humans we are naturally curious beings and we tend to enjoy learning new things. Try different approaches and see what works. Some people find that visualizing an area of the body relaxing is helpful while other people release the most tension if they let out an audible sigh. For some people it helps to ask questions and learn more about the anatomy of the body. Whatever it is for you find something appealing and take an interest in your body.
The more attention we offer to our body, the better it will serve us. In overwhelming moments we can take inventory of any physical discomfort and then refer back to our holding patterns to gain some clarity. Being familiar with how we feel physically in times of good health will help us notice early on when something seems off. Awareness of our bodies may be the most important step we can take in preventative care.
Jen Kosky, LMT is wellness practitioner in NYC specializing in massage therapy and movement. She holds a BFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, an AS in Massage Therapy from the Swedish Institute and is currently pursuing a certificate in Holistic Health Coaching from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Jen uses bodywork and various movement modalities to help her clients enjoy achieving and maintaining good health and a fun-loving spirit.