After a relaxing session of deep head work for migraine relief, my client declared, "I think if everybody had a head massage once a day, the world would be a much more peaceful place!" I believe she was onto something!
Even the suboccipitals, some of our deepest and smallest head muscles can have a profound impact on our full-body coordination and pent-up emotional tension. The suboccipitals, which connect the top cervical vertebrae to the base of the skull, produce subtle head movements like nodding and tilting (think bobblehead doll). These muscles may be small, but their position helps determine the correct orientation of the head on the spine. Tight suboccipitals will restrict head movement, which will limit flexibility through the entire spine and disrupt full body coordination! Those of us who carry emotional tension (ehem, all of us), have a forward-head posture, or spend our days constantly looking to the side at multiple computer screens, may develop restricted suboccipitals.
Here's a little exercise to reduce this tension:
1.) Stand up and walk around, noting the ease of your movement.
2.) Using your index and middle finger of each hand, located the base of your skull. Notice the palpable ridge that is the base of the skull.
3.) Perform slow, little circles with your fingers from the outer side of the ridge towards the middle. Do 1-2 passes across the occipital ridge.
4.) Next, hold each thumb on either side in an isolated position and slowly nod "yes" and no". Try this with your thumbs in multiple spots along the occipital ridge.
5.) Take a deep breath in and out and remove your hands.
6.) When you're ready, stand up and try walking again. Your head should feel filled with newfound space and your movement should feel slightly easier. Now just add this to your morning routine and you'll be ready to take on whatever your day throws at you!!
After one of my clients told me that she had a "transcendental" experience on the table, and another client told me that he felt as though he'd just taken a journey through his own body, I started gaining perspective of a profound yet oft-overlooked benefit of massage: the benefit of enhanced body awareness and the opportunity to recognize our own role in our body's pain. We go about our busy lives with active, noisy minds that often filter out our body's signals of over-exertion and stress. We may feel pain and grow increasingly frustrated at the presence of pain, without understanding HOW WE ARE IN OUR OWN WAY. As an intuitive body worker, I tune into your body to unravel patterns of tension, open areas that have been locked, and relieve muscles that have been overworking. This is where the transcendental, out-of-body journey takes place for the client. My hands follow trails of tension which unveil your body's compensation patterns, as you (the client) follow along and travel these paths of stress with a new awareness. Once off the table, we identify ways in which you contribute to your own pain through poor posture, body mechanics, and movement patterns. This combination of transcendental experience on the table and post-session conversation is where the empowerment begins, and is a core concept of my work. Come empower your body this week!
Marilyn Monroe's hip-swinging walk was a huge part of her appeal as a sex symbol...but what about her poor gluteus medius muscles!!? While she was captivating the world with her wiggle walk, her poor hip muscles were abandoning their intended job of stabilizing her pelvis. As we walk, the glut medius on the standing leg must contract to keep the pelvis from tipping as one leg lifts off the ground.
Go ahead and try that. Stand with two feet on the ground, then pick up one leg and feel the hip muscles on the standing leg contract to keep your pelvis level. This is best done in front of a full length mirror, so you can see your hips. Try one side and then the other. You might find the pelvis tips with one leg stabilizing, but not the other. This means the gluteus medius muscle on one side is a bit weaker.
When the gluteus medius does its job, it minimizes the swing of the hips and maintains a healthy, balanced body. So you can imagine that if Ms. Monroe's goal was to intentionally swing her hips and destabilize her pelvis, her glut medius muscles would weaken as they would give up on trying to keep her pelvis level. The big issue with this is that in order to stay in balance, other parts of the body must compensate. The quadratus lumborum may take over, or the lumbar vertebrae may strain to keep the body from falling over. Regardless, remember that muscle balance is key to a healthy body...sorry Marilyn.
As you go about your day, check in with your hips to see if you are indeed keeping a level pelvis, or if it swings a little. If you can identify this swing in your own body, try some hip abduction exercises like clamshell in sidelying with a resistance band.
Massage Therapy is a field dominated by male pioneers. From Pehr Henrik Ling, founder of Swedish Massage in the 1800s, to today's celebrate teachers like Tom Myers and James Waslaski. There are a LOT of men to thank for progress in the field. With so many men in the massage history books, it can be easy to overlook the STELLAR accomplishments of the few female historical figures in the field. These notable women include Dr. Ida Rolf, founder of the Rolf Institute, Dr. Janet Travell, author of the game-changing book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: A Trigger Point Manual (and JFK's physician!), and Eunice Ingham, a researcher and author who further developed Reflexology. In celebration of International Women's Day 2017, I would like to honor those female pioneers in the fields of massage and bodywork. As a massage therapist and bodywork nerd, I am thankful to have these brilliant & bold female leaders to look up to. Here's to all the female bodyworkers who make change in their client's lives and beyond. Happy International Women's Day 2017!!!
Constructive rest pose (CRP) is a position used in Alexander Technique to encourage our bodies to let go of tension that may be causing pain and postural misalignment. I use it daily to scan my body and allow my muscles to unravel the physical stress of work, exercise, poor posture, etc. CRP has helped me notice the crazy imbalance between my left and right hips, as well as the tension in my jaw. Here are a few basic steps:
1.) Lie on your back with knees bent and head on a small stack of books (the height depends on your comfort zone, but you want the firm surface). Hands rest on hips or across chest
2.) Breath deeply. With every exhalation, feel the tension release from the neck down to the tailbone. Picture each muscle around your vertebra unraveling
3.) Feel your femurs rest heavy in your hip bones and let your pelvis drop evenly into the floor
4.) Let the knees suspend as if the thigh and shin bones flow off like waterfalls
5.) Allow the feet to root into the floor as the jaw and eyes sink
6.) Be aware of muscles that seem to grip and resist release. Try not to strain to relax, instead imagine them flowing off the bone as you breath.
Rest here for 5-15 minutes then slowly roll to the side and stand. Enjoy this practice daily, and I'd love to hear of any new body awareness you gain from it!
Empowerment beyond the massage table...
As a bodyworker and teacher, I love helping to educate people about their bodies. I think our relationship to our bodies is vitally important to our mental health. This blog features a few tools, articles, and fun facts to help you empower your body :) -Emily