After all that exercise, your muscles might be sore, especially if you are just getting into the exercise habit. While you shouldn't push yourself to the point of pain, movement and effort often result in sore muscles, achy joints, and injuries such as strained ligaments and pulled tendons.
Massage therapists are trained to knead and manipulate the muscles and connective tissue in the body to help the body find its equilibrium after exercise. Regular massage is great even for non-exercisers. It activates muscles and skin, improving circulation and even organ function.
Massage is an excellent stress management tool. It helps your body and mind to relax as it encourages the body to help heal itself. Massage can also give you a feeling of control and mastery over your body as it responds to the targeted effects of massage. Pain may disappear. Posture may improve. Muscles and joints may begin to work better and more easily.
Massage also feels great and shouldn't be relegated to the status of occasional indulgence. Consider regular massage as a serious stress management tool. Massage can equal mental and physical maintenance.
Your doctor may be able to refer you to a professional massage therapist, and, in some cases, massage therapy and even acupuncture is covered by insurance. If you are interested in less mainstream types of massage therapy such as reflexology, acupressure, or Reiki, talk to friends, a natural health provider, a yoga teacher, or the employees at your local natural health food store for recommendations. Some areas have directories of natural health care providers.
Here are some of the common types of massage:
This common form of massage involves a massage therapist applying oil to the body and certain types of massage strokes — namely, effleurage (gliding), petrissage (kneading), friction (rubbing), and tapotement (tapping) — to increase circulation in muscles and connective tissue, help the body to flush out waste products, and heal injuries. Swedish massage induces a feeling of deep relaxation and increases range of motion. Some Swedish massage therapists also use hydrotherapy, or massage through soaking, steaming, or applying jets of water to the body.
Shiatsu and Acupressure
Shiatsu is the Japanese word for “finger pressure” and is sometimes known as acupressure. Shiatsu is an ancient form of massage, still widely practiced, that involves the application of pressure through fingers, palms, elbows, or knees to pressure points in the body. Pressure points are certain points along energy meridians that the Japanese and other Asian cultures have defined within the body. Pressure on these points is thought to release energy blockages that cause pain and disease, resulting in balance, equilibrium, and greater physical health.
Acupuncture is based on the same principle but uses very thin needles painlessly inserted into pressure points. Although the idea may sound strange to a Westerner, much research has supported the effectiveness of both acupuncture and acupressure in the relief of pain and the treatment of certain disorders.
Reflexology is a little like acupressure, but in reflexology, all the pressure points are in the hands and feet. The theory goes that the entire body, including all the parts, organs, and glands, is represented in a “map” on the hands and feet, and that pressure applied to the right area of the “map” will help to balance the problem in the associated area of the body. Knowing the map allows people to work on themselves by rubbing their own hands or feet in the appropriate area.
You can perform reflexology on yourself! Here's one to try. To stimulate your brain when you really need to think clearly, hold up one thumb, then squeeze the tip with the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand. Squeeze in the middle of your thumb's tip, then make little squeezes in seven slow circles around the tip of your thumb, never fully releasing pressure. Repeat on your other thumb.
Reiki (pronounced RAY-KEY) is an energy healing technique based in ancient Tibetan practices. Practitioners of Reiki put their hands on or just above the body in order to balance energy by acting as a sort of conduit for life force energy. Reiki is used to treat physical problems as well as emotional and psychological problems, and it is, more positively, also used as a tool to support and facilitate positive changes. Becoming a Reiki practitioner is a complex process and also is somewhat mysterious. Advanced Reiki practitioners are even thought to be able to perform long-distance healing.
Rolfing is a deep massage designed to restructure the body's muscles and connective tissue to promote better alignment. If you like your massages hard, this one's for you. Some people claim that the deep tissue massage actually releases deeply buried emotions and that emotional outbursts are common during the course of the 10-session program.
The Alexander technique is less massage than movement instruction. Clients are taught to move and hold their bodies with full consciousness and in a way that releases tension and uses the body to its best advantage. People say that practicing the Alexander technique makes them feel lighter, easier, and more in control of their bodies. The Alexander technique is popular with actors and other performing artists.
This is a muscle testing technique that helps people determine where in the body they are experiencing an imbalance or problem. Then, massage as well as movement of certain joints, acupressure, and advice on diet, vitamins, and herbs are offered as treatment. Applied kinesiology should be practiced by health care professionals such as doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, or dentists who are trained and licensed to diagnose illness.
Many holistic health practitioners are highly qualified, experienced, competent, and trustworthy. Because the industry is still largely unregulated, however, be careful when choosing someone who specializes in alternative or complementary therapies. Get referrals from friends and ask about credentials and experience.
Polarity therapy is a little like Reiki in that it is designed to free and balance the body's internal energy, but polarity therapy is more of a melding of Eastern and Western approaches. It includes massage, dietary counseling, certain yoga exercises, and psychological counseling for a full mind-body approach to energy balancing.
If you learn about acupressure, Swedish massage, reflexology, and many other techniques, you can perform massage on yourself. You can massage your own neck, scalp, face, hands, feet, legs, arms, and torso. Many yoga postures also result in internal and external massage by bending the body in certain ways against itself or by using the pressure of the floor against certain parts of the body.