As a massage therapist, it's literally my job to assist the body in reducing pain and tension. And as a creative self care coach, it's my job to help folks discover their own wellness solutions.
In today’s post I’m going to share some professional tips for self massage and stretching, so you can recognize your needs, practice more effectively, and reclaim your meat machine.
Welcome to the blog & podcast, Unlocking Wellness! I’m Crystal McLain, curator of Crystal McLain Creative, an online resource that supports folks who are ready to get creative with the care of their mind, body, and mother-lovin’ soul.
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And, if you like to read along WHILE you listen, or enjoy graphics and videos, you can access all of these features through the blog version of this podcast (yes, even the audio as well). I’ll leave a direct link to this episode in the show notes below.
Alright. Let's get to it.
So, the first thing I want to mention is that there are oodles and oodles of self massage and stretching tutorials out there. And while they’re pretty much all wonderful, I believe there are a few secrets to making your efforts way more effective. And if you’re gonna bother taking the time to practice any self care routine, you might as well get the most out of it. Right? Right.
So, real quick, let’s go over the five things we’re going to talk about today.
1. PURPOSE - Like most of self care, self massage and stretching have multiple benefits. And the only reason we’re ever really willing follow through on any wellness practice is because the purpose behind it resonates with us. So I’m going to share a bunch of benefits from these particular acts of self care so you can figure out what motivates YOU.
2. MINDSET - Because self massage and stretching may either be new to you, or something you haven’t necessarily felt successful with in the past, it’s important that you get into the right frame of mind before you even begin. So, we’ll practice a little pre-game mindsetting so you’ll be mentally prepared to do this delicious work.
3. AWARENESS - There’s a fair amount to consider and to pay attention to while working on your body in these ways. So I’m going to share some pointers that will deepen your self awareness and body consciousness in regards to your habits and mobility.
4. ACTION - This is when you'll learn the techniques, and probably the reason why you’re here in the first place. BUT, as tempted as you may be to just skip ahead to this part, I’m going to ask that you don’t because all of that other stuff I just mentioned is super important before you begin.
5. SUPPORT - This is when I’ll share some resources to pair with this post that I personally find really helpful.
Alright, let’s dive in…
Like I mentioned earlier, every act of self care comes with multiple benefits, and self massage and stretching are no exception. In fact, there are SO MANY perks, that it almost seems silly NOT to love up on your soft tissues.
So, let’s talk about the FOURTEEN perks (yup, 14) that you’re gonna score when you practice self massage and stretching…
1. Increased flexibility and range of motion
The main point of stretching and self massage is to soften and lengthen your soft tissues (we’re talking about your muscles and fascia, here - and if you don’t know what fascia is, don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a minute). Anyway, the longer and more pliable your soft tissues are, the more STRUCTURAL FREEDOM your body will have.
2. Relief from pain and discomfort
When your body has more structural freedom, that means there are fewer opportunities for the misalignment of joints, nerve impingement, decreased blood flow, and poor posture. And all of these conditions can be the culprit for those uncomfortable feelings you may be experiencing in your body.
3. Improved physical performance
If you have structural freedom, and less pain, that means you’re going to able to do everything with more ease. I'm talking about basic life stuff here like, cleaning your home, playing with your kids, carrying groceries, even lounging.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had so much tension in my body, that I’ve actually found it difficult to get comfortable at night when I’m trying to relax. And relaxing is really, REALLY important for your wellbeing.
4. Decreased risk of injury
Again, if you have structural freedom, you’re less likely to hurt yourself while doing regular life stuff. I know SO many people who’ve done something simple and ended up in a terrible situation. Like, throwing their back out while putting on socks, or tweaking their neck while driving. It really doesn’t have to be this way.
BTW, if you’re like, twenty-something and you’re sitting with this post thinking, “who the hell gets hurt putting on socks?” …just you wait, my friend. Midlife is coming and shit starts changing. Trust me. Get ahead of the game and take good care of your body.
5. Improved circulation
So, blood has a really important function. It’s basically the highway system that brings oxygen and nutrients to all your organs. It also helps transport toxins out of your body. So, when we’ve got jammed up joints and fascial adhesions, that means there are areas of the body that may be nutrient deprived. Self massage and stretching can break up these barriers, and encourage circulation.
6. Improved immune function
The body is designed with something called the lymphatic system, which is how your body fights off viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other toxins. And the movement that comes from stretching and self massage can help support the lymphatic system so it can do its job more effectively.
7. Soothes the nervous system
Tension is something that’s created and reinforced by the nervous system. And learning ways to bring about relaxation within the body can help retrain the brain so you can break these tension patterns. Also, freeing the nerve cells from sticky fascia and clunky joints will help improve the function of your peripheral nervous system.
8. It's a great mindfulness practice
Because stretching and self massage require intentional thought and focus, it’s an excellent way to practice mindfulness. And when we practice mindfulness, we improve things like concentration and mental clarity, which are super handy skills in ALL of life.
9. Deeper connection with self
Sensations like pain or discomfort can cause people to mentally “detach” from their body. And a lot of times folks are quick to reach for coping tools that don’t fix the cause of their pain, but rather numb or distract themselves from it. But, pain is our body’s way of communicating with us, letting us know that something is wrong. And when you take the time to explore your body and experiment with things like massage and stretching, it can help you learn what your body is trying to communicate with you, and create a really deep connection with yourself.
10. An expression of self love & self acceptance
When we stop judging our body based on its aesthetics or abilities, and instead, show up with curiosity and compassion, and a willingness to invest in our healing, we are practicing a VERY strong form of self love and self acceptance. And that, my friend, is the root of all self care.
11. Improved sleep
Because self massage and stretching can create structural freedom, and because it improves circulation and immune function, and because it calms the nervous system and the mind, and because it comes from a place of self love and acceptance, there is a VERY strong chance that it could also improve your sleep. A restless mind and body are often what keeps us up at night…just sayin’.
12. Increased energy
Because of the eleven previously mentioned benefits, chances are, you’re probably gonna end up with more energy. And who doesn't want that?
13. Mood booster
Our psychological and physical state are so deeply connected. So, if you’re feeling good, your’e gonna FEEL GOOD. You know what I mean? Also, self massage and stretching releases endorphins, which are some of your feel-good hormones.
14. Builds confidence
Prioritizing your wellbeing in a way that benefits you in SO many ways, is gonna make you feel like a MF badass. Seriously, showing up for yourself, and connecting with your body, and supporting its quest for health and wellness is super empowering stuff.
Alright, SO, if you’re looking for a reason to start a stretching and self massage routine, those are it. Which is the perfect segue for us to talk about your mindset.
Now, just a reminder, your mindset is your attitude or beliefs about something. And if you’re fixed on hating on your body, being frustrated with it, feeling like you’re no good at prioritizing your wellness, or any other bit of nonsense that’s going to darken the vibe with this whole self massage and stretching thing you’re about to embark on, you’re gonna want to practice letting that shit go.
It’s REALLY helpful to approach this practice with curiosity and compassion. And I’ll tell you why…
The human body is a really complex thing, and how each and every one of us perceives and experiences things like pain and tension, is going to vary. Not only that, but we all respond differently to self care techniques and tools. And so, it’s really quite necessary that you exercise patience with your body and yourself while you discover what actually works for you. And this is true for any form of self care, which is why I’m all about encouraging folks to get CREATIVE with how they care for their mind, body and soul, and not just go through the same ol’ motions with high expectations.
But, yeah, there’s no on/off switch to make your body relax. And you’re not going to suddenly become a pro at self massage and stretching. And what might work for you one day, may not work the next. So please, please, please, please take your time, and try to appreciate the process while you learn how to work with your body.
Another thing to consider with your mindset, is how you maintain your motivation. lf you ever find yourself uninspired, or start making up excuses to NOT love up on your body, refer back to the previous list and remember your PURPOSE. Reminding yourself WHY you’re doing something, is always a powerful tool.
Alright, let’s move on to a few things you should be aware of while you’re practicing.
The first thing I really need to remind you, is that you should ALWAYS get clearance from your medical profession before you try ANY wellness routine that you snag off the internet.
The second thing I need to make sure you’re aware of are things called contraindications (which are medically related reasons why you should NOT do something). And, there’s no real interesting way to deliver this information, so I’m just going to read through a list. But these are things you should consider before you start poking around your soft tissues.
If you have…
- a bleeding disorder
- bruises or healing wounds
- blood clots
- deep vein thrombosis
- varicose veins
- a pacemaker
- a rash
- undiagnosed lumps & bumps
- unusual pain
- a virus
- a recent operation
- broken bones
- severe osteoporosis
- low platelet counts
- bell’s palsy
- a psychotic condition
- or take blood thinners
...then poking at and squishing around your body may not be a good idea. Again, talk to your doctor. Better safe than sorry.
Now, some of these are general contraindications (meaning you shouldn't massage at all), while some are local contraindications (meaning you shouldn't massage in a particular area). I'm going to trust that you're talking with your doctor, or at the very least doing a little research before you take action.
Okay, so those are my safety precautions. Now let’s talk about some SELF awareness to take into consideration while you’re on the prowl for a good routine.
Once you’re aware of the two things that I’m about to share with you, you can watch just about any tutorial and figure out whether or not it's going to address your needs.
Now, it’s not always going to be super obvious, but the more you get into the habit of evaluating your needs, and taking inventory of your body, the more quickly you’ll be able to identify if it is a good routine for you or not.
First up, let’s take a look at your habits.
Now, when body workers like massage therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths analyze a person’s posture, they're basically comparing the client’s body to something called, anatomical position. You may have seen a chart at some point in your life.
Fascia, btw, is this stringy, webby, connective tissue that's suspending and connecting every-single-thing inside your body. And in a perfect world it’s flexible, and allows for movement in all sorts of dynamic ways. But, fascia gets thick, and sticky, and all kinds of fucked up with repetitive postures, motions, and even stress. But, with self massage and stretching, we can actually correct a lot of this damage.
Likewise, with massage and stretching, we're going to help retrain those neurological holding patterns.
Where were we?
Oh, yes, anatomical position.
So, get familiar with what anatomical position looks like. And the next time you’re curled up on the couch, or on your phone, or in any other position you spend a significant amount of time in, just take note of all the ways your body deviates from anatomical position. Wherever there’s a flexion, or rotation, or a tilt, that’s where you’re going to want to open things up.
Again, this is a SUPER general rule. But it will help you to get an idea of where to start addressing things.
The second bit of awareness focuses on your mobility.
In a perfect world, we’re able to bend and twist our bodies in all sorts of dynamic ways. Again, I’m not sure I know ANYONE who’s so perfectly aligned that they have FULL range in ALL their joints. But it’s still good to test your mobility so you'll have a general idea of what needs a little TLC. I’ve included a quick video at the blog. It's very informal, and basically just me being a goofball. But, basically, you're just taking inventory of the sensations and restrictions you come up against while move your body in all the ways it's designed to move.
Alright, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. These are the actions you can take to really level-up your self massage and stretching game.
Now, I'm not going to give you any actual stretching or self massage routines here. There are far too many, and we don't have that kind of time. What I AM giving you here are some solid techniques to pair with whatever tutorials you do find.
So, I've been in the body biz for a while now, and let me just tell you, folks (generally speaking) are super impatient and forceful when it comes to their bodies. I'm SO over the whole, no-pain-no-gain mentality. Because here's the thing, causing your body MORE PAIN is just going to create MORE TENSION.
Your body's natural reaction to pain is to guard against it, and these holding patterns are exactly what we're trying to get rid of.
I've often compared the tension in our bodies to a toddler having a tantrum - screaming at it isn't going to make it calm down. Creating a safe, nurturing environment for it, however, will. Also, distractions are great (and that's kinda what we're doing here).
So, let's create a safe, nurturing space for for your body to calm the F down. And give it something else to focus on besides causing you grief.
Alright, so, we’re assuming that you’ve chosen your PURPOSE. And you’ve created a mindset that’s patient, curious, and accepting of your body as it is. Now let’s learn a few things about your body so you know how to approach your meat machine.
The first thing you should know is that it’s all connected.
Remember how I mentioned that fascia is an internal web that connects all of your inside-bits together? Well, when ONE area of your body is tight, misaligned or injured, it can affect a wide area of the body, if not the entire body.
That’s because everything is literally connected in one way or another by way of that whole fascial system.
A VIDEO DEMONSTRATING THIS IS COMING SOON!
Anyway, we typically tend to focus on where we feel pain or discomfort. But the problem with this is that oftentimes the PAIN isn't where the PROBLEM is. This is classic with neck stuff. Clients come in, complaining of a sore neck. And when I ask what they've done for it, and it usually involves rubbing the back of the neck (because that's where they feel the pain). And this is fine, but the reality is, there's a bunch of other areas that are probably causing the imbalance which is causing the pain. Usually it's the front of the neck, around the shoulders, the chest, jaw, or spine. So, I encourage you to go rogue, and explore neighboring parts to the pain and see what else you can find.
Like I mentioned earlier, causing your body MORE PAIN is just going to create MORE TENSION. So that means you should probably go easy on your body while you massage and stretch it. At least until you build up some tolerance.
We feel SO compelled to just rail on our soft tissues when we’re experiencing tension. We just wanna to dig in there. I'm going to ask you resist the urge.
Another case of less-is-more, is the amount of time you dedicate to stretching and self massage.
You don't need to spend a whole hour at a time. In fact, I find it's way more beneficial to approach it like drinking water. You're not going to sit 'n chug 64 ounces all at once, you're going to sip it throughout the day. Finding small moments throughout your day to do a little stretching and massage is really quite effective.
That's not to say you CAN'T dedicate large chunks of time. But you should know that if you're not used to these practices, you could have adverse reactions if you go whole hog your first few rounds. Nothing too serious, usually just a little soreness.
And finally, in the less is more category, is speed.
Have you ever pulled Silly Putty really fast? It just snaps in half, right? But the more you slow down, the better stretch you get. Your soft tissues are very much the same.
Not that they're going to snap in half, but you could actually injure yourself if you try to stretch too much, too quickly.
In any event, your body responds better when you work slowly.
A slower speed also offers a few other benefits.
- It allows you the time to really tune in and pay attention to your body and notice what's going on WHILE you work.
- Your body is more likely to relax if you move at a slower pace.
- It just feels better.
Your soft tissues are a lot like taffy; the warmer they are, the stretchier and more pliable they become. That’s why it’s important to warm up whatever you're gonna work on.
A hot shower or heating pad are super yummy ways to warm up the ol' body. But you can gain the same benefits from movement and a little frictionous rub-down.
Your breath is honestly one of the most powerful wellness tools you have.
In fact, the breath has a direct line to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your body's ability to relax, and repair itself. And you can activate the parasympathetic response by practicing deep breathing techniques.
So, before you go in for that stretch, or that stroke of massage, first take a slow, deep inhale. Let it cause a little positive tension within the body. Take a second to notice the sensations, what's changing in your body with this breath? And on the exhale, do your fine work.
You're going to be able to sink into your work on a much deeper level if you pair your breath with it.
I really can't stress the importance of self love here.
Your body is working really hard to keep up with all of life's demands, and deserves the utmost respect and kindness. Please, be patient, be gentle, and create a safe space for your body to be vulnerable in. You and your body will get BIG benefits if you do.
Alright! This is the final stop here today. These are some links to a few professionals that I find to be super helpful, and body positive.
Dr. Sam Zoranovich, DC (Trauma informed, neurodiverse-savvy, queer, and trans-celebrating chiropractor).
Jessamyn Stanley (Founder & Yoga Teacher at The Underbelly, a body positive advocate, and a self proclaimed fat femme, and queer femme).
- Rachel Richards (New York State Licensed and Board Certified massage therapist, offering skilled therapeutic neuro-musculoskeletal and fascial bodywork, and orthopedic manual therapy)
I'd also like to say, that if you are looking for extra support, inspiration or motivation while you dive deeper into your self care practice, you check out what we're doing over at Patreon.
And, if you are a Patreon Member, this post will be conveniently located Inspiration Station "app", in the "Body Love" section, so if you need to refer back to anything here, you'll have that conveniently located in the palm of your hand.
PATREON MEMBERS: Get this episode's bonus content [HERE]. *Additional links & tutorials.
Alright my friend, I love you.
I appreciate you.
Thank you SO much for being here.
I’ll see you soon!
OH! Also, this book is fantastic!