This article was originally posted on Massage Magazine, written by Brian Robbin.
I had to share it because it speaks so much about the deeper layers that can be reached through massage, beyond the muscles and the tissues. The massage that creates a deep and true relaxation of the body and mind. This is fascinating for me and something I continue to work towards with each of my clients. You can view the original article here
You can call it “centering.” You can call it “surrendering to the moment.”Or you can call it what Spa Pechanga Massage Therapist Julia Haskins called it to a first-time client.
“I worked on this guest one time. He usually goes to other massage therapists because he likes a really, really tough massage, but I did the service. I did a deep tissue massage and when he came out, he sat in the quiet room. He sat there kind of looking around and after I cleaned up and walked past him, he looked at me and asked, ‘What did you do to me?’”
“I said ‘voodoo magic.’ He sat there for a long, long time. So that was fun … he wasn’t used to going to that place. I like to take them to that place.”
What is Mindfulness?
“That place” is the experience every massage therapist seeks to take their clients. The place where the mind empties, the body relaxes and the white flag of mental, physical and spiritual capitulation to the moment goes up.
Haskins and her fellow Spa Pechanga massage therapist, Laura Toliver, try to create mindfulness in their clients. They have the ability to put their clients in the proverbial zone to bring their guests into that place.
Of course, their place, Spa Pechanga, has something to do with that. The largest resort/casino on the West Coast, Pechanga, is located in the Southern California Wine Country, about halfway between Riverside and San Diego.
Additions such as expanding Spa Pechanga into a standalone 25,000-square foot sanctuary of wellness offering guests 17 treatment rooms, outdoor cabana massage services, a weight room with cardio exercise equipment, a movement studio with fitness classes and wellness consultations, a private spa pool complex, two hydrotherapy pools and a hair, make-up and nail salon with barbering services can all be on any guest’s agenda for getting to that place of mindfulness.
So yes, Haskins and Toliver have a Sistine Chapel canvas to take their clients to that place. But they also have their own ways to bring the entire package of mindfulness together to create mindfulness.
Transfer of Energy
For the personable Toliver, a 14-year massage therapy veteran, it involves cleansing and centering herself, praying and realizing that creating mindfulness in clients involves a “transfer of energy.”
Toliver realized there was a tangible energy transfer between massage therapist and client when she worked on a friend who was a professional bike rider. Toliver focused on the pain in his forearms, only to discover later that night she also had uncharacteristically sore forearms.
Toliver’s tips to enhance energy transfer and help support mindfulness include a pre-massage shower followed by the spa’s eucalyptus steam room. She makes a point to tell clients that this is all about them. Every movement she uses, from the slow-rolling emphasis she employs to the long stroke up the top of the back to the nerve-ending-rich occipital region of the skull is designed to create a mindful surrender of the senses to the moment.
“I envision myself in a bubble. So that nothing can penetrate me and whatever’s going on with me can’t penetrate them,” she said. “Again, it’s intention. So the minute I touch someone, love, kindness and peace is what I’m sending them.”
For Haskins, who started her massage therapist career in 2003 as a self-improvement project that would allow her to become more comfortable with people, she relies on Spa Pechanga’s signature essential oils such as Turquoise Sage, Prickly Pear and Ocean Dew. These allow her to center her clients and create a lasting sense of beneficial feeling.
“Sometimes, I’ll make a joke if they say something about them like, ‘You think these are for you, don’t you?’ But really, it’s for both of us because if I’m centered, they can be centered,” she said.
Surrender the Mind
From there, Haskins’ way to center takes on a next-level quality. Sure, there’s music, which she says is important not only to mood-creation – “Notes are important. Everyone has their own note” — but as a way for her to establish a rhythm for her massage strokes.
One of Haskins’ notes involves putting a warm towel on her client’s backs well into the massage. The fact there is more to that than a physical act shows the depth and breadth of her spa sorcery.
“I tuck them in and if they say something, I say ‘Yeah, as adults, we never get tucked in anymore,’” she said. “So it’s the nurturing part of me that’s brought out in massage.”
Aside from the action of surrendering the mind when you’re on the table, both Toliver and Haskins realized long ago that this — the nurturing, the therapist themselves surrendering to the process as their client also surrenders — is the essential truth to finding mindfulness.
“When we’re born as babies, it’s so important to be cradled and held,” Toliver said. “Some people are not held, they’re not loved. And when they come in to the spa, they need that touch. We humans need to be touched. We need to spread love and we can do that in this profession through what we do.
“And when they leave and they’re so satisfied and they are so loved, it’s a rewarding feeling. I love that part. I love it.”
It’s what has made them two of the best in their place, and at Spa Pechanga, at bringing clients to That place where centering resides.
The dreaded trigger point… also known as a knot in the muscle. These buggers often elicit some degree of pain upon compression or stretching the affected muscle. Trigger points can develop anywhere in the body, however there are more common areas than others. These common trigger points have pain referral patterns that can be local or may travel to a completely different area of the body. While the mechanism of trigger points is not completely understood, here is one accurate definition: “A trigger point is a hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or its fascia. It is point tender on site, often exhibits a predictable pain referral patter and causes a shortening of the affected muscle.” – Fiona Rattray, RMT.
So what exactly is a taut band? It is believed that it may be a contracture of muscle fibres that have been damaged by some form of trauma, and have not fully recovered, leaving the muscle in a sustained contraction, or contracture. An active trigger point will be painful during movement of the muscle containing the taut band as well as at rest. The trigger point will usually prevent the muscle from being fully stretched, and if that muscle is stretched to the point of pain, protective muscle spasm will occur, preventing any further stretch. Trigger points are seen less in healthy muscles that are exercised daily, because these muscles are being stretched on a regular basis. They usually crop up in muscles that are more sedentary, specifically muscles that are suddenly overworked, and not stretched properly before overloading them.
How do we treat them? Trigger points can be treated with massage therapy and they can be integrated into any massage treatment easily. The muscles must be in a relaxed state before using direct compression on the trigger point. There may be some discomfort in treating a trigger point with ischemic compression, and it is important that the pressure does not exceed the client’s pain tolerance. Working within a pain threshold is done in order to keep the muscle as relaxed as possible, otherwise the muscle could tense up or develop a protective spasm, which will only worsen the pain. If the trigger point is too painful to use ischemic compression, there are other methods to treat it, that are more indirect, such as gentle slow stretching of the muscle, gentle petrissage over affected area, or applying heat over the muscle to relax it.
The best thing you can do at home is avoid any overuse of the affected muscle, have regular warm baths, or heat applied to the affected area, gentle stretching of the affected muscle, and adjust any postural imbalances that may be contributing. Massage therapy is a great way to reduce trigger points, and your RMT can provide at home exercises and stretching to help maintain healthy muscles.
How does massage affect pain?
Pain travels the body through nerve receptors at the point of injury and moves towards the spinal cord where it is processed. From there it continues on to the brain, where it is modulated and you recognize the signal of pain cognitively. Massage can address pain in different ways. It can be applied at the source of the injury by breaking the pain cycle. The pain cycle usually begins with tissue ischemia. Tissue ischemia is a reduction in blood circulation, and oxygen not being delivered to the tissue in the affected area, and this results in pain. Massage can break the pain cycle by increasing blood flow to the ischemic tissue by mechanical force/pressure.
In the peripheral nervous system, massage can help affect the processing of nociceptive firing. A massage technique called cross-fibre frictioning is a quick movement performed on injured tendons or ligaments. A network of nerves known as a ‘gate’ can block the transmission of small-fibre, slow moving pain impulses to the brain. The blocking occurs through stimulating proprioceptive nerve receptors which are supplied by larger, faster sensory nerve fibres. This is done by the frictioning massage technique. Basically, the pain intensity can be temporarily reduced by additional sensory input, whether by massage or rubbing your toe after stubbing it. This theory is known as the pain gate theory. In the central nervous system, neurochemicals such as endorphins are produced in the brain and released throughout the body in response to pain, to help control it. One study suggests that these neurochemicals are not released in a pain-free client during massage, but new studies are being done on neurochemical release during massage in clients experiencing pain.
While this is a simple explanation of how massage can affect pain, there are many studies that link the benefits of massage to various types of pain whether it’s muscular, visceral, cephalic, emotional, among many others.
Reference: Clinical Massage Therapy, by Fiona Rattray & Linda Ludwig