The Best Kept Secret in the Biz: Yoga Combined with Massage
A secret in the natural health business, that most yoga and massage providers will encourage you to discover for yourself, is that the combination of yoga and therapeutic massage on a regular basis can exponentially increase and prolong the benefits of both.
Massage and yoga are some of the most popular, well known healing modalities chosen by people who use alternative health care as preventative medicine. Most tend towards one or the other – they regularly receive massage or practice yoga as a way to address their physical, emotional, and mental health.
Benefits of massage include: relief from stress, tension, injuries and chronic pain; increased immunity and circulation; and much more. Yoga also has many of the same benefits as massage (see list at bottom) and is specifically well known for relieving stress and tension, as well as increasing flexibility and circulation.
Therapeutic massage focuses on releasing the root of pain and muscular tension beyond just relaxing surface tension. It is the type of massage that targets particular areas, muscle groups, or injuries using deep tissue, sports massage, pressure and trigger points, and myofascial release techniques. This not only leads to relaxation, but alleviates pain, opens the restricted and tight tissues and musculature, removes blocks in the body’s meridians or energetic system, and brings much needed circulation to the area.
When muscles are permanently tense and full of knots, this can cause structural mis-alignment of our bones, leading to a host of problems such as: compromised and dysfunctional nervous system; impaired digestion, respiration, and reproductive system; bone and joint degeneration, and cognitive and emotional disruptions. A good therapeutic massage can “untangle” the knots of fascia, relax the muscle tissues, and remove energetic blocks that cause pain, pull our bone structure out of alignment, and put undue stress on our organs.
Most yoga can help retrain your body and structural alignment – especially yoga that focuses on spinal opening, supporting where your body actually is, and being in the posture correctly. In the spinal-based Hatha practices, the body’s own weight is used to press bone into bone at the points where the muscles originate. This pressure allows the muscles and surrounding fascia to let go and deeply relax. At this point, muscles and fascia can deeply relax because they are not needed for their usual function, moving the bones. Spinal-based yoga poses not only allow muscles and fascia to release, they gently lengthen muscles and fascia so their tightness and tension are no longer pulling the bones out of alignment. When the bones are re-aligned and the root cause of tension has been removed, people can experience improved circulation; relief of fear, anxiety, and stress; and feelings of goodness and comfort filling the body.
By the time most people are in their mid-twenties, their muscles have become almost frozen in a state of constant strain through stress and repetitive motions or postures, like sitting or being on the computer. The muscles will quickly return to this state of tension – being clamped down, with little to no circulation – because that is where the body has learned to achieve homeostasis, a state of relative function and equilibrium. However, through a consistent yoga practice, the body can be retrained to have equilibrium when the muscles are relaxed, elongated, and tension-free.
As the body is shifting from frozen and tight to open and relaxed, therapeutic massage can quickly and deeply address the large knots and mangled fascia that cause pain and dysfunction. Similarly, when frequently receiving massage, yoga can help the newly released muscles and fascia to remain relaxed, instead of hastily returning to their original state of tension caused by ongoing daily activities and mental habits.
Another way that yoga and massage benefit each other is through the deep breathing learned in yoga. Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals our organs, brain, and muscles to “rest and digest.” This helps the muscles to stay relaxed, not tense and on alert as they would be if the sympathetic nervous system (better known as “fight or flight”) was activated by shallow breathing. Breathing deeply throughout the day helps retrain the body to stay open and calm, sustaining the release received from massage. Deep breathing during a massage also enables a masseuse to release underlying strain and knots more rapidly, instead of having to spend time relaxing the surface layers of tension that could be easily disengaged through proper breathing.
Web MD and Massage Therapy.com list some of the numerous benefits of yoga and massage:
- Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion
- Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system
- Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles
- Help athletes of any level prepare for, enhance, and recover from, strenuous workouts
- Increase joint flexibility and health
- Lessen depression and anxiety
- Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation
- Reduce post-surgery adhesions and swelling
- Reduce spasms and cramping
- Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles
- Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller
- Relieve migraine pain
- Enhanced sleep quality
- Greater energy
- Improved concentration
- Reduced fatigue
- Calming to the mind
- Can release myofascial tension
- Improves posture and spinal alignment
- Effective pain management
For people wanting greater health and well-being, yoga and massage (especially therapeutic massage) are helpful methods. While they are each valuable on their own, it is worthwhile to include them together in a regular schedule. Like peanut butter and jelly, they are good on their own, but great together – the mixture creates a flavor only direct experience can truly illustrate. Consistently incorporating the combination of yoga and massage into one’s life is a juicy secret best told through direct experience.
Mikyo Martin, practices her deeply healing massage therapy at Massage Works Los Gatos, she has been a certified massage therapist and yoga teacher/therapist for over 7 years. She received her training in massage from Healing Hands School of Massage in San Diego, where she was certified in many styles of massage, including Swedish, Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Reflexology. Her training in yoga, meditation, and natural health is through the Yogic Medicine Instiute, where she continues to take classes and workshops. The style of yoga she teaches is a spinal based, ayurvedic hatha yoga for balancing and healing the body and mind. Her well rounded knowledge and experience of natural health, diet and lifestyle, yoga, and massage add depth to her sessions and offer many resources to clients looking for integrative health and growth.