Advanced Massage Therapy Tools & Ergonomic Body Mechanics
Massage therapists or those who want to learn how to leverage minimal impact to produce maximum positive impact through touch will enjoy this body mechanic tutorial. Save your hands as you learn how to replace using your fingers and wrist with utilizing your soft fists and forearm. And give your thumbs a break by incorporating the advanced tools of your soft knuckles and elbow. Likewise, learn to use the GRF (Ground Reaction Force) but placing more emphasis on use of quadriceps and core, rather than creating repetitive stress to the less stable muscles of the shoulders, arms, and neck. We like to say, “it’s better if your legs are shaking than your back breaking”. Finally this video demonstrates three of the most ergonomic body mechanic stances, including Archers, Horse, and the ineffable Kickstand stances.
Discover how to work smarter, not harder, on your journey of therapeutic touch. You may have been performing a money stroke that you and all your clients love, but if it starts hurting, please stop! Like any artists, we hope to continue to improve, refine, and become more effortless in our healing craft as time goes on. This means not settling only with what we know works, but continually learning new ways of growing, living, and connecting. In this way, we can age like a fine bottle of wine, rather than an old bag of trash.
Unnecessary effort always leads to tension, just as unnecessary thinking leads to worry. Explore rewiring your habits so we can automatically release our shoulders, neck, and jaw, and feel good all day long! Feel the natural and empowering alignment of head, over heart, over hips. And, learn the concept and application of “bone-staking”: allowing the hard tissue of your skeletal frame to take more of the load of the stoke or stance, rather than the soft tissue of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Have you ever given a massage (or shared any act of service) and then felt better after giving than before? This is an example of how we can actually feel more energized and alive throughout a day of giving. We know it’s a possibility. What we’re most curious about is how can we make this a probability and predictability? In our sessions, we’re constantly asking our bodies, “How can I make my practice simpler, easier, and more fun?” And with dedicated practice, we can reeducate our nervous system to sustain larger amounts of positive energy for longer periods of time!
Occipital Base Release from Cranial Sacral Therapy
The Occipital Base Release provides immediate relief by softening and relaxing stored tension or pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, and even can release the lower back. In addition to a thorough letting go of the musculoskeletal system, this technique also calms the nervous system, expunges tension headaches, and activates our natural return to balance and homeostasis. The Cranial Sacral (AKA, Craniosacral) Therapy approach to this area requires precise hand placement, sustained concentration, and an ample patience. Sometimes held for several minutes to more than 10 minutes, this technique down-regulates anxiety, and instead elicits a profound sense of relaxation and softening.
The Occipital Base Release zeros in on the structures that connect the head and neck and offers a potent, yet gentle decompression of the Atlas (top neck bone) and Occiput (base of the skull bone). Sometimes described as an “A-O (Atlanto-Occipital) Joint Release”, this Cranial Sacral approach is one of the more active of approaches, and is generally applied in a two-step procedure.
With the recipient face up, sit behind them and rest your forearms on the edge of the table or similar surface. Begin with a few deep breaths to presence yourself, and after you’ve established your intention, make first contact with awareness and curiosity. Pick up the head or ask you recipient to lift their head and ask then ask them to completely rest the entire weight of their head into your hands.
Step 1: Position your fingertips toward the back of their hairline, aiming to be below the base of the skull and above the top neck bone. Ask your recipient to inhale, and on their out breath, gently and firmly press your fingertips toward the ceiling so their chin lifts up and their foreheads drops back. With the majority of their head’s bodyweight resting on your fingertips (about 80-90%) and a little weight resting into the heel of your hand, be sure no weight is resting in the center of your palm. Rest here with sustain pressure and grow your patience as you wait for the suboccipital muscles (which connect the occiput, atlas, axis to one another is varying configurations) to soften and release. This often takes several minutes and sometimes requires multiple repetitions over a period of time to truly unlock the oft overused suboccipitals. You mind need much practice to build up the physical stamina and the endurance of your attentive focus to stay present throughout this entire time. Enjoy copious breaths, affirm what’s going well, or simply be curious about what the body is saying to you to help entertain and guide yourself with delight. If, and only if these muscles begin to release, then proceed.
Step 2: Only after the suboccipitals let go will you maintain the exact same hand position, but begin to traction the entire cranium away from the shoulders. Though the pressure engaged by your fingertips matches the bodyweight of the head (about 10-20 pounds) when you pressed up into the suboccipitals, you want to temper your distal traction to only a few grams of pressure. Continue in your endeavor as you allow your patience to be mightier than your effort as you imagine drawing their head away from their shoulders like you were stretching a turtle’s head gently away from it’s shell. Enjoy the waves of relaxation as ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to make this simpler, easier, or more fun?”
How to Stretch the Legs with Secure Draping: Thai Yoga Massage Approaches
In order to enhance healing and connection, we must first create an atmosphere of safety and security. With this in mind, we’d like to offer a secure draping approach for mobilizing your client’s leg when they are disrobed in a way that respects and honors their modesty. Trust is not automatic–it must be earned. And building the rapport necessary to facilitate the therapeutic relationship, we must communicate both verbally and non-verbally in ways that honor our client’s felt sense of safety.
For clients who are experience tight hips or low back pain (e.g., True or Pseudo-Sciatica, SI Joint Dysfunction, Bulging or Herniated Discs, Stenosis, to name a few), its necessary to release the local and adjacent musculoskeletal structures. One of the main features of therapeutic bodywork is utilizing approaches to realign disorganized fascia. Disorganized fascia (once referred to by the inaccurate and anachronistic term “scar tissue”), refers to misaligned, ischemic (lack of blood), or asymmetrical orientation of soft and hard tissues (muscles, joints, bones, etc.) that lead to and perpetuate pain and suboptimal mobility. Pressure alone can assist in fascial reorganization, however, to exponentiate therapeutic resets, its recommended to add movement in addition to pressure. Stretching combined with massage therapy strokes revolutionizes the typical 2D approach of bodywork into the arena of 3D, accessing more planes of motion, greater proprioceptive engagement (sensory neurons in our joints), and lead to more thorough and long lasting benefits. Securing draping the legs while blending massage and stretching will amplify the positive results of your therapeutic sessions.
With the recipient in the usual covered up or draped position, begin to uncovering/undraping one foot. Stand to the lateral side of the same foot and begin to draw the straight leg off the side of the table (like preparing for a one-legged split). Once the leg is a couple feet wide of the table, create a bend in the recipient’s knee, and drag a generous amount of sheet under the bent leg hamstrings. Take the excess sheet and wrap that drape all the way around the bend leg knee and secure the edge of the drape in an airtight orientation around the outer bend thigh. From here, you explore an abundance of approaches to adding stretching and pressure in ways that provide safe and potent therapeutic results.
Facilitate stretching is not for everyone. Be sure to get a medical release from your and your recipient’s doctors in the form of verbal or written consent before applying any of these techniques. Its especially important that you never added pressure or stretching to an area of acute inflammation (i.e., hot, red, and puffy like a sprained ankle). When you are mobilizing, be cautious not to overstretch. You know you’ve gone too far if your client is holding their breath and/or clinching and tightening anywhere in their body. If your client is guarding or protecting, they are generating resistance against you and this simply creates more, not less resistance. Encourage your recipient to enjoy long, slow, deep breaths, and have them agree to let you know anytime they would like more or less intensity. With constant communication, you can elicit what we call the “Goldilocks Pressure” and further grow the therapeutic relationship.
After practicing this a few dozen times, you’ll enhance your confidence with safely and securely draping your clients and that confidence will translate through your touch and presence, and even your clients will feel more confident and trusting of your support.
Neck Wave Inspired by Esalen Massage
The “neck wave” was inspired by our studies at the acclaimed personal transformation and retreat center called the Esalen Institute. Located on the rocky cliffs of Big Sur, CA, and overlooking the mighty Pacific ocean, Esalen is a place where nature, connection and discovery effortlessly comingle. Since the 1960s, Esalen has been a teaching campus that popularized and catalyzed the “Human Potential Movement.” The neck wave is an outcropping of this confluence of natural healing approaches and expanding our capacity to feel good.
The neck wave releases tight neck and shoulder muscles, creates a variety of connections of different fascial planes, and helps orient the recipient to letting go and allowing flow. Begin with the recipient face up and sit above their head resting your forearms on a massage table or something similar. Start with your right hand contacting their outer right shoulder and place the same right forearm/elbow to contact gently on the right side of the skull. Use your forearm to begin to rotate the head to the left as you use your right hand to slide up the lateral body from the shoulder, to the neck, and sculpt through the scalp. Just as you reach the hairline, ready your left hand on the outer left shoulder with your left forearm/elbow grazing the left side of the skull. With as smooth transition as possible, begin to guide the head through center as you rotate it over to the right and trace the lateral musculature with your left hand from the outer to upper left shoulder, to neck, up to the scalp. Transition as smoothly and fluidly as possible as you repeat all over from the beginning with your right hand resting beside the lateral shoulder, and your right forearm on the right side of the scalp at the ready. Repeat at least 3 times on both sides and enjoy!
If you’d like to add more intensity, add a stretch as you make your way up into the hairline by using the opposite hand to press the opposite or same side shoulder away (inferiorly and/or posteriorly) from the scalp. To enhance connection and flow, begin with both palms beside and in front of the same side shoulder, and use your second hand to glide from the front of the décolleté to the opposite side of the shoulder as your original hand mobilizes the ROM with your forearm/elbow. This is a client favorite and with practice, your coordination will improve quickly.
More background on Ida Rolf and others’ experience at the Esalen Institute:
The Esalen Institute is a major pioneer of integrating healing traditions from the East and West Eastern, blending approaches for mind and body, and fusing the ancient with the modern to create unique and exceptional pathways of wellness. Bodywork legend and founder of Structural Integration (or Rolfing), Dr. Ida Rolf spent many decades advocating for a more holistic approach to the fascia on the campus of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. Likewise, Esalen proved to be an eloquent platform for the new approaches and fields of Gestalt therapy (whose co-founder, Fritz Perls stayed on site for an influential 5 years) and Humanistic Psychology (advocated by Abraham Maslow who espoused the requisite conditions for self-actualization). Indeed, just as the rolling waves of the Pacific waves influence the pace and approach to Esalen massage, so does the crucible of positivist and inventive influences that simmer throughout it’s history.
Shoulder Release: Pin & Stretch for the Pecs
This Shoulder Release is shown to improves mobility and relieve upper back, shoulder or neck pain, and tension headaches. This technique is also helpful for those healing from Frozen Shoulder, Adhesive Capsulitis, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), Shoulder Bursitis, Bicipital Tendonitis, and more.
By combining pressure with movement, we facilitate greater neurological stimulation and encourage disorganized fascia (think knots, previous strains, or asymmetric compensatory patterns leading to movement dysfunction) to align into more functional ROMs (range of motions). Instead of an ordinary 2D, pressure-only approach to bodywork, we add the 3rd plane with assisted movement. This stimulates more sensory neurological information via the proprioceptors in the joints, and may provide longer relief from pain symptoms than simple pressure alone.
Also an effective approach to counter balance “ventral drag” or a slouching posture that perpetuates a “cashewing of the spine”, which so commonly present in chair-centric cultures. As we the anterior shoulder girdle and 360-degrees around the joint capsule, we’re reminded by Dr. Ida Rolf’s formula that: “Where the pain is, the problem isn’t”. In other words, in order to release the back of the shoulder, you also need to release all the adjoining and adjacent areas as well.
In the supine position and from the head of the table facing the foot, place your palm or soft fist on the pectoralis major with your medial hand. Support the forearm or wrist with your lateral hand and provide gentle, yet impactful pressure to the pecs while you move the arm in circumduction (or various other natural ROM of the glenohumeral joint). Perform about three repetitions in one direction and around three reps on the other side. You can change the hand placement to be more medial or lateral on the upper pecs, but be sure not to press directly into the bones or joints.
Not demonstrated in the accompanying video, but also helpful is to invite your recipient to initiate the ROM in the shoulder without your assistance. This then transitions from a “pin and stretch” approach to a “call for motion/movement” technique and recruits more of the recipient’s neurological system, thus encouraging great reeducation of the brain to reinforce optimal function.
Hands-Free Therapies: Global Fusion of Techniques that Save Your Hands, Fingers, & Wrists
According to a survey conducted by the ABMP (Association of Bodywork & Massage Therapy Professionals), the average professional life span of a licensed massage therapist is between 3-4 years, and oftentimes, these LMTs leave their profession not from choice but out of pain. Massage therapists often experience the same aches and pains that their clients are coming in to be treated for. Similar to the common chief concerns of clients, professional touch therapists experience high rates of Neck, Shoulder, and Low Back Pain, and this is sometimes a result of the techniques and body mechanics they employ. Likewise, Repetitive Stress or Strain Injuries (“RSIs”) are one of the most prevalent afflictions experienced by bodyworks and are especially pernicious when practitioners overuse their hands, elbows, and wrists leading to conditions such as Carpal Tunnel, Medial/Lateral Epicondylitis, and Shoulder Tendonitis. But it does not have to be this way.
In the Yoga Sutras it is written, “The pain that to come can be, and should be avoided.” In light of this possibility, we advocate working smarter, not harder. This is achieved by relying on the advanced tools of our soft fists, forearms, soft knuckles, and elbows to substitute overuse of the hands, thumbs, and wrists. We also become very nimble to growth and change around the table as we continually ask ourselves, “How can I make this simpler, easier, and more fun?”
If you are a therapist, you likely have had the experience where you actually feel more energized and positive after giving a session, than before you started. This experience speaks to the possibility of feeling even better at the end of your work day, than before you started work. But this is not always the case. In Hands Free Therapies classes and videos, we demonstrate best practices to turn this possibility of feeling better at the end of the work day into a probable and even predictable event.
Most massage therapists we know experience their craft more like an artist than a technician. Through the lens of the artist, we strive to ply our craft with greater simplicity and efficiency, while creating more impactful and durable positive results. At its best, we believe the therapeutic relationship is about uplifting both receive AND giver. As the practitioner, would you be willing to put yourself–with your client–in the center of the therapeutic relationship? With creative techniques and inventive approaches to touch therapy, we would love to share more possibilities to feeling better and better, not just as your workday goes on, but for your entire life.
Triceps Stretch & Squeeze
This is an easy way to access, stretch and squeeze the triceps muscles.
What is being done?
From the supine position place an open palm next the head. Follow where the body goes, no need to force the hand or body into any position. To stretch the triceps place one hand on the elbow and one hand on the triceps. Gently traction and press the elbow away from the shoulder. In this position you can squeeze along the length on the triceps. The movement may be combined…alternately stretch the triceps and then squeeze them.
How should it feel?
There will be a gentle warm pulling feeling in the belly of the triceps muscles. One may also feel a nice stretch in the same forearm or wrist. There should be no pain in the joint. If there’s any pain in the joint please stop the movement and find another way to stretch and squeeze the triceps
Why is it important?
A moving hinge does not grow rust. Movement is life and the more ways we can discover, recover and maintain range of motion allows for a free body, free mind and free heart.
What short or long term impact does this have?
More range of motion, increased flexibility and openness in the muscles directly affected and the surrounding tissues. This is one way to experience increased range of motion in the shoulder, reduce tension in and around the shoulder, make more space for the cervicals, feel longer, reduce tension in the arm and hand.