That’s easy to say, but hard to do. Because of the daily stress that we get from just being alive in the 21st century, many of us tend to hold our bodies rigid unless we remember to let our muscles relax.
Sometimes we get so out of practice that it may take a half dozen tries to let go of a muscle. Go ahead. Try it. Focus your attention on, oh, let’s say your left arm. Can you feel the tightness in the muscles? You might have been holding something in your left hand, or idly thinking about work or your honey-do list, but chances are that the muscles are engaged and ready to go to. Now take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, let all the muscles in your left arm relax. (Best to put down the coffee before you try this!) Most of us feel a little peaceful relief when we do this.
Now close your eyes and focus again on the muscles in your left arm and hand. Is everything really relaxed? Is your arm an inert weight, lying heavily on the table like a sack of potatoes? Most of us will discover that we have not completely relinquished control of our limb to gravity yet. Try it again. Take another deep breath and let go of that limb. You should feel a little more relaxation seep into it.
The type of massage that I do relies heavily on relaxation. I find that a relaxed body is better able to tolerate deep muscle work and that as a result my clients tend not to experience pain or bruising the next day. If we can get rid of tension, a lot of problems will improve on their own. And of course if massage can’t help, at least you feel good and relaxed at the end of the session.
So when you are on the table, and you happen to notice that you are holding your body rigid, it is helpful to just take a deep breath and let go. Here are some indicators that it’s time to let go.
- You find that you are holding your limb, your head, or your body above the table, rather than letting gravity determine where it should be.
- You feel yourself anticipating where you think I’m going to move part of you, and you helpfully move there on your own. It’s best to just flop and let the massage happen, unless I specifically ask you to push or hold a certain position.
- You feel that your joints are locked; knees, elbows, and fingers are held straight out.
Much of this behavior is not under your conscious control, so I employ a lot of “tricks” to convince your brain and spinal cord to let go for just a little while.
- If you are holding a limb rigid, I might gently shake the limb. The part of your brain that is trying to hold your limb in a specific position can’t keep up, gives up, and lets go. Rapid shaking of a specific muscle has a similar effect.
- Rather than grasping your arms and legs to move them about, I try to cradle them gently on my forearm or wrist. This makes it easier to let gravity take hold, and the brain is less inclined to resist.
- Slow, slow strokes prevent startling, but they also give the muscle tissue adequate time to respond to treatment.
- Gently rocking the body lets me know how much tension you hold, and also reassures the mind and coaxes it to let go.
It may take several sessions to relearn the skill of relaxation, but don’t worry: it’s not something you need to work at. If you happen to notice yourself clenching up, then of course you should consciously try to let go, but please don’t let it spoil your massage. Don’t let the existence of tension become another source of tension. This is not a success/failure issue; it’s just part of the treatment. It gets a little easier with each session.
The hardest thing I’m ever going to ask you to do is… nothing. A lot of us have forgotten how to let go, and my hope is that if you can remember how for just a short time, then you can remember how to relax in stressful situations in your daily life.
Posted by Jim Caddell at www.MassageDallas.Info