Risk and reward in massage
When I tell people that I’m a massage therapist, it sometimes causes a strong reaction. They tell me - whether verbally or through their facial expression and body language - that massage is not for them.
It may be that they just can't understand why anyone would want to do that, and I'm not likely to change their mind. That's okay.
But for some, it's a body image issue, and they don’t think anybody else would accept them just as they are. It might be a minor thing, and they get by with occasionally wishing they could change it. Or it may run very deeply through their lives, affecting how they feel about themselves on many levels. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I'm pretty sure we've all got something, whether anyone else ever knows about it, or sees it.)
The paradox here is that massage can really help with body image issues. In massage school, my classmates and I were all a little nervous about taking off our clothes and letting somebody else touch us. If we didn't already know, it didn’t take long for us to discover that bodies are just bodies, and we could become much more comfortable with our own. We also experienced how good receiving a massage made us feel, inside and out. Something wonderful happened – when our bodies felt better, we felt better about our bodies.
If you have a "thing" about your body and have avoided massage because of it, consider your three options and potential outcomes of each. Let's evaluate the risks and rewards:
1. Don’t get a massage. Easy-peasy, right? This is the easiest option because it involves doing nothing. The risk is low since you are not letting another person see or touch you at all. The reward is zero. You didn’t get a massage so your body doesn’t feel any better, and you still have the stress you had before. You experience no change.
2. You get a massage, but the massage therapist makes note of how you look, as if it makes a difference to their work or your benefit. If you've had this happen, I am very sorry. You got a crappy massage therapist. (Yes, sadly, I understand there are a few out there who do not represent our profession well. Thankfully I do not know any of them personally.) You took a risk, and even if the massage was otherwise okay, you received very little reward and perhaps feel even worse because of it.
3. You get a massage, and it's a great massage. The therapist does nothing to make you feel uncomfortable about your body. In fact, you feel pretty good about your body after the massage. In this option your risk is low. Maybe you’re a little nervous at the start, but I don’t care how your body looks, I just want to help it feel better. Your reward is high. Your body, and your mind, feel better from the massage, and you can take that out into the world with you.
If you have been avoiding massage because you feel uncomfortable about your body, let’s find an option that works for you. Leave your clothes on if you want, stay sitting up, or face down, or lying on your side, or however you want. It’s up to you. Just please don't stay away – massage feels so good. Together let’s find a way to help you relax, ease your pain, and relieve your stress. I look forward to meeting YOU.
While giving a client a full body massage, I wouldn't dream of leaving off their hands or feet, or neck, or back (unless, of course, the client requested it). So why would I ignore the abdomen? As my esteemed teacher, Nancy Dail, is fond of saying, "The abdomen is the front of the back!"
And she is so right: the muscles that make up our core and support us in standing, walking, running, bending, lifting, and twisting every day are not limited to those in our back. We may not think of them often, but our abdominal muscles are hard at work nearly all the time, and when they are in proper tone, balance the work of our back muscles and help prevent injury. So, do a few crunches each day, or bridge and plank if that's more your style, and consider the benefits of abdominal massage.
According to Debra Curties, RMT, writing for Massage Magazine (2018) abdominal massage:
-makes the massage feels more complete and holistic;
-can aid in intestinal function, promoting peristalsis and helping to ease constipation;
-promotes a sense of well-being via the enteric nervous system, directly connected to the brain by the vagus nerve (no kidding – read Curties' full article linked below for more fascinating information about this division of the autonomic nervous system);
-benefits conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and low back pain.
All that, and it just plain feels wonderful! Ever had a dog or cat roll over and practically beg you to rub its tummy? They get what I'm talking about.
(Of course, there are some contraindications to consider: acute gastrointestinal illness and chronic conditions such as Crohn's disease, celiac, and ulcerative colitis; early or high-risk pregnancy; hypertension; and abdominal aortic aneurysm, to name a few, are reasons to forego abdominal massage, or receive only very light work after consulting with your healthcare provider. Always, always, give your therapist a full and complete health history before receiving massage. Please.)
Another positive outcome of abdominal massage that I have personally experienced is a kind and loving acceptance of a part of my body about which I haven't always felt great. I sometimes joke that I have an awesome "six-pack" that I keep tucked inside a very well insulated cooler – and that's true, especially since having babies. My waist size does not match the rest of my size (according to clothing manufacturers, anyway), so garments are forever either too tight there or too loose somewhere else, and I get bloated and uncomfortable when I eat or drink too much of the wrong thing. Receiving abdominal massage has helped me connect with and appreciate all that is there, and all that goes on there, and feel a little less self-conscious about it. To be sure, it is still a closely guarded bit of my anatomy, but an integral part of the whole and as deserving of tender care and touch as any other.
Next time you are visiting me and my massage table, if you haven't yet treated yourself to abdominal massage, perhaps be open to the suggestion and avail yourself of these potential benefits. If you decide against it, though - no pressure (pun very thoroughly intended).
Curties, Debra. (2018, April 24). "4 reasons you should include abdominal massage in your practice." Massage Magazine. https://www.massagemag.com/abdominal-massage-techniques-88920