Acupressure is an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. When these points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body’s life force (sometimes known as qi or chi) to aid healing. Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points, but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses the gentle, but firm pressure of hands and feet. Acupressure continues to be the most effective method for self-treatment of tension-related ailments by using the power and sensitivity of the human hand. Acupressure can be effective in helping relieve headaches, eye strain, sinus problems, neck pain, backaches, arthritis, muscle aches, tension due to stress, ulcer pain, menstrual cramps, lower backaches, constipation, and indigestion. Self-acupressure can also be used to relieve anxiety and improve sleep. There are also great advantages to using acupressure as a way to balance the body and maintain good health. The healing touch of acupressure reduces tension, increases circulation, and enables the body to relax deeply. By relieving stress, acupressure strengthens resistance to disease and promotes wellness. In acupressure, local symptoms are considered an expression of the condition of the body as a whole. A tension headache, for instance, may be rooted in the shoulder and neck area. Thus, acupressure focuses on relieving pain and discomfort, as well as responding to tension, before it develops into a disease—before the constrictions and imbalances can do further damage. The origins of acupressure are as ancient as the instinctive impulse to hold your forehead or temples when you have a headache. Everyone at one time or another has used their hands spontaneously to hold tense or painful places on the body. More than five thousand years ago, the Chinese discovered that pressing certain points on the body relieved pain where it occurred and also benefited other parts of the body more remote from the pain and the pressure point. Gradually, they found other locations that not only alleviated pain, but also influenced the functioning of certain internal organs. (Definition, in part, from the book Acupressure’s Potent Points, by Michael Reed Gach, director of the Acupressure Institute, Bantam, 1990.)
The use of essential oils (extracted from herbs, flowers, resin, woods, and roots) in body and skincare treatments is known as aromatherapy. Used as a healing technique for thousands of years by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, essential oils aid in relaxation, improve circulation, and help the healing of wounds. Aromatherapy diffusers are utilized to fill the massage room with the scent of the oils. Specific essential oils are blended by the aromatherapist and added to carrier oil, such as almond oil, to be used during the massage. Each oil has its own unique characteristics and benefits.
Craniofacial therapy is a gentle, noninvasive method of evaluating and enhancing the function of a physiological body arrangement called the craniofacial system. Developed by John E. Upledger, DO, OMM, this manual therapy enhances the body’s natural healing processes and has proven effective in treating a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction. The roots of this therapy are in cranial osteopathy, developed by Dr. William G. Sutherland. The craniofacial system consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It extends from the bones of the skull, face, and mouth–which make up the cranium–down to the sacrum or tailbone. Since this system influences the development and function of the brain and spinal cord, any imbalance or dysfunction in the craniofacial system could cause sensory, motor, or neurological disabilities. These problems may include chronic pain, eye difficulties, scoliosis, motor-coordination impairments, learning disabilities, and other dysfunctions of the central nervous system. Craniofacial therapy encourages the body’s natural healing mechanisms to improve the functioning of the central nervous system, dissipate the negative effects of stress, and enhance health and resistance to disease. The craniofacial therapy practitioner uses a light touch to assist the natural movement of fluid within the craniofacial system. Therapists generally use only five grams of pressure, roughly the weight of a nickel, to test for restrictions in various parts of the craniofacial system. It’s often possible for the evaluation alone to remove the restriction and allow the system to correct itself.
DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE
Techniques that utilize deep-tissue/deep-muscle massage are administered to affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia. These techniques require advanced training and a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology. The muscles must be relaxed in order to effectively perform deep-tissue massage, otherwise tight surface muscles prevent the practitioner from reaching deeper musculature. It helps with chronic muscular pain and injury rehabilitation and reduces inflammation-related pain caused by arthritis and tendinitis. It is generally integrated with other massage techniques.
INFANT MASSAGE INSTRUCTION
Qualified instructors teach parents how to properly massage their infants. Infant massage is also utilized in hospital neonatal care units. This specialized form of touch is successful, not only in the critical weight gain of premature infants, but also in creating a strong bond between parent and infant and exposing a young child to the benefits and pleasures of touch.
JIN SHIN DO
Developed by psychotherapist Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, Jin Shin Do combines gentle, yet deep, finger pressure on acu-points with simple body focusing techniques to release physical and emotional tension. The client determines the depth of the pressure. Jin Shin Do promotes a pleasurable, trancelike state during which the recipient can get in touch with the body and access feelings or emotions related to the physical condition. This body/mind approach, performed on the fully-clothed client, is a synthesis of a traditional Japanese acupressure technique, classic Chinese acupuncture theory, Taoist yogic philosophy and breathing methods, and Reichian segmental theory. The client lies on her back on a massage table while the practitioner holds “local points” in tension areas together with related “distal points,” which help the armored places to release more easily and deeply. A typical session is about ninety minutes. Jin Shin Do acupressure is effective in helping relieve tension and fatigue, stress-related headaches and gastro-intestinal problems, back and shoulder pain, eye strain, menstrual and menopausal imbalances, sinus pain, and allergies. (With medical problems, the client is asked to consult a doctor.) Over a period of ten or more sessions, armoring is progressively released in the head, neck, shoulders, chest, diaphragm, abdomen, pelvis, and legs. After sessions, clients typically feel deeply relaxed and may even feel euphoric. If the client is responsive, there will be significantly less tension and pain together with an increased sense of well-being for hours or days. This response will tend to extend after further sessions. In the case of chronic fatigue, initially, the client may feel more tired after a session because the body is demanding rest. It is advisable to schedule sessions with time to rest and relax afterward. On the other hand, Jin Shin Do can be used before athletic events to improve performance, for horses as well as for people.
YMPH DRAINAGE THERAPY
Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) is unique in that healthcare professionals learn how to palpate the lymphatic flow. As they develop their skills, they can then identify the rhythm, direction, and quality of the lymphatic flow. Advanced practitioners will be able to precisely map the lymphatic flow to find alternate pathways for drainage. Developed by Bruno Chikly, MD, Lymph Drainage Therapy evolved from years of training in traditional medicine, Asian medical practices, and manual therapies.
Myofascial release is the three-dimensional application of sustained pressure and movement into the fascial system in order to eliminate fascial restrictions and facilitate the emergence of emotional patterns and belief systems that are no longer relevant or are impeding progress. First, an assessment is made by visually analyzing the human frame, followed by the palpation of the tissue texture of various fascial layers. Upon locating an area of fascial tension, gentle pressure is applied in the direction of the restriction. Myofascial release is an effective therapeutic approach in the relief of cervical pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, neurological dysfunction, restriction of motion, chronic pain, and headaches.
Many methods of massage and somatic therapies are both effective and safe prenatally and during labor and postpartum periods of women’s pregnancies. Prenatally, specific techniques can reduce pregnancy discomforts and concerns and enhance the physiological and emotional well-being of both mother and fetus. Skilled, appropriate touch facilitates labor, shortening labor times and easing pain and anxiety. In the postpartum period, specialized techniques rebalance the structure, physiology, and emotions of the new mother and may help her to bond with and care for her infant. Pregnancy massage is performed on a specially made table that has a recess and sling that supports the belly while allowing the patient to lie comfortably face down. This alone provides relief of pressure on internal organs, blood vessels, and joints; and puts the patient in a neutral position to provide complete relaxation of the muscles.
Based on an ancient Chinese therapy, reflexology involves the manipulation of specific reflex areas in the foot, hands, and ears that correspond to other parts of the body. Sometimes referred to as zone therapy, this bodywork involves the application of pressure to these reflex zones to stimulate body organs and relieve areas of congestion. Similar to acupressure principles, reflexology works with the body’s energy flow to stimulate self-healing and maintain balance in physical function. This technique is used to reduce pain, increase relaxation, and stimulate the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids. Reflexology is also convenient in cases where an area of the body is traumatized or diseased to the extent that direct manipulation is not appropriate.
Sports massage is designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery. There are three contexts in which sports massage can be useful to an athlete: pre-event, post-event, and injury treatment. Pre-event massage is delivered at the performance site, usually with the athlete fully clothed. Fast-paced and stimulating, it helps to establish blood flow and to warm up muscles. During the massage, the athlete generally focuses on visualizing the upcoming event. Post-event massage is also delivered on-site, through the clothes. The intent here is to calm the nervous system and begin the process of flushing toxins and waste products out of the body. Post-event massage can reduce recovery time, enabling an athlete to resume training much sooner than rest alone would allow. When an athlete sustains an injury, skillful massage therapy can often speed and improve the quality of healing and is especially useful in stress-related illness and emotional disorders.
One of the most commonly taught and well-known massage techniques, Swedish massage is a vigorous system of treatment designed to energize the body by stimulating circulation. Five basic strokes, all flowing toward the heart, are used to manipulate the soft tissues of the body. The disrobed client is covered by a sheet, with only the area being worked on exposed. Therapists use a combination of kneading, rolling, vibration, percussive, and tapping movements, with the application of oil, to reduce friction on the skin. The many benefits of Swedish massage may include generalized relaxation, dissolution of scar tissue adhesions, and improved circulation, which may speed healing and reduce swelling from injury.
What to Expect During your Therapeutic Massage
Massage is usually performed on a massage table, however, if you have special circumstances that inhibit you from lying down, a specially designed massage chair can be used. Typically, if the massage chair is utilized, massage is performed through the clothing. Generally, on the massage table, you will remove your clothing to the level that you feel comfortable. Usually, all clothing is removed and sheets are used to drape the body. Your therapist is trained in proper draping techniques and you should never feel exposed. The entire body is covered by the sheet and one body part is undraped at a time only while it is being worked on. You should tell your therapist ahead of time if there are any parts of your body that you are uncomfortable having massaged. A full body massage typically includes back, shoulders, neck, head, arms, legs, glutes, hands, feet, and sometimes abdomen and face. The massage will begin with you lying face up or down for the first part of the session, then you roll over (draped by the sheet) for the second half of the session. Oil is typically used to decrease friction and eliminate the pulling of body hair. At TAO, cold-pressed Golden Jojoba oil is used. Remember, your massage is your time and it should be spent in a way most beneficial to you to promote physical and mental relaxation. If you prefer to have complete silence during your massage, do not hesitate to let your therapist know.
Tips to Enhance your Massage Experience
Communication with your therapist: Good communication is essential to an effective massage. As a client, it is good to communicate what you hope to get out of the session, for example, relaxation or pain relief, full-body massage or focus on a specific area, the amount of pressure that is comfortable for you, preferred techniques, and past medical history and current physical condition. Most types of massage can be performed with pressure from superficial to deep. The ideal amount of pressure for therapeutic massage is when the receiver experiences some discomfort (“good hurt”). This activates the body’s natural healing response. If it is too deep, the result may be another trauma to the body. Some soreness after the massage is OK if it lasts less than 1-2 days. If the soreness lasts longer, it usually means the massage was too deep. Be sure to give your therapist feedback on the level of pressure used if you are feeling that it is too much or not enough. Hydration: As your muscles relax, the circulation of blood into your cells increases, and toxins that were once trapped in your cells are released into your bloodstream. It is important to drink plenty of water before and after your massage to ensure that these toxins are removed from your bloodstream and eliminated from the body. Failure to do so can cause the toxins to redeposit in your cells and may result in fatigue, headaches, and body aches.