By L. CROW
You've read that massage is good for you. It improves circulation, relieves stress, relaxes muscles and promotes an all-around feeling of well-being.
So you decide to make an appointment with a massage therapist.
That's when things get a little more complicated. One does Swedish massage, shiatsu, neuromuscular massage. Another is an expert in CranioSacral, lypossage, Thai yoga. ... What's a body to do?
First, keep it simple.
Massage can be categorized two ways: either by technique or by specific needs, such as pregnancy or sports massage, manual lymph drainage for lymphedema sufferers, or lypossage if you want to drop a dress size or two.
Myofascial technique, for instance, could be used as sports massage if the client has an injury.
Swedish massage is the basic technique that practitioners learn in massage therapy training. Most people find it relaxing, comforting and enjoyable. "It doesn't change stress, but how you react to it," said Jill Lewis of Jill's Touch in Austintown.
"People should know that massage is about treating dysfunction and how it is treated is subjective. You can choose to treat the symptoms or choose to find the source. If you just treat the symptoms, they will probably recur."
One way to take a deeper look at the source of the problem is through CranioSacral Therapy. Lewis said she uses it to assess the body's needs and to blend energetically with the body's "inner physician" to find where it needs realigning and balancing.
Physically, CranioSacral works with the head, spine and spinal fluid and is used in cases of whiplash, teeth clenching and temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). But it also works at a metaphysical level, helping to release resistance. For emotional trauma, Lewis would use SomatoEmotional Release.
If a client is having an alignment problem, Lewis would incorporate a gentle technique called Orthobionomy. "I would first observe their gait [the way they walk]," she said. Orthobionomy works with nerve signals and goes in the direction the body is already in. "If there is too much tightness, in the shoulder, for instance, I would gently compress, or tighten, even more. The body reacts by sending a signal that it is over tightened and will react by relaxing. The [never signals] constantly assess the body."
Lewis often uses essential oils along with massage, called aromatherapy, which works with the part of the brain dealing with emotional and motivation functions.
"This is where we store memories, part of our everyday life," Lewis said. "Physical numbness can be stimulated, and the oils can also be used on bruises. They can also initiate an emotional response."
Lewis cautioned that oils are not to be taken lightly, and one must be well educated about them before using. "I have to know about my client ahead of time before using oils," she said. "Some people have allergies to them. Often people who are epileptic cannot tolerate oils. Some oils are light sensitive, so if someone if going to be outside, I have to be careful what I use."
How they are used is also a concern. Lavender can be relaxing, but too much will stimulate.
If a client comes in with an injury, for instance from sports, myofascial or neuromuscular techniques could be used. Myofascial works with connective tissue. There are two styles: one gentle, the other aggressive.
Lewis is sensitive to the client's preference and also to what the client's body communicates. In the deeper myofascial, Lewis presses deeply and rubs along the ligament in a process called stripping.
Laurie Thomas of Boardman incorporates hot stone therapy into her massage practice.
"The stones are a volcanic rock called basalt," said Thomas. "They contain metal so they cannot be put into a microwave. They must be heated in a crock pot to 77-113 degrees. The stones promote greater circulation and push out whatever is stuck in the muscles. ... The stones allow more blood flow to an area and trigger pain receptors to stimulate nerve endings."
She said that's why she would not use it with a client suffering from cardiovascular or lung disease or extremely high blood pressure.
"Hot stones are an ancient form of therapy," she said. "They bring relaxation to a completely different level and promote fundamental activity of blood vessels, muscles, nerves and cells." She often lines them up along the spine to allow the client to lie on them, then uses these smooth stones to massage the body. The stones can also be frozen and alternated with hot stones where there is injury or inflammation, much like alternating freeze packs and hot water bottles.
Some massage therapists have learned very specialized techniques. Debbie Cogan of Youngstown practices Thai yoga massage. This technique came from India to Thailand through the spread of Buddhism and is still practiced in Buddhist temples, which are also health centers.
Thai yoga works with compression, either by palming, pressing with the palm of the hand, or thumbing, always along the energy lines recognized in Ayurvedic practice, traditional in India. There is also a gentle stretching and opening, as the client is put into different yoga positions. In addition to compression, the practitioner will gently roll, for instance along the shoulders, in a rhythmic motion. This massage is good for arthritis, headaches, tendonitis and carpal tunnel, and for balance and calmness.
"There are many different types of Thai massage," said Cogan. "Some of them can hurt. The method I use is very slow and gentle. I work with a client and their limitations. I use tai chi postures and must be balanced along with the client. To be good at this is to flow seamlessly from one posture to another, like a dance."
Breaking it down
Julie Beaumier of Boardman works with clients with fibromyalgia, sports injuries, or athletes preparing for triathlons, and workers' compensation clients. But she also specializes in cosmetic massage techniques. Lypossage is a means to contour the body and lose a dress size or two without losing pounds. By working to release stagnant lymphatic fluids, it breaks up adhesions that create lumps, bulges and the dimpled appearance of cellulite.
"There are three areas that I work on," Beaumier said. "For the thighs and buttocks, I would pound and wring vigorously. In the face area, I do deep massage and gentle pulling, like a natural face-lift, very relaxing. The other area is the arms and above the stomach." This procedure is done in 18 sessions.
Beaumier also does LightWave therapy, in which a small appliance that emits pulsed red and infrared light waves is used to massage the face. This procedure increases circulation, to releases toxins in the skin, helps reduce wrinkles, reduces age and sun spots and blemishes.
Light therapy dates to ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese cultures and is safe for healing and anti-aging purposes.
XLaughing Crow is a practitioner of holistic healing. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.