When we feel stress or pain in our body, we instinctively bring our hands to that area. Contact is reassuring; the heat of our hands feels helpful. Touch has proved to be essential to our survival, our growth, our development, and our sense of well-being. While self-massage is second best to getting a massage from a well-trained therapist, knowing how to address our needs in the moment can go a long way toward increasing comfort in our entire being. Since our body is an interconnected weaving of physical, mental, emotional, and pranic elements, working with any of these elements will affect the others. Self-massage is a simple way to work directly with our physical aspect, which helps us greatly with everything else.
How Self-Massage Helps
Let’s look at how self-massage helps on the physical level. When we injure a part of our body, a complex process of inflammation begins which, if not addressed, can cause congestion in the tissues. Congestion blocks circulation, and the lack of circulation allows the congested area to stay and grow larger.
This area then becomes like an island in the circulating flow of blood and prana, and the muscle tissue and fascia become dried out. The congested area can remain painful for years, causing us to avoid moving it and, in some cases, to lose function there. Even a little loss of function in one area will cause stress in other areas: for example, a tight hamstring can cause a hip imbalance, which in turn can lead to neck and jaw pain.
While you wouldn’t massage an area when it’s acutely inflamed, self-massage after the swelling goes down can create space in an injured, congested area so that blood and lymph can flow. The circulation of blood and nutrients heals and hydrates the area and brings oxygen to the tissues.
Another cause of blockage in the tissues is mental or emotional stress, trauma, or negative thought processes. In a moment of stress, muscle tissues tighten in defense. They also have the capacity to store the emotional content of that moment, a protective process which allows us to get through the immediate stress. But if this kind of injury is not addressed, the blockage and tightness it creates can cause the same kind of decrease in function and awareness as a physical injury. Just as with a physical injury, self-massage is helpful here in increasing circulation and in hydrating the tissues. Massage can also bring to our awareness the trauma, stress, and emotions that were suppressed. Because time has passed and we have more perspective on the stressful or traumatic experience, we are able to process and better integrate its emotional content. Clearing our tissues helps clear our mind.
More Benefits of Self-Massage
Self-massage has other benefits as well. Besides re-establishing circulation, it improves the muscles’ ability to stretch, making asana more comfortable. It also balances our structure, bringing ease to sitting, standing, and walking. And massage to the long bones of our legs and arms nourishes bone marrow and helps promote immunity. On the mental level, self-massage is empowering: it helps us feel in control of our healing process. When we are in less pain, we can engage in walking or other exercise, which elevates our mood. Having a positive outlook in turn increases our ability to heal. Finally, self-massage helps on the pranic level, for pain is actually blocked prana. As we break up areas of blockage and restore circulation, pranic flow is re-established, and we automatically breathe more deeply.
Remember to Hydrate
Researchers in biology are now seeing the role that water molecules play, both in the creation of stability in the body and in an intricate communication system that operates within fascia. When fascia is well hydrated, communication is enhanced, which allows greater coordination of all the functions of the body. Self-massage, coupled with drinking lots of water, aids in the hydration of fascia.
As you can see, self-massage not only helps us heal injuries, it also brings greater stability and ease—the goal of asana—and it stimulates the flow of prana, allowing us to breathe more deeply. Just as important, it helps clear the mental clutter stored in our tissues, promoting a tranquil mind. In short, self-massage is an excellent tool for any practitioner of yoga and meditation. If you would like to learn how to give yourself a full-body massage, stay tuned for my video workshop: DIY Massage. There you will directly experience the benefits of self-massage. Once you become aware of the areas of greatest pain or stress, you can target your self-massage efforts to those areas.