In this article, our newest therapist Rachel gives us a few tips on stretching and discusses how you could incorporate some yoga into your massage therapy sessions.
I came to massage through yoga. After training as a yoga instructor, I went on to discover the benefits of a hands-on approach to bodywork and soon found myself immersed in the study of various forms of massage. In doing so, I’ve realised how well the two disciplines work together – two sides of the same coin, if you will. I also know how important it is to stretch with correct form and the right muscles.
Top Tips for Stretching
Most of us are familiar with the many advertised benefits of stretching. Improved flexibility, ease of movement, even apparent improved muscle function. Why, then, do some people’s flexibility seem to decrease the more they stretch? Or what about those that find stretching has limited or no benefit to their exercise program or day to day tensions?
When to Stretch
First of all, it’s important to understand when to stretch. Years ago, every pre-workout warm-up suggested static stretching. More recent research indicates that pre-workout static stretching could actually decrease muscle function during heavy exertion and increase your chances of injury. From working with clients, the most benefit seems to be gained in post-exercise stretching, or at least when you’re moderately warm, to help reduce post-exercise soreness and decrease muscle tension.
How to Stretch
Have you heard of the stretch reflex? It’s the immediate response of the muscles to contract against a stretch, trying to protect the muscle from possible tears – helpful when a joint is suddenly put in an unusual position that may strain the muscle. For gentle stretching to override that reflex, a stretch needs to be held long enough to overcome it and allow the muscles to begin to relax – usually for at least 30 seconds. The deeper a stretch you start with, the longer it takes, so it’s better to start with a gentler stretch and increase as the muscle releases.
It’s also important to protect against locking out joints and be aware of the little ‘cheats’ our body will try to sneak in to make it easier on itself – collapsing the back in a seated forward bend, bending at the hip during a quad stretch. Sometimes adjusting into a correct position makes you realise you aren’t as flexible as you thought you were!
What to Stretch
We also need to keep in mind the importance of maintaining balance in the body. Your neck may feel tight, and need stretching, but may be held in a straining position by tight, rounded shoulders after years of misuse at a computer desk. Tight hamstrings could also be in a lengthened position from tight hip flexors. It’s important to check opposing muscles, or get someone to have a look at your posture to get an idea of where you might have imbalances.
Sport & Remedial Massage Therapy and Yoga
In my sport & remedial massage therapy training, we learned how to assess posture for imbalances and use different techniques to help correct those imbalances. As a yoga instructor, I’m familiar with stretches and strengthening postures that you can take home with you to support your progress outside of sessions.
If you’re interested in coming away from your massage with more structured homework, we can include time in a session to develop a mini-routine for you to take home with you, to practice a few times a week. Establishing this routine together, we can review each stretch to check that you are performing it correctly, that it’s appropriate for your body, and that you’re holding it for a suitable length of time. We can ensure you’re not stretching already-lengthened tissue and adjust for any issues you may have with hypermobility. Yoga isn’t just for stretching, either, we can include strengthening postures to help address weaknesses we may find in your session.
If you’d like to have a mini-routine made for you as part of your massage session, you can book with me at the low cost clinic Tuesdays and Thursdays 8:30-14:30 and the one low cost Sunday a month in October and November. From December I’ll be in the full price clinic Tuesday and Friday evenings at Leyton. If you’d like any more information on any of the above, please feel free to get in touch!