Sharon L. Bryant owns and operates Harvest Moon Massage Therapy & Reflexology in Decatur, Alabama. She specializes in the barefoot modalities Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy and Ashi-Thai as well as Bamboo-Fusion massage. She blogs at HarvestMoonMassage.com and haunts Facebook as well as Twitter (@SharonB013 #HarvestMoonMassage).
Hi Y’all! My name is Sharon and I’ve been asked by Lauren to write a special guest post for Lauren’s Fitness Blog. I’m from the southeastern United States where I work part-time as a massage therapist.
Today I want to talk a little bit about body awareness. I have been a follower here on Lauren’s blog for quite a while. I like that she advocates self-care for the athlete in us all. As a massage therapist, I really like that she promotes self-massage. I know that might seem a little counterintuitive considering that I make part of my living doing massage, but it’s not.
People who have a level of awareness about their bodies and what’s going on with it are easier to work with. Now you may be thinking, how could someone not have an awareness about their bodies, but it’s more common than you may realize. We all disconnect our brain from our body and we all do it to some extent every day.
Here’s an example. Have you ever bumped into something and thought, “Ouch!” and then kept on walking? And then the next morning you get out of the shower with a bruise the size of a grapefruit on your hip and your partner says, “What happened to you?” Then you have a vague recollection of bumping into something sometime over the last couple of days, but just can’t remember the circumstances? This is a perfect example of the brain/body disconnect that we all engage in. It’s a critical skill for survival else we would all be rolled into blubbering balls of discontent over having to wear shoes every day.
The brain/body disconnect can become an overachiever though and become dangerous. People who suffer from chronic conditions or repetitive injuries can learn to turn off the awareness that the body is feeling pain until the pain is so severe that surgical intervention (that may or may not work) is necessary. Victims of brutal physical and/or sexual crimes are often devastated by brain/body disconnects that require professional mental intervention long after their body has healed. More common, but no less dangerous are the driven business executives who go, go, go until they land themselves a heart attack in the board room. These are extreme examples of the brain/body disconnect, but I think they illustrate my point.
So how does brain/body disconnect make a massage therapist’s job harder?
I have a client I see sporadically. He is a retired semi-professional baseball player who spends his free time tossing balls to his kids in the backyard. In his mind he is nineteen and invincible. His body is thirty-eight years old. A few months ago he called me with agonizing low back pain. When I got him on the table and started asking what had happened that got his back cranked up, he couldn’t tell me. As I worked with him we chatted and I learned that he had recently started a new workout regimen that involved very heavy kettle bells. Thinking this might be part of the problem I began focusing in areas that would be affected by the types of movements he was describing to me that he performed with the kettle bells. I was puzzled when we weren’t getting the results he needed. As we continued to chat, he casually mentioned that the company he works for had recently hosted an outdoor fair where he spent some of the day moving tables. When I questioned him about what types of tables and how he was carrying them the cause of his current back pain became apparent. He had spent a significant portion of his day jerking up large round tables and then carrying them over his head. The thought makes me cringe even now. It took a couple of sessions, but the last time I saw him his back pain had resolved and he’s no longer carrying heavy objects overhead.
As you can see, a little more body awareness might have prevented his injury to begin with if he had listened to his body and stopped the activity when his back first started talking to him. At the very least it could have helped us be a bit more direct in his treatment and provided quicker relief.
I would love for my clients to call and say that it was all fun and games while they squeezed five people onto that carnival ride and now all that sitting crooked while being mashed and tossed for seven minutes has resulted in a migraine for three days running. Well, I wouldn’t love that anyone was hurting, but you know what I mean.
Not everyone has the resources (emotionally or physically) to improve their brain/body connection. So when I have a somewhat clueless client show up on the table I make it my mission to help them wade through the problem to find clues as to what happened to their body, how to prevent this injury or pain again in the future (if possible), and how to start working towards being more body aware.
Suggestions for Improving Body Awareness
Go for a walk and think about how your feet are feeling as they strike the ground. How are your knees? Are your shoulders tight? Do an inventory and see what’s up in different parts of your body while you move. You can do this kind of inventory with any kind of movement you choose.
I love yoga for stretching, but anything will do, just be mindful of what you’re feeling while you’re stretching. Oh, and no bouncing or forcing during the stretch, please.
Sometimes all it takes is slowing the mind down from all the stress and internal noise for your body to start talking to you.
Give yourself a mini-massage. Go grab your favorite bottle of lotion, take off your shoes and rub some lotion on your feet. Think about how your feet are feeling as you rub them. Is the lotion cool or warm? Is it super slick or a little tacky? Does it feel better to rub the bottom of your foot or in between your toes? You can do this for any part of your body and we do it naturally when there is pain or an injury somewhere (so next time you catch yourself rubbing your neck, observe and analyze, then change something). Or take it up a notch and do some rolling on a ball or foam roller. Lauren has lots of good stuff here with foam rollers.
Of course, never hesitate to see a professional if you’re in pain. Body awareness isn’t going to help you fix an injury. It may help you determine whether you need a medical professional, a good massage therapist or both.
I hope these tips help you become just a little more body aware. It’s a comforting thing to live inside a body you know and communicate with well.