Every breath is an opportunity to release
Amazing how obviously simple truths from just the right angle at just the right time can be such profound experiences in our lives, isn't it? Sorta like getting hit in the face with a brick you've known since kindergarten. In fact, when I think about it, a lot of my practice is based on cultivating awareness of this phenomenon.
Somewhere along the line, (maybe even while procrastinating on facebook), I ran across the phrase above and was taken aback. I tried the idea I'd had a zillion times out in that moment and immediately felt different; my shoulders dropped what felt like 3 inches lower than they had been. Not only was that breath more relieving than most in recent memory, the simple act of becoming aware of the opportunity and then taking action to better my experience of life gave me a self care high that lasted long after I had returned to automatic breathing while doing other stuff.
Since then, the mantra "Every breath is an opportunity to release" really stuck with me, and has become one of my favorite things to remind myself, and my clients during our sessions. Here's a quick example of a few ways this idea could work for you right now:
Disclaimer yadda yadda: The following is offered freely as felt-sense education. It is not therapy and does not replace medical diagnosis or treatment. Please use your discretion in participating in this exploration as you do so at your own risk. If it hurts, stop. If you are currently suffering from chronic pain or acute injury, attempt these instructions only under direct medical supervision.
Take three long breaths to surrender into your posture with intention. For each of these three breaths, your job is to use your awareness and favorite visualization techniques to let something go, no matter how small or trivial.
Each exhale is a new opportunity to release - an emotion, a thought, a fear, an expectation, a physical holding, or sometimes, even just a breath. Here are some suggestions:
Breath awareness example:: Focus on the sensation your long exhale causes as the breath passes under your nose and back out into the world.
Tension awareness example: Notice your hand closed in an unconscious fist? Focus your awareness and imagine your fingers uncurling as you exhale (or watch!).
Visualization Example:: Imagine your shoulders are made of a dense net of millions of particles (hint: they are!), and your breath is filtering between them, loosening the sticky trapped debris as you exhale.
Fantasy Example: Mind racing about that wad who cut you off on the freeway? Imagine their car is the size of a hotwheel, and your breath is a big gust of wind that carries them out of your consciousness as you exhale. Smile as they tumble away like a dry leaf getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller (BUHBYE.). This works with more hefty subject matter, too, though differently. I discovered it during a particularly heinous breakup and used it constantly to stay afloat during the worst of that shitstorm. I like how versatile this one is.
Congratulations, you've taken a moment for yourself, which oftentimes feels like an insurmountable feat, and have some examples to help you personalize your releases through breath.
No pain, no gain, right? Wrong.
In my work, I am consistently disheartened by the misconception that only massage that excessively hurts, works. Similarly, I notice a consistent misconception that deep tissue means only one thing: having someone steamroll painfully over spastic musculature to get to deeper spastic musculature.
Those muscles are in spasm because the brain is telling them to be. They often stay locked in place due to physical constrictions derived from your fascia conforming to things like habitual postures and injury compensation patterns, and yes, clearing that manually hurts, and often, addressing trigger points and adhesions hurts. Though I prefer to work around it, in my professional opinion, this particular pain process is part of a bigger one, of working to retrain your brain, subconscious nervous holding patterns, habitual postural stressors, and body mechanics, to address the underlying causes of these things.
When people claim that only massages that leave them horse from screaming for the majority of their sessions work for them, or that they don't like deep tissue because it always hurts so much, I feel an intense protective alarm go off. Unless what you're actually looking for is the pain itself, or the rushing sensation of activity and relief when the pain has stopped (which is perfectly fine, but isn't the business I am in), I firmly believe there are more effective ways to get results than to fight your body and keep you in a stressed and guarded state for the entirely of my session with you.
Even if your bodywork sessions are consistently and constantly cry-out painful and rough, you will more than likely feel sensation and the release of your meat once you're done. This is to be expected, just as it is to be expected that if you place weight on a raw steak the fluids will leak out, or by pounding at it with a wooden utensil the fibers will be tenderized.
For people who have only felt this, or a superficial disconnected massage with no heft behind it, it's clear why many people would go for the one that at least feels like it's doing something. However, the cause of the patterns you are attempting to address as a live human is the nervous system, which under duress and constant pain will more likely respond by locking down further to protect you from attack than by letting go.
It is no accident that the people who came to me asking to get steamrolled early in my practice, whom I gave what they asked for, returned to me time and time again just as tight and uncomfortable as they did the session before, and the session before that, and the ten sessions before that. It is also no accident that one of the most profound of deep tissue modalities, carniosacral, which addresses the cranial plates in the head and is informed by sending the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, is also one of the most slow and subtle.
I propose that an accord needs to be respectfully reached to achieve stable, long lasting results: not sledgehammered. And in case there is doubt, feedback from my clients describes my work as anything but superficial or fluffy.
Are you currently a 'grit your teeth and bare it' bodywork receiver who is frustrated with their lack of long term progress? I suggest that not all massage that respects your senses is wimpy or useless or ineffective, and not all massage that causes discomfort is bad.
Deep Tissue: It probably doesn't mean what you think.
In the last 6 years of my bodywork practice, in my intake process, I've asked all my new clients what sorts of bodywork experience they have had, including types of massages they've received and liked, the one's they've disliked, how often they tend to get bodywork, and for what purposes (wellness, pampering, injuries, etc). One of the answers that comes up extremely frequently is "Deep Tissue", to which I ask, what type? Most people are confused by this question.
Over time I've been in this vocation, I've figured out a pretty succinct way of explaining from my perspective as a bodywork practitioner what Deep Tissue actually means: Deep Tissue is an intention, not a bodywork modality in and of itself.
Here are just a few Deep Tissue modalities that I utilize daily in my practice:
Deep Tissue Swedish. This is generally the kind of bodywork people think about when they think deep tissue; The one where the therapist generally uses their elbows and forearms to manually effect the layers of muscle underneath the big prime movers (like the trapezius and lats) that most people are familiar with.
Range of Motion. This is a deep tissue modality when the intent is focused on increasing smoothness in the joins by encouraging synovial fluid flow, just to name one instance.
Trager. A modality characterized by a physical rocking movement which engages proprioception, using your nervous system to communicate with your deeper structures. And one that I myself don't use personally, but is the example I most often pose to explain the concept:
Craniosacral. This is an incredibly subtle, trance inducing modality in which the therapists movements are nearly imperceptible to the client, however, the intention is focused upon some of the deepest tissue structures in the human body - the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. This concept is one of my favorite things to teach my clients.
When I come across people who have a strong negative opinion of deep tissue work, most often I have found that explaining this distinction helps them recognize that there is possibility in addressing their deeper structures, even though the deep tissue method (and potentially the administration of said method) they're accustomed to wasn't suitable for them.
Are you currently a hater of deep tissue massage because it's too painful? Perhaps you just haven't found the right avenue to speak with your deeper structures yet.