Author: Amanda Barp

Massage for Stress Relief – It’s a Real Thing

Earlier this year, I realized that I needed a change in my life.

Portland, Oregon Waterfront

Portland has been getting busier and busier, and I was starting to realize that this busy-ness, the daily stress, was starting to have a cumulative effect on my body. In essence, I was shorting out. My nervous system couldn’t calm down and I’d developed an eye twitch. In my daily practices of yoga and meditation, I couldn’t let go all of the way. I knew that something had to change.

You may think that the life of a massage therapist has to be stress free, right? We spend long hours in dark rooms with relaxing music facilitating an environment that promotes stress relief, pain reduction and a possibility of letting go. But my life, like any Portlander’s life, is filled with complications, challenges, stress and the realities of living in a burgeoning city. I realized that I needed a change in my life. I realized that stress was starting to creep into my life, and into my body, in a way that was unexpected and that felt potentially harmful in the long term. What I needed was some serious stress management.

The more I learn about the negative effects of stress on the body, the more solid I get in why I chose massage therapy as a profession.

I talk to my clients all of the time about the effects of stress on their bodies, and I was starting to feel those effects in my own body in a real, and serious way. Heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gut problems – stress is a major contributor to all of these common health problems. Common health problems that we can, hopefully, prevent by managing our stress!

Massage for relaxation and stress reduction is often less valued than deep tissue or therapeutic massage. I often have clients who tell me that they don’t feel like they’ve had a massage if they don’t feel like you’ve “worked it out”. Sure, I’m all for getting into those points of pain and tension that we all feel, but I’m going to do it in a relaxing context. I’m going to facilitate and promote a sense of letting the body sink in and let go.

How does massage relieve stress?

Massage induces a relaxation state that slows your heart rate and breathing rate, your blood pressure goes down and your muscles relax. Massage also releases oxytocin into the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is, interestingly, a stress hormone that is pumped into your body as part of the stress response. It motivates you to seek support in times of stress. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood vessels stay relaxed during stress. It is enhanced by social contact and is known as the “cuddle hormone”. When you choose to connect with others when under stress, you become more resilient to stress. Oxytocin release lowers anxiety, facilitates healing, enhances digestion and increases trust.

Massage is one of the best ways to get oxytocin release into the body.

High Resolution -103Seeking out massage for stress reduction is a safe way to connect with another person. Massage therapy is one of the few ways that we are allowed safe, non-agenda touch from another human. Even light touch has been shown to be helpful in releasing oxytocin.

Massage (even relaxation massage!) is not a luxury but rather a natural and enjoyable way to get some much needed stress relief in this world that seems to be moving very fast.

The massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are committed to providing therapeutic massages in a relaxing context. We love to work out the aches and pains, but we also realize that we provide a much needed reprieve and repair from the stressful things in life. We love what we do, and it comes through in our work. In fact, we get a similar oxytocin release by giving massages!

If you want to know more about how we can help, please reach out to us at and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. If you are ready to schedule, you may do so online here.

P.S. There’s a great TED talk that changes perspective on stress that we found to be helpful for this article.


How to Get a Great Massage

I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends and colleagues about recent massages that they’ve received. Some of the feedback I heard about their massages with other practitioners was problematic, if not a little alarming.

A few things that I consistently hear about massages that weren’t the best include:

  • the massage therapist talked too much
  • pressure was off – either way too much or too little
  • care was not taken to make sure you were comfortable – from the temperature being off, to the therapist leaving the room or not providing any closure to the session, to draping issues (it’s Oregon law to drape appropriately, by the way)
  • being massaged in places/ways that you weren’t comfortable with.

There’s certainly work that goes in to creating a comprehensive massage session. An artful massage will not only include skillful techniques that are effective and relaxing, but will also combine education about what the therapist is seeing in your body, as well as make sure you are comfortable with what’s happening in the room at all times.

Here’s the Watershed Wellness primer on how to get the massage you need:LowResolution-99

First and foremost, make sure that the therapist understands why you are coming in for a massage.

I’m usually overt about this, asking “what were you hoping I could do for you today?” If your therapist doesn’t ask right out, make sure that you let them know. Maybe you’ve been extra stressed and just need some relaxation time. Maybe you’re training for a marathon and need some muscular tension relief in specific areas. Whatever it is for you on that day, make sure that your therapist knows why you are coming in.

Let your massage therapist know what kind of pressure you like.

Again, a good therapist will address this in the intake, but if they don’t ask please let them know. Also, if during the massage the pressure is off either way, be sure to ask for an adjustment. Don’t feel like you have to grin and bear a painful pressure, and conversely don’t feel like you have to withstand the irritation of pressure that is too light and not quite getting to the problem spots.

If you feel uncomfortable at any time, let your massage therapist know.

If the temperature is too hot or too cold, if you hate the music, or if something is distracting you from completely letting go. Your massage therapist won’t be irritated or give you a hard time about this – they’ll just adjust to suit your needs.

Feeling chatty?

The number one complaint I hear from clients is that their massage therapist was too chatty. It’s awkward to tell your massage therapist that you don’t want them to talk so you can relax. An easy way to deal with this is during the intake. Let your massage therapist know that you prefer a quieter massage, as this helps you relax. Remember: your massage session is not your massage therapist’s social time, it’s time for you to unwind and get great bodywork. Setting the framework from the beginning about your expectations are will go a long way – hopefully resulting in getting the quiet time that you are looking forward to.

Draping is not an option. Period.

MassageTxRoomIn Oregon, we’re legally bound to cover our clients in a way that protects their modesty. To put it frankly, if your breasts or butt crack are showing, that is not ok. If you feel uncomfortable with your glutes being massaged, for instance (and there wasn’t a question about what you would prefer not to have massaged on the intake form) tell your massage therapist. There are ways to address areas like the gluteals and the stomach without compromising your own comfort. And always, if these are places that you’d rather not have your massage therapist work on, let them know!

Massage works best if you can to find a massage therapist that can work with you consistently.

Your massage therapist will get to know your body, your tension patterns, your comfort around pressure, music, temperature etc. You’ll have less of the “getting to know you” part of the session each time you come. Your LMT will be able to start to tailor the sessions to your needs with even more detail after a few sessions.

Your massage therapist will want to know if you had any adverse reactions to the massage.

One friend I spoke to had recently had a massage that caused her neck to spasm shortly afterwards. She felt that the massage therapist had not taken enough care when massaging in this area and had gone too deeply. Even though your massage therapist may have touched hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies, they don’t know your body more than you do. If you are feeling any discomfort during or after the massage, we want to know!

P.S. As a side note, we also like to know if things were awesome. If you feel better, that’s great feedback!

Our massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are all very adept at making sure that you have a great experience and leave feeling better in your body. It is our goal to understand what brings you in for massage, and to meet those needs in a way that is thoughtful and comfortable to you. If you are interested in scheduling with one of our excellent massage therapists, you can check out our online schedule. We hope that you’ll have an excellent experience and let others know. If there are ever ways that we can improve, I sincerely hope that you’ll let US know!

Stay balanced in late winter with Self Massage: Abhyanga Step by Step

At a time of year when the weather tends to keep us indoors, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated and lonely.

winterIn the darkness of Winter, many people come in requesting massage just for the sake of being touched. Examining this a little more closely, we know that touch can help to soothe anxieties, relieve stress, and of course, help with pain and tension that the body holds.

Touch is fundamental to being human.

There are a multitude of studies that show that regularly receiving touch decreases violence, increases trust, promotes stronger immunity, and helps with overall wellbeing. How does this work?

High Resolution -98Massage, and touch in general, has been shown to increase production of oxytocin and serotonin, two of four neurotransmitters that are responsible for our happiness. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Oxytocin creates feelings of trust, intimacy and builds healthy relationships and is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions. Oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, can be released with something as simple as a hug.

While it’s not quite the same as receiving touch from another person, some of these same positive benefits can also be experienced through self massage.

Abhyanga (pronounced AhbYAWNga) is a form of self-massage that is derived from Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine. Ayurveda has always included self massage as part of its daily regimen for promoting good health.

Performed daily, it can have the positive benefits of nourishing the entire body, lubricating the joints, increasing circulation and lymph flow, and promoting better sleep. It also gives you a chance to check in with your body and can soften, smooth and brighten your skin.

Traditionally, unrefined sesame oil is used to help warm the body. In the summer, an unrefined coconut oil can be used to help with excess heat in the body as it has a more cooling effect.

Self-Massage: Abhyanga Step by Step

oilinglassWarm approximately 1/4 cup of oil using a glass jar in a vessel of warm water or a mug warmer.

Make sure the room is warm and comfortable.

Starting with your feet, take some time to rub the sesame oil into the soles of your feet.

Work your way up your legs with long strokes toward your heart, taking time around the joints with circular strokes (knees, hips, elbows).

Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise circular strokes.

On the belly, follow the path of the large intestine, moving up the right side of the stomach, across under your ribs, and down the left side in circular motions.

Finish the massage spending time on your face ears and scalp.

Let the oil sit on your skin for 5-15 minutes. This is a great time to throw on some old pajamas and cultivate your meditation practice.

Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Avoid using soap on the skin except for the more strategic areas to allow the oils to continue to nourish your skin. Try to avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing your body.

Towel dry gently, blotting away the moisture instead of rubbing your body dry.

lavenderThe use of essential oils such as lavender or vanilla has been linked with the release of endorphins, which act to alleviate anxiety and depression.

Feel free to put a drop or two into your oil to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of these essential oils during your self-massage. Please take care getting in and out of the shower or bath with oil on your feet. You may want to use a warm washcloth to wipe your feet before bathing.

“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”

Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
(One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda)





10 Years In: What I’ve Learned from Massage

This November celebrates the official 10 year anniversary of my career as a massage therapist. I am so grateful to be able to High Resolution -103sustain this practice that I love in a way that works for me. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about achieving mastery. He posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing something to achieve mastery. I figure that I’ve averaged between 800 and 1000 massage hours per year. While I may be getting close to Mr. Gladwell’s mastery number, I also delight in how much more there is to learn about my clients and how I can help them.

Countless massages and conversations with people have helped me to understand not only how amazing the human body is, but how many commonalities we have with one another. This job is incredibly unique, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support and dedication of my many clients over the years.

 Ten years in, here are a few observations I’ve made:

We’re all worried about getting older.

Maybe it feels too late to get in shape, or you’re starting to have some aches and pain that you used to not notice after normal activites. Bottom line: we’re aging, and we don’t always handle it very gracefully.  We live in a culture that values youth over the wisdom we gain from aging. Getting older isn’t something that most of us look forward to, and yet it’s coming for us all. Having open, honest conversations with ourselves and each other about the changes that are happening to our bodies and the way we are able to relate in the world can be a first step. Recognizing that we’re not always going to look and feel like our 20 year old selves forever is the hardest part. I always ask people when they express concern around aging: what would you go back and tell your younger self if you had the chance? We are the younger version of our older selves RIGHT NOW, so that advice might be still be relevant.

Movement is really important.

Truly. The difference between my older clients who have had active lives and those who have been sedentary is quite stark. They have more mobility, their quality of life is better, in general they are on less medications, and they aren’t having the same issues in their muscles and joints as my clients who don’t move their bodies. It’s never too late to find some sort of movement that inspires you.

We rarely receive positive touch in a way that doesn’t have an agenda.

I have people who come to me who are very overt about their need to just be touched by someone. I can’t really think of another opportunity that we have to have meaningful touch with with another person that isn’t driven by some agenda or desire. Massage is very unique in this way, and it’s a way to connect with another human being who has been trained to provide a safe space and help you feel good in your body.

how-your-smartphone-is-affecting-your-mind-and-body-science-text-neckWe’re moving really fast, almost all of the time.

We’re constantly connected and often multi-tasking. There’s really nothing to do during a massage but settle in and relax. It’s a opportunity to shut off the constant chatter of to-do lists, email checking and constant status updates. We’re over connected, and this can be a nice time to unplug from that for awhile.

We all have stress, and it manifests in our bodies in very similar ways, but also in very unique ways.

Every person I’ve massaged has, at some point, had a request for upper back and shoulder work. It’s just a place where we hold our stress. It’s most likely due to computer usage, driving and doing most of our tasks in front of us. Every time we reach forward, we have the opportunity to roll our shoulders forward. This creates a stress and tension pattern between the shoulder blades and in the neck. Many of us have this stress pattern. But we also manifest stress in unique ways, and that’s one of the fun parts of being a massage therapist: unlocking these patterns that are unique to your body, and yours alone. You earned these patterns by imprinting your life on your body. The way your body presents its stress tells a story of your life and how you’ve adapted to everything that’s thrown at you on a daily basis.

IMG_3477In general, most people don’t know that much about their body.

I’m always surprised when I realize that my clients don’t know much about what’s happening under their skin. They have some thoughts about the general area that might hurt, but don’t know much else. I’m always happy to whip out an anatomy book with anyone who shows even the slightest interest in knowing more. If you’ve always wondered what exactly it is that is hurting you and what you can do, we’re happy to do our best to explain it to you and show you pictures, as well as help you find ways to stretch and be more in tune with that part of your body to help alleviate some of your pain and tension.

We still think that taking care of ourselves is often a luxury that we either don’t deserve or can’t afford.

It takes both time and money to take care of yourself. These are two things that many of us don’t have in abundance. I’ve heard many people talk about massage as a luxury that they get as a treat. I’m not sure when taking good care of ourselves became a luxury, but I somewhat blame it on the spa industry. This industry caters to indulgence and pampering yourself. It’s great that so many people are receiving massages and other treatments in a spa like setting, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that their marketing efforts have done a disservice to the efficacy of regular massage from a health perspective.

As for the affordability of massage and other self care practices – in the long run taking good care of yourself is much more affordable than a potential, and possibly preventable, health problem down the road.

We still think that it has to hurt in order to be doing something.

Push through the pain and we’ll come out on the other side a better person, right? I’ve learned that deep tissue massage is the not the answer to everything. I think that it has it’s place, but there are many instances where I think another approach might be better and more effective. Many of the more subtle bodywork approaches can be just as, if not more, beneficial.

We don’t take enough time to connect with one another, especially in a healthcare context.

This is one of the great things about working with massage therapists, acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors. We all take the time to understand the bigger picture and how we can fit into it. Here at Watershed Wellness, we take the time to sit and understand your concerns, how we can help, and most importantly, how you can help yourself. It’s been a pretty consistent critique of conventional healthcare models that they don’t have the time to follow through about what happens after you get surgery, or what you can do to make your situation more comfortable. Taking into account the larger context of your quality of life is important to us.


LowResolution-99I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to do a job that is so closely aligned with my own values. Working with people in such intimate proximity has given me perspective and empathy that isn’t common in many careers. And of course, many thanks and lots of love to all of my clients, mentors, coworkers, friends and family who have given me advice, encouragement, and feedback over the years.


A new year, a new opportunity to practice kindness to yourself

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.massage therapy amanda portland
Maya Angelou

How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?

We’re three weeks in to the new year, and want to acknowledge how difficult it is to keep that shiny feeling of a new year, and, perhaps, the new you that you’d like to cultivate.

We’ve been hearing from lots of people how difficult 2014 was. We certainly had our share of transitions and challenges here at Watershed Wellness. These challenges have us thinking about how we can make 2015 even better! We’re looking forward to a year of stability and growth; bringing on new people and refining the things we already have in process.

The new year is a time that inspires both reflection on the last year, and looking forward to how we can make this year into something that we’re excited about. Some personal new year’s resolutions that we have here at Watershed Wellness include embracing change, furthering study, staying positively engaged with life, and keeping to our goals.

We’ve been thinking about why it’s so hard to keep those resolutions that we make this time of year.

Here are some of the things we came up with…

1. Old habits die hard.
2. We expect change to happen easily or quickly.
3. We ask too much of ourselves.
4. Why make a resolution anyway? Nobody ever keeps them.
5. We strive for perfection.
6. We just want something done without having to work for it.
7. We forget.
8. We focus on how things are, instead of how we want things to be.
9. Life gets in the way.

Despite our best intentions, life can be difficult, and we have to work against the grain to make positive changes.

It’s easy to be hard on ourselves for not sticking to something, but understand that change takes both time and effort. For example, around winter solstice there’s a feeling of lightness and anticipation as the days get longer. We have a feeling of happiness thinking about more light in our days. The light doesn’t come back all at once, but rather slowly as we move toward spring. Often the changes we’d like to make come much more slowly than we’d like them to.

Above all, be kind to yourself and know that usually we get another chance to get it right.

We wish you all the best in this new year, and hope that if one of your resolutions is to take better care of your self this year, you’ll consider Watershed Wellness as your go-to for great healthcare options.

Here’s to a great 2015!

Massage : luxurious – but much more than a luxury

High Resolution -97Most people can count on one hand how many times they have received a professional massage

People look toward massage only in the case of serious trauma (as in a car accident) or when “everyday” aches and pains become so severe that daily functioning is no longer possible. The only other common use of massage is on vacation or on a special occasion. While these are all valid reasons to get a massage, of course, it doesn’t unlock the true power of this critical form of healthcare.

Massage is truly remarkable

While creating a relaxing experience and therapeutic space, being massaged immediately takes one into a state of healing. Massages, while making someone feel good simultaneously remove the build up and debris of living life from your tissues! Massage works in the body to suppress inflammation and engender mitochondria. Mitochondria increase cell function and cell repair. This means simply that massage makes your body heal and recover faster. It increases your body’s resiliency and ability to respond to the stimuli that are meeting you in your daily life.

Let’s contrast this with the common Ibuprofen popping phenomenon we so often see around us

Ibuprofen also suppresses inflammation – which reduces pain. Ibuprofen does not, however, increase mitochondrial function. Suppression of inflammation without the additional increase in mitochondrial function will only increase the time it takes for the tissues to heal. By contrast, with massage we do not have to compromise healing in order to have relief from pain.

Have you ever had a professional massage?

Are you one of those people that can count how many massages you have had on one hand? You’re not alone. In fact, our entire culture tells us that we should work harder and longer, taking as little time off as possible. If you take that time off – it is seen as a “luxury.” We are all given the message that this is a luxury we cannot afford.

Through media and other forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal – we get a consistent social message:

  • You don’t have time for massage!
  • Massages are only things that people with lots of time on their hands get to enjoy!
  • You work too hard, how can you make time to get a massage if you can’t even make time to cook dinner?

This message shapes how we look at healthcare – and it creates an environment that has real consequences for our bodies.

Have you ever suffered from injuries out of nowhere? One day you wake up and you can’t move your neck? All of a sudden, your back has lost over half of its mobility? The body does its very best to maintain integrity until the bitter end. We think, “Oh I bent down incorrectly, that’s what made my back go out.” The body rightly feels insulted, “Why aren’t you considering the days and days it took for me to get to a place in which I would be compromised by something so innocuous as simply bending over?”

Instead of actually being able to have verbal dialogue, the body sends us signals of tightness, stiffness, and discomfort to try and begin a conversation. Instead of listening, we often push those things out of our awareness and continue on our day. Over time, our lack of listening to our body can result in patterns of chronic inflammation – and the resulting pain.

This is the result of that societal message communicated in so many ways in our day-to-day lives. But we do have a choice to change all of that – to engage in a healthy dialogue with our bodies through regular, preventative care.

Instead of seeing massage as a luxury or acute-care modality perhaps we should start seeing it as an integral part of our healthcare routine

You can get started on this journey at Watershed Wellness – schedule your next massage today!

Mind-body connection and illness in Chinese medicine

Are your injuries visible, or are they inside of you? Can you mask and hide them so that no one ever knows what you are going through? Where do those emotions live in your body, would they be visible on a lab test or a culture? What imaging do we take to be able to see your internal landscape? How does your mental state affect your body?

The National Institute of Mental Health states:

  • Clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44.
  • Depression affects 6.7% of the adult population, approximately 14.8 million people.
  • Anxiety affects 18.1% of adults in the U.S., or 40 million people.
  • About 1 in 4 Americans will suffer a serious mental disorder in their lifetime.

How does it make you feel to read those statistics? Uplifted and renewed? I’m sure. Basic philosophy in Chinese medicine (CM) looks the beginning of an issue examining the root cause of the symptoms, the whole picture. CM isn’t interested in diagnosing patients with various diseases, because, it is simply not beneficial. Disease is defined as a particular abnormal, pathological condition that affects part of all of an organism. If you’re living life, you experience disease. We can extend that, to certain extents we are all diseased and all seeking to become more aligned in optimal health.

In Chinese medicine there is virtually no differentiation made between mind and body.

We talk about things from the perspective of wholeness, without exceptions. When it is appropriate, we address the whole picture in the form of its different pieces. Sometimes, we can address one piece and rectify the whole, WHICH is how connected symptoms and pathology are. This is the way we examine life, restorative mechanisms (chief complaints, symptoms, disease) and our patients!

CM is always striving to look at the entire patient, then, move in to take a closer look at presenting symptoms. We say, “Where are those patterns held in the body, how do they relate to the operation of the whole?” After that, it’s zooming out again, back to where we started, fully appreciating the entire human being. In CM we treat the whole and the sum of each part.

How can I relate this to my own life, you say?

Well, here is an example of an action in which we are doing exactly what CM philosophy does in a completely mundane task. For a moment, consider the camera zoom feature on a smart phone (or any other camera device). When you scroll through the photos you see the whole picture. If you like, you can zoom in, check things out, really zoom in and see exactly what the photo looks like. You can even get to see the teeny tiny granulated pixels that make up the photo. Once you have checked those out you can then move back out to see the whole thing again.

Here, we see that there is not one portion of the photo that is more important to maintaining the integrity of the photograph. Both the whole photo and each pixel are equally important. Little things matter; the subtle is important.

A person’s feelings, your feelings, are important. The emotional landscape that you reside in, matters! It affects your entire life, and, it is especially valuable in a clinical setting. No matter what anyone tells you, the understanding of your feelings is the first step to the management, and ultimate goal of the cure to what anxiety and depression.

We are the photo not just the pixel, and yet, we are each pixel but not just the photo. This basic philosophy informs the way Chinese medicine examines mental and emotional imbalances. Now we can look at the theory behind the philosophy.

Chinese medicine proposes a more complete understanding of a person’s physical, mental and emotional state. It allows us to be what we are! Our mind, body and spirit are inseparable.

I have a feeling you know this already.Let’s work with a few examples to verify:

  • Have you ever been so (emotionally) upset you couldn’t move (your body) and get out of bed?
  • What are you like (emotionally) when you (your body) feels incredibly hungry?
  • What happens to your (body) food intake during a time in which you are sad (emotionally)?

Here we can see the strong correlation and relationship between the mind, body and spirit. CM delivers a format and language to dive into our own patterns of behavior. The medicine then simultaneously motivates us, encouraging us to work through those patterns.

shutterstock_102272188On a practical level this means, “there is a point for everything!” Acupuncture can literally address any myriad of experiences that life has thrown you.

Now, this can be a hard concept to examine depending on how removed each of us are from our own emotions, or our own bodies. But, I have good news. Chinese medicine meets us wherever we are. No one is interested in trying to have a conversation that doesn’t make sense, right?

The beauty of this medicine is that it can address the place that you inhabit on the whole of the entire spectrum.


1 National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. 2008. Available from

Post by Melinda Wheeler, intern at Watershed Wellness and student at NCNM


Does Getting Naked Make You Nervous? A Massage Therapy Primer.

LowResolution-99Taking off your clothes for a massage is, at best, slightly unnerving.

Did I remember to shave my legs? Is my deodorant working? Should I leave my underwear on or off? What happens if I fart? I feel so old/fat/wrinkly/fill in the blank, who would ever want to touch me? Painful stuff!

I know that people think these things before they get on the massage table. I do have a few people who are actually brave enough (or nervous enough) to verbalize these worries. Never fear, faithful massage goers, I’m going to tell you what’s actually on my mind when I massage you. And let me say, it’s not your fat, your wrinkles, or even your farts. Read on to see what I’m really looking for when I massage. Spoiler : it’s nothing like what you’re fearing.

Top 10 things I look for after the clothes are off

1. Postural Patterns: in an ideal world, we’d all have perfect posture. But, the reality is it requires endurance to retain an upright posture. It’s easy to let things go and create patterns of tightness and weakness in the body. Some examples of postural patterns that I look for are both shoulders rolled forward, one shoulder raised higher than the other (or both of them up to your ears), and if your head and neck are craned forward rather than balanced on your spine.

2. Symmetry: If you’ve got a muscle or bone on one side of your body, you have a corresponding muscle or bone on the other side of your body. I look to see if there’s a all those muscles and bones are reasonably symmetrical, or if something is tighter on one side that it is on the other. It can tell me a lot about how you use your body if all of your muscles are tight on the right side but the left side looks completely different.

3. Muscle tone: Are your muscles super tight or are they flaccid? Normal muscle tone helps to support your body and normal motion. If your muscles are over tight your movements may be restricted. If your muscles have low tone, it may mean that you are favoring an injury or that area of your body isn’t functioning at a optimal level.

4. Breathing: I watch your breath to assess how you are doing with my pressure during the massage. Invariably you’ll start breathing faster when I’m doing something that is painful, or on the borderline of becoming painful. I’ll ease up if I see you breathing faster. I also pay attention to where you are breathing. If you are taking a bunch of short, quick breaths high in your chest, I’ll suggest taking some deep breaths from your belly to help promote a more relaxed state.

5. Trigger points: Trigger points are hyper-irritable spots within a muscle that often produce pain when touched. Some trigger points are severe enough to cause pain without touch. When I’m able to find a trigger point, you’ll produce what’s called a “jump sign”. Your muscle will visibly twitch when I hit the point, and you’ll have a pain response large enough to want to “jump” away from the pressure.

6. Holding patterns: Along with the postural patterns, you may have holding patterns in your body. Think of these patterns as the places that you feel the most tension in your body. For example, I have one client who feels like her shoulders are always up by her ears. Her upper shoulders are where she holds her tension. Even when she’s on the table her shoulders will creep up toward her ears. Even if it’s not a great pattern, it’s what is comfortable and familiar for her body.

7. Fascial health: Your fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all your muscles, muscle groups, bones and organs. Fascia holds all of this in place. Fascial shortening, adhesions (you’ll find more information on adhesions below), restrictions due to inflammation, trauma, surgery or postural imbalances all can affect the health of your fascia. Symptoms (aches, pains, funny sensations) that appear unrelated might actually be transmitted from one part of the body to another due to fascial imbalances.

8. Skin abnormalities: Getting a massage is a great way for someone to see parts of your body that under normal conditions you rarely see yourself. I’ll let you know if I see a mole that looks a little abnormal. I look for swelling, bruises, areas that are hotter or colder than normal. All of these things can point to underlying conditions of which you may not be aware. This gives you the option to have them checked out by someone who knows more about those kinds of conditions.

9. Muscular adhesions: These are bands of fibrous scar tissue that bind together muscles that are usually separate. You’ll associate these adhesions with the bumpy, crunchy things that you can feel in your shoulders when you sit in front of the computer too long. Working these adhesions out will help restore proper muscular movement.

10. Lipomas: A lipoma is a benign tumor composed of fatty tissue. Usually these will not cause you problems, but sometimes larger ones can cause restrictions in movements. There are some sources that claim that lipomas can become malignant, however this has not been proven. Regardless, I’ll let you know if I see one just to make sure that you are aware of it so you can see out treatment if you so choose.

Fact : Taking off your clothes can unsurface lot of insecurities.

In this case, and as is often the case, your worst fears don’t necessarily reflect reality. I’m am looking at your body, but not in the way that you fear! I’m not here to measure your body hair, wrinkles, body fat percentage or anything like that.

At Watershed Community Wellness in Portland, we work hard to create a space that is free from judgment, and I’ve seen enough bodies to understand that there’s no one perfect way of being.  So – relax and enjoy your massage!