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When Stress Ties You Up, Get a Massage

massageThe other day, I suddenly felt something new in the back of my thigh. Pain.

“Whoa!” I screamed. What’s going on here? Yesterday everything was working perfectly and today … this. I decided to investigate.

Where is the pain really? I used my rookie proprioceptive skills – self-sensing awareness practices – to dive deep and probe at a subtler level. Is it a little tear in the tissue, or is it coming from my lower back, or does it feel more like a blockage? Clots create blockage, but that’s just one of many possibilities, I said cheerfully.

I decided to poke into my discomfort a bit more, pressing my finger into the hot spot in the heart of my hamstrings. Stop. Close my eyes. Consider.

Yes! I feel you! I hear you!

My body was telling me I need a massage. All medical language aside, something was stuck that shouldn’t be stuck and there’s almost no better way in the world to relieve it than a session with a skilled body worker. Thank you, Arete.

Massage Equals Prevention

In the best of all possible health care worlds, just now coming, massage therapy will be covered, if not required, by everyone’s health insurance. For now, it’s not. So it’s up to you to make it part of your body maintenance routine, like cleaning your teeth or cutting your nails.

Skilled body workers do things for men and women that need to be done, especially as we age. They relieve aching muscles, soothe joint pain, help prevent sports injuries and release energy blocks – physical and emotional. Imagine a world where everyone woke up to 60 minutes of tender touching. But I wax lyrical.

Many Styles, Many Smiles

There is no one best massage technique. Massage could have been where the expression “Different strokes for different folks” originated. Some of us like deep trigger-point work; others prefer lighter, longer strokes. No matter your choice – from hot stones to deep tissue, from Swedish to shiatsu – here are some things you should consider to make your next massage a sublime experience:

• Don’t lie there feeling guilty about the time or the money. That sort of unproductive thought gets in the way of the magic. Instead, open up fully to the experience. You deserve to feel this good.

• Before your massage, scan your body for areas that feel tense or strained. Chronic soreness in your shoulder? Stiff neck? Tight quads? Tell your therapist, and then completely surrender to the touch. It’s fine to engage your breath, your mind, but then let your therapist do all the heavy lifting.

• Don’t come to the table with a full stomach. The less you have churning in your belly, the more comfortable you’ll be.

• Avoid idle conversation. It’s a distraction for both of you. Of course give feedback when it seems appropriate, especially about the amount of pressure.

• At the start of your session, take a few deep breaths to get centered. If you begin to feel discomfort, don’t clench or panic. Instead, exhale directly into the area of tension. If it works, great. If not, speak up. A painful massage is counterproductive.

• Don’t be shy about going with the flow, inhaling peace and joy, exhaling stress and credit card debt.

• After your session, ask your therapist about particular areas where you hold stress, areas of tension or imbalance. It could be your neck and shoulders – a side effect of Internet addiction – or your hips, from too much sitting.

That feedback can help you pinpoint areas that you need to open up and explore when you’re away from the table. I know I’m repeating: It’s these tight, tense, stuck places that contribute to body breakdowns later on.

Do-It-Yourself Massage Works Too

If your budget is even tighter than your hamstrings, do what plenty of smart athletes do and learn to self-massage. Yoga, qi gong, and acupressure are splendid for that, and so is using a $25 dollar foam roller.

But in my mind, and for sure in my body, nothing beats the human touch. After 60 minutes with Arete, I wish it were 90, the pain was gone.

Marilynn Preston – healthy lifestyle expert, well-being coach and Emmy-winning producer – is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website,, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to



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