This is why self-care is a significant component of our profession. It is essential to develop an awareness of how your body responds to different stimuli to prevent the burnout that results when you don’t give your body enough time to recover.
Many factors play into self-care, including sleep, diet, load management, etc. But there is also a movement and exercise component, and stretching can be one of them.
Stretching is an excellent tool for keeping your body balanced and supple, so you feel lighter and more limber and ultimately avoid injury and other painful conditions. If you are already in pain, stretching also has the potential to make you feel better, at least for a little while—as long as you do it gently and don’t push yourself too far. One place where stretching can also potentially help is with post-session muscle soreness. Stretching can be a remedy for both. Because it increases the circulation and gets muscles used to moving again, stretching can help alleviate aches while also helping the body loosen up.
One of my other favorites about stretching is it makes a great warm-up before activities, including massage therapy sessions. Just like an athlete will warm up before an event, a quick warm-up stretch session can help warm up your body and get your mind ready to perform for your clients better.
After performing those stretches, not only will your body be feeling better, stretching can help reduce the stress and help you feel more relaxed. So, try to squeeze in these four stretches; your body will thank you for it.
Here are some of my favorite stretches to perform, especially before and after a session.
If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ve probably performed this movement many times, but if you haven’t frequented your local or online yoga class, this is a great stretch. The first exercise we will do is the Cat/Cow, one of my all-time favorites.
And the reason why is we are moving the spine, getting the shoulder blades to protract and retract, and our hips are moving, too. So it’s a great overall movement, and when we’re doing these long massage sessions, and we’re locked in a particular position, maybe rounded over, or in a seated position where our hips are locked in, it’s good to get everything moving once in a while. So I love doing this after a long session and even before the day starts to warm up a little bit.
How to do it: Get down on all fours, knees under your hips, wrists under your shoulders. Tuck your chin and round your upper back; hold for two seconds. From there, look up, draw your shoulders back and drop your chest toward the floor, slightly arching your back; hold for two seconds. Do 10 reps.
The next movement we’re going to perform is a pec stretch. When we’re doing massage, we love to work on the pecs, opening up the chest so our clients can pull those shoulders back, and assist them in getting into better posture. Remember, when our shoulders are rounding forward and our pecs get in a shortened position, it makes it much tougher to pull those shoulders back.
How to do it: Stand with one arm bent at a 90-degree angle at shoulder height against the frame of a doorway or wall. Rotate your upper body slightly until you feel a good stretch in your chest. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes. Switch sides.
Now we are going to do a T-spine extension on a bench. Other than the first exercise, the cat/cow, where we’re moving through flexion, extension, in this movement, we’re to concentrate a little bit more on the extension portion of the action. Since most of us are in flexion most of the day, one of my main goals is to try and be extended whenever I can to mitigate some of those effects.
How to do it: Kneel about a foot and a half away from a bench or low table. Holding a stick between your hands shoulder-width apart, place your elbows on the seat of the bench. Shift your hips back over your legs, and bring the stick behind your back as you sink your chest toward the floor. Do 10 reps.
For our last movement, we are going to concentrate a little bit more on the lower body. We’re going to work the hip flexor, and then we’re going to add a little twist to continue to work on T-spine mobility.
How to do it: From a push-up position, bring one leg forward and place your foot next to your hand. Drop your hip down until you feel a good stretch in the hip and groin. Once in this position, rotate your body and reach your hand to the ceiling. Repeat for 10 reps. Switch sides.
Joe Yoon is a massage therapist, personal trainer and founder of JoeTherapy, a company that provides massage therapy at his clinic in Orlando, Florida, and through which he teaches stretching and self-massage techniques online. He wrote “Better Stretching: 9 Minutes a Day to Greater Flexibility, Less Pain, and Enhanced Performance, the JoeTherapy Way,” which was released in early 2020. Joe is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star, one of a team of innovative therapists and teachers who are educating the magazine’s community of massage therapists in our print magazine, on our social media channels and on our website.
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