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The massage, Touch, Wellness

Body awareness

It can be difficult to keep awareness of our body and notice how it feels when life is so full of inputs and information we need to digest constantly in order to stay on top of things. How can we expect ourselves to remember to notice how our body feels when the boss is bickering about a deadline, the children are screaming and demanding attention now, when the dog wants to be taken for a walk, when dishes and laundry have piled up to new heights and the life-partner once again complains about traffic and work?

It’s so easy to forget how we feel and what our body is trying to tell us. It’s so easy to forget that every ache and pain we feel is a warning from our muscles and system that we’re doing something that’s not good for it. And ache between the shoulder blades is telling us we’ve been sitting too long in front of the computer again, a knee pain is telling us that we’ve strained a thigh muscle when we exercised, a headache tries to tell us that we’ve sat too long in the same position, feeling tired informs us that we have another flue coming.

Our body is one of our best communicators when it comes warning us of coming illness and injury. Unfortunately, it’s also what we usually ignore and think, that it can wait until later when the demands of life have lessened. But the demands don’t and it becomes a habit to ignore those subtle signals from our body. We don’t notice anything wrong before the day when we suddenly can’t lift our arm, when it hurts our fingers and wrist to type on the computer, or when we suddenly go down with fever and are forced to stay in bed for three days.

Imagine if you could avoid these things. Imagine if you could avoid injury and illness throughout most of your life. If there was some way to stop it before it comes. It is possible. All it takes is paying close attention to yourself and your body. Of course, this won’t stop all illnesses and injuries. Accidents happen and some things just seem to have their own life. But it is very possible to reduce the amount of injuries you get and stop a flue or cold before it fully manifests itself.

Preventing injuries is probably the easiest thing to do of the two and the one I as a massage therapist have solid knowledge about. You must pay attention to the muscles and joints, to your body and how it feels. When an ache starts in the neck for instance, then it’s a sign that what you’re doing will lead to injury if you continue it. It might take weeks or months yet before it happens, but once it does it’ll be much harder to fix than the effort it takes to prevent it from happening in the first place. Not to mention, it’s much more pleasant to prevent an injury than it is to fix it.

All muscular pain is a sign that the muscle is being used wrongly or too long and needs a rest and pause. It’s a sign that it’s become strained. The pain is a signal sent to the body to stop using that muscle and in most cases other muscles will take over the work, a work they’re not fit to do and eventually, if you keep up your activity, they too will become strained and you can suddenly end up with the inability to even comb your own hair.

If you notice all the aches and signals your muscles send you, and act upon them, you can prevent most injuries. Only exception will be the sudden accident, but even here paying close attention to what your muscles and body tell you can help with the healing process and speed it up significantly.

What do you do once you notice that aching muscle warning. There are several things that can be done, and which is the best always depend on the individual situation. First is of course to stop doing what’s causing the ache or pain. It can be getting up from the computer and stretch the entire body and take a 5 minutes break walking around the office. It can be slowing down and do your activity more carefully or even wait until the next day before resuming. It can be getting a massage to work out the knots and tensions which have built up over time. It can be exercising and strengthening the muscle groups involved so they’re better prepared to deal with the sort of task you give them. It can also be changing working position, environment and conditions.

Clearly it’s best if you can stay aware of your body and as soon as an ache emerges, counter it by stopping that activity. But it isn’t possible to do that when life places its demands upon us and this is where a good massage therapist and regular massage can make a world of difference. If you manage to get a massage as soon as the aches start up again, and at the same time make sure that you work under the best conditions possible, you can prevent injuries like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, frozen shoulder, chronic headaches and so on.

But how can we increase our body awareness and learn to feel the signals sent. We’ve gotten so used to ignoring the aches and pains and information given, that most of us are having a hard time fully sensing how our body truly feels.

Again, getting massages can be very useful for this. If you pay close attention to the work done and how it feels. Normally a massage therapist will get around to all parts of the body and when she works on a muscle you should be able to feel if its tense or relaxed, if it hurts when she presses on certain points, if the pain seems to radiate and if there’s soreness or sudden sensations. Being aware of the massage given and focusing on the muscles being treated will help your body awareness and if you inform your massage therapist about the aches and pains, she can provide a better treatment and help normalize the muscles.

Another thing you can do is meditate. If you lie down, or even sit up but I find it most easy when I lie down, is to focus on your body one part at a time. Start at your toes and feel you toes, imagine them getting warm and heavy, feel how they relax more and more. Once you’re done with the toes begin with the feet and go through your body one small section at a time. You might find it best to do one leg or arm at a time.

If you really focus on how your muscles feel, envision them before you and take your time doing this, you should become aware of where the muscles are tense and where they’re relaxed, where there are pains and aches. You’ll be amazed over how many muscles are actually tense that you hadn’t noticed because some other place was more painful.

This is also a good exercise to help you relax your muscles and counter injuries. Don’t be surprised if you fall asleep halfway through the body. The more tired you are, the more likely it is to happen, so keep an alarm nearby to pull you out after half an hour or so in case you do fall asleep and don’t want to nap the afternoon away. For the same reason, it’s not a good thing to do late in the evening, unless you use it as a method to fall asleep. This meditation is good for that as well.

As with all other skills, growing your body awareness takes practice and conscious effort. The more you practice and pay attention, the sooner you’ll hear the warning signals and if you’re careful and react to them all, you’ll soon find that the aches and pains are pretty much gone and certainly not as severe as they used to be.

About Pia Poulsen

Pia Poulsen is educated as a wellness massage therapist at Institut FIGARI in Paris, from where she passed her certification exam in January 2008. Since then she has expanded her skills to become the first Advanced LaStone® practitioner in France as well as a certified LaStone® instructor.


2 Responses to “Body awareness”

  1. It’s a matter of being embodied or disembodied. Our culture encourages us to become more and more disembodied and less in tune with our bodies. Embodiment is a conscious process and one that snowballs over time. That’s one of the reasons it can be so hard to start – because you don’t see much in the way of results when you first begin. Exercise, massage, stress reduction, diet, meditation – these embodiment processes all take time to develop and reap the benefits.

    It can be a challenge for a massage therapist unaware of the process to coach a client through it – they just don’t have the pre-requisite knowledge and experience. It would be like trying to explain a tax-advantaged retirement account to a 4-year old.

    A little more on embodiment in my blog

    Posted by Mike Wolnick | Wednesday 29 April, 2009, 15:42
  2. Indeed. Our modern life-styles focus on our minds and mental work instead of physical work. We have less and less physical work to do in order to earn our livings and live our lives.

    When we look at school and education, there’s focus on the mental aspect. Being clever is more important than being healthy.

    I trust we’ll eventually return from the solely mental focused living and find a balance between mental and physical living. Where we use our minds to get the best out of the physical and use the physical to support the mental the best.

    It’s a very fascinating topic though I find and I think it’s very fascinating that we can learn so much about ourselves and our health by just paying attention to the signals given.

    Posted by Pia | Wednesday 29 April, 2009, 17:16