(Image above: Hot Stones taken from MindBodySole.ca)
April was National Stress Awareness Month, so we would like to devote this ModReviews to the relaxing practice of massage.
Warning: Reading further may cause you to splurge. (It’s ok, though. You deserve it.)
Running is my go-to stress release. Nothing turns around a bad day like putting on my ipod and exploring a new running route in the park. Now, as for training for a half-marathon or marathon, it turns out that can be more of a stress-inducer. Balancing work and play with rigid training schedules, the guilt of missed workouts, and that anxious week before the race tend to get a little nerve-racking. Pittsburgh recently reinstated their Pittsburgh Marathon after a six-year hiatus and I’ve spent the last three months training for the half. As an incentive to keep training hard and a reward to myself for all the work I had done so far, I decided to treat myself to my first massage!
I originally made an appointment for a sports massage, butI kept hearing horror stories that they could be very painful, similar to deep tissue massages. When I spoke to the massage therapist, she told me that the sports massage isn’t necessarily painful, but it is a lot of stretching, and it’s mostly done either right before or right after the big event. Since the half marathon was still a few weeks out on the horizon, I decided to go with a regular Swedish massage.
Massages are said to aid in pain relief, improve sleep and attention, reduce anxiety and depression, and even temporarily reduce blood pressue and heart rate! All of these are wonderful reasons for treating yourself to a massage, but come on–the best reason to get a massage is that it feels awesome. A full hour of somebody pushing on knots or rubbing sore muscles you didn’t even know existed, plus the pleasure of reaquainting yourself with the Enya catalogue, and the added surprise of hot towels around your feet makes for a pretty great sixty minutes.
I had trouble getting myself to relax initially; the therapist had to keep reminding me to put down my hand or leg; I must have been holding them out at rigidly at awkward angles. But once I shut my eyes and really tried to enjoy the massage, rather than feel self-concious or worry about whether she would be grossed out by my calloused runners’ feet, it was pretty wonderful. Maybe I’ll try the hot stone treatment once I start training for a marathon… Whadd’ya think, Molly?
Alicia might be new to massage, but I’m an old pro. It’s a treat I give myself anytime I deserve it, and I usually deserve it once a month! It really helps keep my stress levels down, my thoughts grounded, my attitude about life positive. I’m pretty much convinced (much to the dismay of my hubbie) that getting regular massages is essential to my well being. I’ve developed a great relationship with my massage therapist Sarah at Pittsburgh Center for Complementary Health and Healing, and when I told her I was writing a blog post about relaxation, she suggested I try hot stone massage. Apparently, it’s super-duper relaxing. I trust Sarah, so I made a hot stone appointment.
Hot stone massage is an ancient practice, often used in sweat lodge ceremonies in Native American culture. As the people were releasing their physical and spiritual impurities (ie. sweating) in the heated lodges, hot stones were placed on their bodies for added relaxation. They worked so well and became so important to the tribes that the stones were known as ‘grandfather stones.’ The stones are used to this day for similar relaxation purposes, as well as grounding and centering guidance.
Admittedly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There were the stones, of course, but they were in a huge roaster (like you use at Thanksgiving) full of hot water. The massage therapist explained to me that she would be using various types of oil that she actually pours down my body. Then, she will use the hot, drippy stones for the massage. Hot, soaking stones plus vast amounts of scented oil equals a mess. It was very, very messy. Throughout the massage, there were stones on my back, my tummy, between my toes, and under both of my hands. This was to assist me in ‘grounding’ myself and connecting my energy to the earth. I was skeptical, but I have to admit to feeling very, very calm…so calm, in fact that I swear I felt like I was floating at one point.
When I got up to leave, I felt dizzy, disconnected, and really spaced out – but not in a bad way. I think it was transitioning from total relaxation to the real world that made my head swim! The rest of the night, I was useless, and just laid on the couch watching Medium reruns. I would absolutely recommend hot stone massage as a way to focus your thoughts and relax your body, but I would also suggest you do it on a day that you don’t have anything else to do. And, don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t mind getting oily!