I was a massage therapist for eight years before I started The Body Positive. I did deep, intense, emotional release work with people so they could reconnect to their bodies in a loving, generous way. My hands were their true mirror, which allowed them to see/experience their bodies with love and appreciation. They could trust me because I always approached the table free from judgment, and touched their bodies with absolute integrity and honor.
Through this process I learned that I could do the same for myself. I love touching my skin. And it loves me for doing so. I think often about the tens of trillions of cells that give me a body, with billions of them just making up my skin. I know my whole body is healthier when I treat each cell as something to be treasured. This is why self-massage is so important.
Yes, it’s great to get massaged by others, but we have the capacity to give loving touch to our own bodies without paying a dime! And you can give this gift to yourself anytime. It doesn’t have to be a big to-do. One of my favorite places to do self-massage is at the grocery store when I’m standing in line. My arms, neck, face, and shoulders are there and ready for touch. When I get in bed at night or wake up in the morning, there’s my whole body, ready for touch.
Notes before you begin: Remember that these are just guidelines, so do this anyway that feels best to you. Also, know that if it doesn’t feel good, or it triggers you in any way, especially if you have body trauma, please be kind to yourself and stop immediately. And if you have parts of your body that are injured or damaged, please be thoughtful about what feels right for you. You may not have use of your legs, for example, so you can work on the areas you can reach with your hands and from your chair. Don’t push yourself. The whole purpose of this activity is to feel pleasure. If you don’t, stop.
Now let’s dive in. Here’s my recipe for a full self-massage (modify for time, location, and other limitations).
· Your whole body!
· Loving hands
· Awareness and attention
· A commitment to being compassionate with yourself if judgment arises, and your willingness to ask judgment to move to the side when it shows up
· Time: around 20-30 minutes
· Place: Somewhere comfortable and cozy
· Clothed or unclothed, whatever feels best depending on your environment (probably not a good idea to strip naked in the grocery store!)
· Massage oil or lotion is optional
· Deep breathing
· Start by slowly rubbing your hands together. Move all of your attention to your hands. Feel the sensation of them rubbing together. Listen to the sound they make as they rub back and forth. Notice if the temperature changes. You might feel your hands heating up. Experiment with the speed of rubbing hand on hand. What feels best to you?
· Now take one of your hands and start exploring its counterpart. You might start by taking one finger at a time and squeezing and releasing from where it connects to your hand to the tip. Do this with each finger. Work your thumb into the pad below your other thumb. Give it as much pressure as feels good. Use your thumb to rub the spaces between the bones in your hand, top and underside.
· Move up to your wrist. Let your thumb and first finger circle your wrist while you flop your hand around, working the joint.
· When I work up into my forearm, I like to do a squeeze and release as I move up towards my elbow. I find all the places that are tight from spending so much time typing, and I give them attention. I personally like to go in deep, but you can choose to touch lightly. If you have massage oil or lotion, you can do more of a smooth stroke.
· Explore your elbow and give it some love. Our joints are truly amazing and we usually only give them attention when they aren’t working so well.
· I work my upper arms, biceps, triceps, and deltoids, as I do my lower arm, with the squeeze and release technique. This is because I generally don’t have lotion when I am giving myself a massage (as I mentioned, I’m often in the grocery store).
· When I get to the tops of my shoulders, I use my middle finger to dig deep by pressing straight down in the muscles between shoulder tip and neck attachment. I work my finger into the spaces above the collar bone, exploring to see where there is tension. I’m always paying attention to the type of touch each spot is asking for.
· Once you do one arm and shoulder, switch to do the steps above on the other side.
· You can now move to your neck. I switch off using both hands to grasp the back of my neck and squeeze and release. The reason I use both hands is because the palm of my hand and my finger tips on each hand hit different parts of my neck, and I want both sides of my neck to have the same experience.
· Now get your thumbs and first fingers into the spaces at the base of your skull. You’ll have to experiment to see which spots want the attention. I like to get into the whole area where my head connects to my neck. Be sure to work your way out towards your ears. You can tip your head back onto your thumbs or fingertips for more pressure.
· Time for your skull. Get both hands into your hair, like you’re a hairdresser giving yourself a wash and head massage. (I'm guessing you know what this feels like.) Our skulls love to be squeezed and scratched. And so does our hair.
· Move your fingertips to your face. Rub them gently across your forehead. Rub your middle fingers into your temples, slowly round and round. Press into the eye socket, circling your eye. I like to do the same across my eyebrows. Move to your cheekbones, pressing in with all fingertips, moving out towards your ears. Now get into your jaw. You can open and close your mouth as you massage, remembering to drop the jaw open. It’s not chewing or talking, so it doesn’t have to hold on. You can finish working on your face by squeezing your chin and working your hands out your jawline towards your ears.
Note: An extra special gift you can give your body while doing self-massage is to bring your awareness to your ancestors who all thrived and procreated to allow you to have this body. With each body part you touch, imagine the line of your people who go all the way back to the first human. You honor them by touching each part of the body they gave you with as much love and gentleness as you can.
· You’ll now move to your ribcage. Get your fingertips into the spaces between your ribs. This is a place where we hold a lot of tension, especially if you type a lot. I like to start near my sternum (breastbone) and work my way out. If you have breasts, you can work your way around them and also give them some loving, gentle touch. Work around to the back side of your ribcage, and do your best to get into as many ribs as you can.
· Shoulder blades are hard to get to, but try by reaching over your shoulder and working your middle finger along the edge, starting as far down as you can and working up towards your neck. My trick to self-massage my shoulder blades is to lie on tennis balls and work them into the spots I can’t reach with my hands. I use them for my whole spine.
· With gentle hands, make light circles around your belly button, moving in a clockwise direction. Widen the circle so you’re gently massaging your intestines. Go all the way out to the side of your body with your widening circles. Breathe deeply into your belly as you massage this part of your body. Notice any judgments that come up and see if you can put them aside, remembering the sole purpose of this activity is to offer nourishment to every cell of your body. When you’re done, place your hands on your belly and breathe into the sensation of this part of your body.
· Moving down into the pelvis, I like to get my thumbs and fingers into the places around the ridge of my hip bone, and then use fists or palms to give my butt muscles a good massage. Think about how they get sat on all the time! These muscles hold a lot of tension and love the release you can give them.
· Circle your palms over your hip bones where hip connects to leg. Think about the way your joints work; leg bone fitting so perfectly into hip socket, with muscles, tendons, and ligaments holding everything in place.
· Move down into your thighs. I love giving my thighs love because this was the part of my body I hated most when I was young and struggled with my eating problems. They are powerful and strong, and I love the feel of their flesh. Dig in. Squeeze. Feel your flesh. Explore.
· Knees are a much maligned part of our body. It’s an odd joint, and can have a lot of problems. Give your knees some love, and thank them for doing their best to keep the two halves of your legs connected.
· Get your hands around your lower legs, massaging your calves, working down into your ankles. Take the time you need to give them some release and tenderness. Wiggle your ankles and give them some freedom to move around in different directions.
· Ahhh… the feet. They love to be massaged. Wiggle your toes, get your fingers in between all of the amazing bones that make up your feet. You can get out a tennis ball and us it to help you get into the bottoms of your feet. I love being at the acupuncturist and having him touch parts of my feet that are related to different organs and areas of my body. Our feet are absolute wonders and crave attention. They, like knees, generally get attention when something is wrong with them.
· Now run your hands up your body from feet to the top of your head. Up the front of your legs, over your pelvis, up across your belly and chest, up your neck, over your face, and out the top of your head. Run a hand down each arm, and shake off any excess energy.
· Take a deep breath. And another. Notice how your body feels.
Notice what came up for you while doing this practice. Did it feel good? Did you notice judgment or fear come up when you worked on certain parts of your body? If so, these are the places to come back to because it means they need extra love. Remember that your fear or dislike of certain body parts is conditioned by a social system that profits by you thinking something is wrong with your body. I’m here to tell you that nothing is wrong with your body. Even if you want to make changes, your body functions so much better with love.
My somatic counselor has shared a wonderful guided meditation where she talks about how we can use our diaphragms and lungs to massage the insides of our bodies. With each breath, the diaphragm is massaging the organs, the lungs. With each full breath, the lungs are massaging the muscles that surround them.
So there you go. You’re now a certified self-massage practitioner :) Enjoy!
Needing more support to find love for your body? Write to us at email@example.com or read my book, Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!).