When moms are asked what they would do if they miraculously had a free hour, many ideas for self-care and relaxation come up including massage. But did you know that massage isn't just about getting pampered and having a moment to relax? There's so much more to it!

 

And, what if you're uncomfortable with the idea? What if you've had some hard experiences that make it difficult for you to be touched or vulnerable? Could massage still be a helping and healing therapy for you? 

 

Massage can be healing in many ways and can aid your efforts in dealing with stress or your mental health. It goes well side by side with counseling too!

 

Let's get some insight with an experienced massage therapist. Here I've interviewed Caitlin Granier, LMT of the Kali Institute in Colorado. 

 

What are the benefits of massage

 

Evidence suggests that massage therapy may help with decreasing anxiety, decreasing symptoms of depression, managing stress, aiding relaxation, helping muscle soreness and tension, helping to alleviate pain, boosting immune system, promoting better sleep, and lessening headaches.  Many of my clients have reported a feeling of more head space, less pain, and improved overall wellness.

 

Many women have experienced some form of trauma in their lives and may find it uncomfortable to get a massage. What advice can you give or insight can you share on how a trauma informed massage therapist can help?

 

First of all, it is absolutely ok to feel unsure about how you feel about trying a massage session. Trust your instincts, and ask yourself if massage therapy is something you want to try.  One of the best things you can do is to schedule a phone consultation first with your Massage Therapist, ask some preliminary questions about their style of work and experience, and just take some time to get to know them.  As with any form of therapy, it is crucial to feel comfortable and confident in your choice of therapist.  Specifically, a therapist who is trauma informed, or has experience in working with someone who has experienced trauma in their life, can be a helpful part of finding a deeper and lasting relaxation in your body, taking their time and perhaps occasionally discussing what physical sensation you may be feeling while working.  Always let your therapist know if there is any area you do not want massaged.  Keep in mind that all massage therapy sessions are completely non-sexual, and if you ever feel uncomfortable during session to let your therapist know.  This session is ALL about you and your needs. 

 

What makes a massage "trauma informed" or more sensitive to a person's emotional needs?

 

Trauma-informed may be learning how to notice subtle to not-so-subtle changes in the client; being open and ready for whatever emotion, response, or release that may come up during the session; and having tools in order to best work through this in a safe and connected manner, and never forcing an outcome.  If I am aware of something significant in my client’s history that may have been traumatic, I try to take my time, work slowly, communicate with my client, provide and open ear, and always be sure that what I’m doing feels good. 

 

If this is something I know my client is actively trying to work through, I try to work gradually to bring back sensation and awareness into their tissue- meaning this can be one way of helping the client connect with their body and its history.  Finding a way to feel relaxed in your body again can be a huge help to reminding the body how good it can feel.  Often times, when the body starts to feel good, the mind will follow.  But if this is ever something my client does not want to work through, I will just address any areas they want to focus on, and try to create the most relaxing space for them to unwind.  

 

Do people need to undress in order to get the full benefits of massage, or could some people benefit from massage while fully clothed?

 

A client may absolutely be fully clothed for the duration of their massage session.  The only difference is this may feel different than the sensation of working on skin, but the benefits remain the same. It’s all about relaxation, and the client feeling comfortable and safe are two of the biggest components in achieving this.

 

What would you do if a woman with a traumatic history becomes uncomfortable or anxious during her massage?

 

I think it’s important to first take a pause, and check in with my client.  What is she feeling? What does that sensation feel like, and can she identify where she feels this in her body? Depending on the level of anxiety, and the client, we may just breathe, and/or discuss what physical sensations may be arising. This can help the client to get grounded, while staying present and honoring what she is feeling. 

 

If it’s too difficult to feel or notice sensation, then I may ask my client to take a deep breath, and identify 5 things she can see, 4 things she can hear, 3 things she can smell, 2 things she can feel (eg, the softness of the blanket or temperature in the room, not necessarily a sensation), and then take one deep breath again.  This can be a way to help her get back into the present moment.  I may remind my client of where she is, that she is not alone, and she has someone near to help.  Once she feels things have settled, we can continue with the massage.

 

How do you suggest people find a trauma sensitive massage?

 

This is a great question.  To be honest, it can be a challenging specialty to track down, so I would start by searching for therapists trained in specialties such as CranioSacral Therapy, Reiki, Oncology Massage, or Quantum Touch.  While these trainings alone are not intended as trainings for working with those who have experienced something traumatic, they often attract therapists who want to attune their hands to feel more sensitive and subtle physiological responses.  Depending on the school, some more advanced CranioSacral courses talk in depth of tissue trauma, how the body works to compensate tissue trauma, as well as how to work with clients when a part of their traumatic history comes up during a session.  To find therapists trained in CranioSacral Therapy, visit Upledger.com, and click on 'Find A Therapist’.  Another option is searching for an MT who works with Veterans, or has experience working in hospitals or palliative care.  It can be great to find someone who has experience working with clients who have had a history of trauma. 

What is even more important, I would say, is finding a Massage Therapist with whom you feel truly comfortable.  This cannot be given in a training- it comes down to the professional relationship that you both build together.  When searching for a new Massage Therapist, ask questions about their experience: How would you describe your work? What continuing education classes have you taken, and why did you choose to take that course?  What population of people to work with the most?  Do you have experience working with Mental Health Professional, or have someone out to refer to when needed?  What sorts of things to do for your own self care?  These can help clear the water of what kind of therapist they are, and gives an opportunity for you to get to know them.

 

If you already have a Massage Therapist you see, ask yourself, do you feel comfortable with their touch, their technique, their general treatment?  If so, then ask yourself if you would feel comfortable opening up a conversation with them about this.  Has something ever come up for you while receiving massage?  How did they handle it? Did you feel comfortable and cared for afterword?  

 

If you are working with a Mental Health Professional, try asking them to see if they have a massage therapist they use for referrals.  Often times, this means they have an established relationship and trust their work, which can be a great way to start.

 

Do you recommend massage for women while they are pregnant or after having a baby? Are there any cautions moms should be aware of when getting a prenatal or postpartum massage?

I actually specialize in prenatal and postpartum massage, and I love that this is being asked!  I believe massage during your pregnancy can be a huge advantage in preparing your body and mind for labor and birth, and in gaining a sense of appreciation for self-time after the baby arrives. 

 

Both of these periods can be a big transitional time for women, whether their pregnancy and birth are a breeze, or if it feels like every day is never-ending discomfort or stress!  The ability to step away from daily life, and provide time for the purpose of relaxing, unwinding, and re-connecting with your body can make a huge difference, especially during this unique period of life.  There have actually been several studies showing the impact of massage during pregnancy in regards to birth outcomes and infant health! At a time when hormones are raging, sleep is compromised, your body is shifting, and there’s a 1000 page to-do list looming, your relaxation is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby.

 

Like anything, it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife before booking your first session.  For low risk pregnancies, massage therapy is considered safe and beneficial with a Massage Therapist trained in prenatal massage.  As long as you go over your health information with your Massage Therapist, including discussing any concerns or questions you may have, a well-trained therapist will know how to best tailor your session as needed, and you will be able to enjoy a relaxing and safe massage session. 

 

Here are some tips of how to get the most out of your prenatal massage:

 

- Aim to hydrate well in the days leading to your session, including the day of your session! I typically include a break or two if my client needs a quick restroom visit. You can always ask your therapist to check in with you about half way if they don’t already.

- If possible, schedule your massage at a time that gives you time afterword to continue to chill-ax

- If you have a particular pillow at home that works wonders for you and you don’t want to lay down without it, ask your therapist if you can bring it with you!

- Communicate to your therapist: Could the pressure be better? Could you be in a better position? Do you need to just get up and move around a bit? Are there any disagreeable aromas?  Is your temperature feeling good? This helps your therapist get to know your individual needs as you progress.

- Practice taking a few, deep breaths while receiving, and give yourself permission to completely relax; even if you fall asleep, your body still receives the benefits!

- Bring super comfy clothes to wear so you can continue to feel like butter after your session.  Think less-restrictive clothing like a maxi dress or even good ol’ sweats!

 

If you find research is helpful for you to make a decision, check out these studies on massage and pregnancy:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/

http://pediatrics.med.miami.edu/touch-research

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016363839690048X

 

Caitlin Granier is a licensed massage therapist at the Kali Institute in Broomfield, Colorado with experience in prenatal and postpartum massage, as well as Infant Massage Instruction.  She helps people feel more comfortable in their bodies and supports them in improving personal wellness. Using an integrative approach, Caitlin helps to uncover the roots of an issue to produce the most benefits and long-lasting results. Caitlin can be contacted through https://www.thekaliinstitute.com/massage-therapy