Because every person is a unique individual physically, physiologically, and emotionally, no single massage modality will be the right one for everyone. A skilled massage therapist will possess experience in more than one type of massage and should be able to advise each client on the optimum method or methods suitable for his or her situation.
The traditional type of massage you are likely to encounter in most Western-style spas is Swedish massage. This modality promotes calm and relaxation but also boosts circulation and aids in reducing tension throughout the muscles. Swedish massage features a set of five basic touch techniques: the kneading motions of petrissage; the gliding, drawn-out strokes of effleurage; the tapping motion of tapotement; friction; and vibration.
Trigger-point massage concentrates on painful areas of tightened muscles using cyclical motions that alternately apply pressure and release.
Deep-tissue massage aims to reduce inflammation and pain and to relieve chronic tension, through connecting with underlying muscles and connective tissue.
Sports massage focuses on the special needs of athletes and other active individuals. Rather than concentrating on relaxation, it attempts to utilize a mix of massage techniques to promote increased fitness, build the body’s ability to withstand injury, and treat sports-related injuries.
Thai massage may be a good choice for people who love yoga. This ancient modality, often called a kind of passive yoga, is performed on a mat resting on the floor. The therapist combines deep stretching of the body with gentle motions designed to compress the muscles along a set of energy lines. A skilled practitioner will tailor each Thai massage to the individual client’s current physical condition and wellness goals.
A good massage therapist will learn a variety of techniques over the course of his or her professional career and will provide increased value to clients by adding new forms of massage to any basic repertoire.
While health care professionals have long accepted the health benefits of yoga, researchers continue to explore its precise effects on both the mind and body. In a recent issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the authors looked closely at an Eastern Virginia Medical School study that examined Tibetan yogis engaged in Tumo, an extreme form of yogic practice. Through the practice, yogis maintain a normal body temperature in extraordinarily cold conditions without any resultant physical harm.
A film created by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson shows yogis wearing only loincloths while sitting on the freezing ground. Iced sheets wrapped around their bodies melted. Meanwhile, the film crew wore mountaineering gear to bear the cold.
The new study focused on various cardiovascular factors among yogis and non-yogis in subzero temperatures. The non-yogis required warming to maintain a healthy body temperature, whereas Tumo practitioners did not even shiver without the benefit of such warming. By monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, and other factors, researchers concluded that the yogis activated brown fat and generated heat to increase blood flow significantly and decrease peripheral vascular resistance. In these individuals, yoga practice has effected substantial physiological changes.
In fulfillment of its goal of bringing awareness of the benefits of yoga to men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds, the nonprofit group Yoga Across America regularly conducts sessions in public parks around the country. People from New York to Alaska are discovering the ways in which the ancient practice can enhance their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.
Picture a group of individuals gathered on a bright, clear day to enjoy the cool breezes and fresh greenery of a beautifully landscaped park as they flow through a series of focused movements designed to celebrate the flexibility and resiliency of the human body and mind. This has become an increasingly common sight in places such as McKinley Park in Sacramento, California, where each week the largest public yoga class in the city’s history convenes.
Since 2009, when Yoga Across America launched the class, thousands of people have come together to create an energized yet relaxed atmosphere that one participant compared to heaven on earth. Proponents praise the sense of community that such regular gatherings help create, as well as the welcoming spirit exhibited by participants.
Some park-based yoga classes, such as one held in Phipps Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, donate associated fees to local charitable organizations. For example, the Florida group has aided the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County and other youth-focused nonprofits. Yoga, with its natural focus on community building, offers numerous possibilities for doing good while building physical and mental agility.
Some of the best chest openers are shoulder openers or backbends. Take just a second right now to consciously pull your shoulders back and down while puffing out your chest, and you will feel the connection between these three types of poses. Chest openers are important not only because they offer a great physical stretch, but also because they promote emotional opening. If you want to gain these benefits, try building up to these two poses as part of your next practice:
Bow Pose: Begin by lying on your stomach, then bend your knees and reach back to grasp your feet with your hands. Once you have a solid grip, make sure that your thighs are parallel to the sides of your mat, rather than splayed outwards. Inhale and raise your chest, pulling back through the arms to form a bow with your body. As you breathe in and out, you may rock back and forth, enjoying this massage to your internal organs before slowly releasing back down to your belly.
Fish Pose: Enter this pose by lying flat on your back. Leaving your legs straight, bring your hands (palms down) beside your hips. Keeping your forearms on the ground, slowly begin to raise your chest toward the sky and tilt your head upwards so that you are resting on the crown of your head. This pose opens your heart without the somewhat strenuous movements required by bow pose.
While many Westerners have some familiarity with the concept of meditation, far fewer understand that various practitioners throughout history have developed their own techniques and traditions. While a huge variety of meditation approaches exist in the modern world, researchers have separated these types into two larger groups: concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation. The former group generally involves focusing inward and on the breath or, in the case of Transcendental Meditation, a mantra. The latter group is more closely identified with modern meditative practices, though the Zen tradition of zazen also involves nondirective methods of reaching a meditative state, ideally by reaching a state where one can passively observe the body and the mind.
While many people are content with finding a meditation technique that works for them, scientists have been working to discover how these techniques may impact the body. One recent study conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, as well as other institutions, used MRI technology to track how concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation affect the brain. The results showed that nondirective meditation tended to be more highly correlated with activity in the brain’s resting network, where self-related thoughts are processed, while concentrative meditation tended to look like the brain at normal rest. While the study size was small, involving only 14 subjects, the promising results indicate further research is merited.
A word with origins in Sanskrit, yoga has only recently become popular in the West after many millennia as an important component of physical and spiritual wellness in the lives of its Eastern practitioners. Recent scientific studies have revealed the discipline’s numerous benefits, and the National Institutes of Health has rated it among the 10 most useful complementary health practices. Although yoga is already well known as a means of treating back pain, improving circulation, and reducing stress, additional research is being conducted to uncover what are anticipated to be even more advantages.
One recent study found that one style of yoga, hatha yoga, leads to significant reductions in blood pressure among adolescents predisposed to high blood pressure. Specifically, the study associated yoga practice with a reduction in a-amylase activity, a key indicator of blood pressure issues. Older yoga practitioners in another study demonstrated the improved balance that yoga creates in its adherents; a meta-analysis of yoga studies showed that seniors who practice yoga have fewer balance-related issues or falls, as well as fewer fears about falling. Meanwhile, more extreme yogic traditions have also come to scientists’ attention. The tum-mo style practiced by Tibetans is well known for enabling these dedicated yogis to withstand extreme cold, and researchers have confirmed this extraordinary practice, showing that tum-mo helps practitioners regulate body temperature using brown fat and increased blood flow.
Based out of Sacramento, California, Yoga Across America has spread the value of yoga across the nation. The organization develops programs for schools, hospitals, parks, and civic groups in order to educate neighborhoods about the benefits that yoga can have on their lives. Yoga Across America utilizes a variety of yoga practices, such as yin yoga, Vinyasa yoga, and yoga nidra to promote a connection to spirituality and improvements in physical health. Along with producing a sense of community among its members, Yoga Across America receives support from Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, the Mercy Cancer Institute, and other organizations.
One of Yoga Across America’s most important initiatives is Yoga for American Soldiers. Many active duty soldiers and veterans encounter physical and mental difficulties due to their time in the armed forces. Yoga for American Soldiers uses yoga to improve lives through physicality, breathing exercises, and meditation. Members of the armed forces have applauded the program for providing them with a sense of relaxation and personal strength. The organization also includes Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Lieutenant Colonel Michele Spencer as an ambassador. Her book, B.A.G.H.D.A.D. Yoga: A Shift in Consciousness: Fear to Love, War to Peace, highlighted the benefits of yoga in dealing with stress during war.