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Massage Today
July, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 07

Before Your Client Arrives, Catch Your Breath

By Teresa M. Matthews, LMT, CPT

The room temperature is ideal. The table height is optimal. The music is just the right genre and volume. The linens are clean, crisp and perfectly prepared. The lighting is soft and natural.

The barely-perceptible essential fragrance rests upon a gentle current of fresh air. All stands ready for your client's arrival. Now, what do you do? Please ... catch your breath!

Both literally and figuratively, the best thing you could do for yourself and your client right now, is to take a moment (or two) and just breathe. I mean, RIGHT NOW, while you are reading this, become aware of your diaphragm and consciously direct your next breath deep into your abdomen. Feel better? Of course you do. Need me to remind you to breathe? Of course not, but don't you feel just a little more calm and centered? This is the beauty of the act of breathing.

The process of respiration is thought by many cultures, both Eastern and Western, as the essence of being. Look at the word itself: re - spiration. The root is from the Latin spiritus which means both "breath" and "spirit." Many other Indo-European languages use one word to describe both as well. For example, in Sanskrit, prana; Hebrew ruach; and Greek. Is there deeper meaning in deeper breathing? Perhaps, so let's explore.

Catch Your Breath - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark A rhythmic process of expansion and contraction and the only bodily function we do both involuntarily and voluntarily, it is the bridge between the two components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the sympathetic and parasympathetic. As such, we can consciously use our breathing to influence the involuntary processes of our heart rate therefore aiding circulation, blood pressure, digestion, as well as other bodily functions. Consider the physiological responses our bodies have to stressors of any type or intensity; heart rate rises, we perspire, our musculature tenses and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. "Flight or fight," right?

If this process continues over a long period of time, the sympathetic system becomes over-stimulated which could result in conditions such as high blood pressure, oxygen deprivation, inflammation and muscle pain, to name a few. By mindfully controlling our breathing, we can mitigate and in fact, reverse these negative effects. Just as chronic stress can lead to restrictions in the connective and muscular tissues in the thorax (and resultant decrease in the range of motion (ROM) of the chest wall, regular breathing exercises can gently address these restrictions, strengthen the musculature and increase ROM. Obviously, this is true for our clients as well as ourselves. Learning and using proper breathing techniques will lead to optimizing physical and emotional health in both the short and long term for practitioners and others.

Perhaps the first and most important consideration should be efficiency in breath control. This is best illustrated in the distinction between "chest breathing" and abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. Chest breathing is inefficient because the greatest amount of blood flow occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs. The more oxygen in, the greater the transfer and better circulation of blood-borne nutrients to all of the tissues. The key here is conscious and controlled.

Rapid, shallow breathing or worse yet, unconsciously holding one's breath are obvious and profound health challenges. The good news is you can train yourself to become a "belly breather" and with regular practice will be doing so all of the time, even in sleep. Adapted from the audio book Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, by Andrew Weil, MD., the following exercise can be used for relaxation whenever and wherever you fell the need.

The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise

  • Sit with your back straight and the tip of your tongue resting against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, to a count of eight.

This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. It may seem subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. A small disclaimer here: This information is intended for your self-care. If prescriptive exercise is out of scope for massage therapists in your jurisdiction, consider bringing these exercises into your beautifully designed and executed treatment room as part of the session, not as any type of prescription. Breath-work can be seamlessly integrated into any modality. The benefits can be felt immediately and can hardly be overstated. So go ahead, take a moment and catch your breath. Stay healthy and enjoy!


Teresa M. Matthews, fitness expert and world champion athlete, has 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She is the president and founder of Health, Wellness & Fitness Professionals, Inc. and is the owner of Arlington School of Massage and Personal Training in Jacksonville, Fla. She is a sports massage instructor for the Florida State Massage Therapy Association and was awarded the FSMTA 2009 Sports Massage Therapist of the Year award. Teresa travels the country teaching self care and wellness classes. Contact her by e-mail at with questions or comments.

 

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