By Diane M. Marty
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2007.
Somewhere between the time the therapist enters the room and the door closes behind her, you cross into a euphoric state--an altered universe, worlds away from relentless to-do lists, unruly children, and workaholic spouses. If only you could preserve that feeling. The good news is you can. Maybe not forever, but certainly for more than one hour. Following are some ideas from leading experts for prolonging the pleasure of your next massage.
#1: Double the Fun
Schedule your appointment with a friend or family member so you can keep each other in tranquil moods, suggests Kelli Calabrese, personal trainer and author of Feminine, Firm & Fit. Naturally, it's important to choose a person who sparks your freewheeling side.
#2: Turn Left
When your therapist leaves the room and before you even open your eyes, lie on your left side for a few breaths, says Clara Hori, managing director of the Los Angeles branch of Balance Integration, a company providing in-office seminars and sessions on work/life balance through such practices as meditation, yoga, and Pilates. That position stimulates the left hemisphere of your brain and readies the body for movement, she adds.
Visualize the room around you, Hori says. When you've mentally recreated the scene, open your eyes. Reconstructing the surroundings cues your mind to externalize and prevents sensory overload.
Another alternative to ground and energize involves rubbing your hands together, Hori says. When you've created some heat, rest them over your closed eyes. With your cupped palms over your eyes, open them. Absorb the darkness and the warmth. Spread your fingers to let some light through and gradually uncover your eyes.
Bring a light snack for after the massage--perhaps some nuts, fruit, or an energy bar, Hori says. Eating brings us back into our bodies.
#4: Soak Up Your Environs
If you're at a spa or salon, take advantage of the locker room amenities, Calabrese says. Clients usually have use of the sauna, steam room, or spa showers for the rest of the day. Many venues feature quiet waiting areas, Zen gardens, or immersion pools. Ask for a tour to find out what's available.
#5: Remember the Experience
To make the experience enduring, buy the same type of massage oil your therapist uses, Calabrese says. You can inhale the fragrance or apply the lotion as a reminder of more sedate times. And be sure to book your next appointment before leaving, so you have another rejuvenating experience to anticipate.
#6: Remain Slow and Purposeful
Shun exercise to preserve that limp as a noodle feeling, says Karen Siegel, owner and founder of Acupuncture & Nutrition Clinic in Houston, Texas. Siegel suggests actions should remain slow and purposeful, since the energy in the body is moving smoothly. High energy movements restrain that easy flow. Emotional upsets have that same confining effect.
#7: Take a Power Nap
Naps are a perfect apres-massage activity. Siegel recommends the power nap. Ten- to thirty-minute daytime dozes are great rechargers, she says. You can lie on the floor, put your head on your desk, or flop on the couch. Tune into mellow music, and visit dreamland for a speedy snooze. And, if you need an even better reason to cultivate this habit, studies show that power napping reduces the incidence of heart attacks.
#8: Turn It Off
Or, if you prefer a deeper and undisturbed slumber, turn the ringers off on your home phones, power down your cell or PDA, and put a do-not-disturb sign on your bedroom door, Hall says. Position a scented eye pillow over your eyes as you rest. A guided imagery CD will keep you unwound. For whatever part of the day that remains, these techniques will sustain your elevated endorphins.
#9: Return Slowly
Despite the fact that it's great to be "spaced out" for some time, we all eventually need to return to responsibilities, Hori says. How to do so without snapping back into hyperactivity and stress is an ability worth learning and practicing.
#10: Cultivate the State
Be aware that you will be more creative than productive, and take advantage of that fact, Hori says. Choose to participate in brainstorming sessions, think about problems, or start new projects, as opposed to handling errands, phone calls, and e-mails.
#11: Continue the Session
If you feel tightness creeping into your muscles, continue the therapy. Massage between the eyebrows, Siegel says. Acupuncturists use this spot to pacify clients. Or concentrate on the two spots about two inches from either side of the sternum just below the lower border of the clavicle. This opens the chest--an area that often constricts first--and frees the breathing.
#12: Go Green
To extend your post-massage relaxation, turn toward nature, advises Orest V. Pelechaty, an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. Focus on a vibrant houseplant or fresh-cut flowers, Pelechaty says. Or stare out of the window at a tree. Check your posture, drop the shoulders, soften the jaw. Relax your eyes and notice the colors. Then, smile and take a long curious look at a detail of the leaves. Give gratitude to the miracle of plants and how they transform our exhaled air into fresh oxygen.
#13: Feel the Wind In Your Hair
Move even closer to nature. Find your way outside onto some grass, if possible under a tree, says Annie B. Kay, dietitian, yoga therapist, and author of Every Bite Is Divine. Observe the world and its activities occurring around you. Close your eyes and press your feet into the ground. Really connect with the earth, as if you're growing roots. If you have some privacy, expand your body upward, and inhale as you lift your arms overhead.
#14: Protect Yourself
Whether physical or emotional, stressors will undo the wonderful "aaaahh" a client feels following a treatment, Siegel says. Guard against people and situations that would steal your peaceful day.
#15: Wash It Away
Finish the day with a long, hot bath, says Dr. Kathleen Hall, international stress expert, and founder and CEO of The Stress Institute. Soothing music and dim lights set a restful tone. Arrange scented soap, sponge, and brush within reach. Lay a luxurious bath sheet beside your tub. If you have access to fresh flowers, position them by the tub. Or float petals or flower clusters in the water for a truly decadent experience.
A detoxifying bath protects the glorious state of repose bodywork creates, says Jennifer Davidson Dowd, certified aromatherapist and yoga teacher. Add eight drops of grapefruit, five drops of juniper, and five drops of fennel to your water, she suggests. Kick back and enjoy for at least fifteen minutes. You may also try detox bath salts.
After your bath, take a Viparita karani pose, also known as Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, for ten minutes. When you're done, drink a glass of water, pour a cup of chamomile tea, and curl up with your favorite book. Place three drops of lavender on your pillow before bed. Sweet dreams!
Finally, Hori urges bodywork clients to go to bed as early as possible the night of a massage.
And, with that advice, a perfect day ends as it should--perfectly.