The holidays may well be the happiest time of the year, but they are also arguably one of the most stressful. Enter: self-massage. This wonderful practice can bring affordable and in-the-moment relaxation to our holidays and will carry us into the new year as well. Here’s how it works.
What is self-massage?
Simply put, self-massage is a massage that you give yourself. Although a trip to the spa can be blissful, it’s not always practical. Self-massage, on the other hand, is accessible, affordable, and immediate.
And of course, it’s not an either/or situation. “Professional massage and self-massage are complementary,” explains Elfi Shaw, bodywork practitioner and instructor at the Haven Institute. “Think of self-massage as a wonderful tool in your self-care toolkit.”
Why practice self-massage?
In addition to stress relief, various forms of self-massage have been shown to be beneficial in recent research for conditions including menstrual pain, low back pain, and range of motion.
According to Elfi, a key benefit of self-massage is how it helps us get acquainted with our bodies. “I like to think of our arms as the wings of our heart. Then I ask, what kind of loving touch, what kind of attention, can we give ourselves?”
She asks us to imagine what we do when we get hurt—such as when we bump our elbow. We immediately touch it, and hold it or perhaps gently massage it. This is one example of how touch instinctively helps us feel better. Self-massage builds on this concept.
How to get started
First things first: check with your health care practitioner before starting a self-massage practice, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
Elfi recommends starting self-massage by adding intentional thought and mindfulness to the self-touch activities you already do in your day. For example, when you’re putting body lotion on your legs, applying your night cream to your face, or washing your hair, ask yourself how it feels. “Make it an inquiry-based activity,” Elfi suggests. “Experiment, and add some attention and love to it. Maybe ask yourself: how can I offer more loving to my body? This is your own individual exploration.” Elfi adds that mindful breathing is also important. “Conscious breathing is your way to become more aware of your body.”
Set up your space
You can practice self-massage on an as-needed basis, whether it’s waiting for the bus or at work. But it can also be lovely to practice self-massage in your own space, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.
Elfi recommends a private room that is warm and comfortable. You can use a mat on the floor or a comfortable chair—whatever feels best to you. Elfi also suggests keeping everything you need close by, like a towel or your massage oil (and remember to put that distracting phone away!). “Take yourself on a date, be your own best beloved,” she says. Feel free to light a candle, play some soft music, or even have some fresh flowers nearby. Decide how much time you want to spend. Elfi suggests starting with shorter sessions.
Lotions and oils
Natural massage oils can be purchased, or you can use lotions or pure carrier oils such as sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, or jojoba oil. One of Elfi’s favorites is pure organic coconut oil.
Some people choose to add a few drops of essential oils to carrier oils. Remember to check with your health care practitioner before using essential oils and follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully, as they are not suitable for everyone and are very potent.
Essential oils for stress relief include lavender, chamomile, orange, peppermint, and geranium. However, essential oils are a personal choice. “One person’s favorite is another person’s allergen,” Elfi reminds us. It’s important to choose one that <you> love. Consider consulting a herbalist or aromatherapist to find a scent that is most beneficial to your health.
Give it a try
To reduce tension in the head and shoulders, Elfi suggests massaging the pressure point in the web between your thumb and index finger. You can do so with the thumb on your opposite hand, using gentle circular motions for a few minutes on each hand.
Other common practices include:
- facial massage (using upward and outward motions from the center of your face, as well as along the jawline and between your brows up to your forehead)
- lower back massage (with your hands on your waist facing forward and gently pressing your thumbs on either side of your spine and massaging in small motions)
- foot massage (using your thumb to massage the sides of your foot, your knuckles to massage the bottom of your foot, and your thumb and index finger to massage each toe)
These are general techniques that may not be right for you. For personalized routines and techniques, Elfi recommends experimenting and taking time to notice the effects of your touch. You can also attend a self-massage class, which may be available at your local yoga studio or community center, or online such as on YouTube.
Supplements for stress relief
Always check with your health care practitioner before trying a new supplement, including the following.
- Magnesium has been associated with reduced stress and anxiety and improved quality of life.
- Probiotic supplements have been shown in studies to help reduce feelings of stress.
- Ashwagandha is a herb that is believed to help with stress relief and sleep.
- Chamomile (popular in herbal tea) may help reduce anxiety.
CBD massage oil is growing in popularity. Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD does not cause intoxication. While research is still in its infancy, early findings indicate that CBD may help ease pain and anxiety symptoms.