5 techniques to give yourself a massage at home, from a Philly massage therapist
A licensed massage therapist shows you five self-massage techniques you can practice at home now, with videos to follow along for each.
The year 2020 has been filled with chronic stress. And for many of us, that mental strain is showing up in our physical body. If you yearn for a massage, you’re not alone.
Spas and wellness centers are now open across Pennsylvania, operating at 50-percent maximum capacity. But with climbing coronavirus rates, health experts currently warn against getting a professional massage. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t work out some of those knots at home.
» READ MORE: Can I get a massage right now? Here's how to think about the risk.
“You can definitely impact and release muscle tension all on your own,” says Julia Taylor, a licensed massage therapist and founder of Fishtown’s Threshold Wellness. “And it’s a meditative and tangible experience that we can all attain right now.”
In March, Taylor launched a virtual self-massage workshop designed to help people reconnect with the present moment and release tight muscles in a way that’s safe. If not done mindfully, self-massage can lead to injury.
Starting Jan. 7, Taylor will host her fifth Zoom workshop. Each week, Taylor guides participants through different techniques to increase circulation and release tension and pain. You can register online: The full four-week series costs $60-$130 (on a sliding scale), about the same as an hour-long massage.
If you miss the workshop or simply want a preview, Taylor has shared five self-massage techniques you can practice at home now, paired with videos to follow along for each. She recommends starting the routine first with a short breathing practice to help center and calm your mind.
Pre-massage breathing practice
The following is inspired by My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem:
Start by taking three or four deep breaths. On the fourth breath, exhale with a low tone hum. Continue breathing deeply for two to three minutes, exhaling each time with a hum and changing the tone every three breaths. When you’re finished, take a moment to notice how you feel.
To release tension in your neck, throat, and jaw
Keeping the palm of your hand broad and soft, stroke downward from the bone behind your ear to where your collar bones meet your chest bone. Use your left hand to massage the right side of your neck, and your right hand to massage the left side of your neck.
This should be a gentle stroking, as if you were firmly petting a cat. There are many nerves and blood vessels on the side and front of your neck, so it’s important to use an open palm and not your fingertips.
After about eight strokes on each side, place your hand in the middle of your upper chest. You’ll want to have your palm resting on your skin, not fabric, so you can create drag on your skin and feel the stretch more. Tip your head back and gently turn it from side to side.
Then, gently turn your head again, and when you reach a position where you feel a stretch (but not pain) across the front of your neck, pause. Hold this position for at least six deep breaths. As the tissue softens, you can play with making micro-movements in your neck’s position. You can also try slightly opening and closing your jaw. Come back to the center and take a moment to notice how you feel. Repeat with the opposite side of your neck.
To release tension in the chest
Arch and curl your fingers so that they make the shape of a “C.” With your hands in this position and fingertips firm, begin to make circles on your chest. (You can also use a tennis ball, gripping it in the palm of your hand and working it around in circles).
Work your way from your upper-middle chest out to the side. As you reach the area where your arm meets your torso, soften the pressure. (You don’t want to press too hard in this area because there are nerves close to the surface here that don’t like deep pressure.)
Gently but firmly plant your fingertips in the area where your arm meets your torso. With your arm outstretched, slowly move your arm around in small circles. You should feel the muscles rolling under your fingers. This gives your pectoral muscles some cross-fiber friction, breaking up points of tension.
Repeat on the other side.
To release tension in the neck
Place your left hand on the back of your neck on the right side. Starting where your skull meets your neck, begin directing pressure toward the front of your neck as you glide your hand down to where the muscle spans out toward your shoulder.
Then, gently or firmly pressing with your fingertips, feel the muscles next to your spine, and use your fingertips to roll the muscles back and forth. You’re pulling the muscle toward your vertebra, and then away.
You can also press one spot that feels tender, and make slow, up-and-down movements with your head, like you’re saying “no.” Notice how tiny changes to the angle of your chin affects the sensation. When you find a position that brings a release of pain, pause and take three deep breaths. Imagine a softening with each exhale.
Switch sides, and repeat.
To release tension in your neck and upper back
Use your hands to pinch the part of the muscle that runs from the bottom of your neck out to your shoulder. Your thumb should be pointing down toward the front of your body, and your fingers should be angled down toward your back.
Anchor your thumb on one spot, and pull your fingers upward and around, as if they were trying to meet your thumb. Work your way down the muscle.
Play with using less pressure than you might usually apply and move slowly so that you can feel subtleties as you go along. If you find a place that feels like you’re releasing pain, and not inflicting it, pause and take three deep breaths, allowing that spot to soften.
To release tension in the neck and base of your skull (tennis balls needed)
Place two tennis balls in a long sock. Tie a knot so that the balls stay together at the toe of the sock.
Lean against a wall or lie on the floor with the balls placed at the base of the skull. Without pressing hard, soften into the balls with your breath.
Julia Taylor is a licensed massage therapist and founder of Fishtown’s Threshold Wellness.