As students of massage, it is imperative we keep work-related injuries to a minimum. I designed the Auth Method of Forearm Massage to help professional massage therapists enjoy longer, healthier careers. The Auth Method is a massage technique that takes the practitioner's well-being into account, as well as that of the client. It feels effortless to perform and great to receive.
In the first part of this two-part series, you received an introduction to the Auth Method of Forearm Massage, including some forearm massage techniques. In this article, I will share qigong exercises for better body mechanics.
Using my forearms saved my hands, but what about the rest of me? Too many therapists quit the profession due to back pain. I was introduced to qigong while attending school to receive my master's degree in Chinese medicine.
Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise system that couples movement with breath. The movements are slow and relaxed-the ideal pace for massage. The qigong stance is grounded and strong in the lower body, like a tree trunk rooted to the earth, and relaxed and fluid in the upper body, like tree branches flowing in the wind. The legs are spread wide with the knees bent. The back is straight and the shoulders relaxed. The arms are loose like wet spaghetti.
The Auth Method teaches the following simple qigong exercise for developing good body mechanics while working.
One of the main stances in the Auth Method is the lunge stance. To learn the lunge stance and to encourage a straighter back, relaxed upper body and grounded lower body while working, try the qigong exercise prayer wheel.
Find some empty space outside or in your home and put on some comfortable clothing. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and slightly bend your knees. Shift your body weight into your right leg and turn your left foot out to a 45-degree angle. Shift your body weight back into your left leg (the left knee is bent) and step your right foot comfortably forward. Your stance will be about 2.5-feet wide.
While inhaling, bend the right knee, straighten the left knee, and shift your body weight into your right leg. Keep your back straight and your hips low. As you move forward, keep your hips on the same horizontal line, not moving up and down.
While exhaling, straighten the right leg, bend the left, and shift your body weight back into your left leg. Continue this back-and-forth motion with the breath. Imagine growing roots out the bottom of your feet and inhaling up through the soles of your feet. This image will help keep you grounded in your lower body. When this motion feels comfortable, move on to incorporate the upper body.
While inhaling forward, float the arms up with loose wrists until they are shoulder-height in front of you. Exhaling back, float the arms back toward your shoulders and down along your sides, keeping your shoulders relaxed through the entire movement. This makes a circular or wheel shape with the arms, hence the name prayer wheel. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Practice this exercise on both sides, making 10 or more prayer wheels. This exercise is great for teaching therapists to stay grounded in the legs and relaxed in the upper body. With time, it also slows the therapist down and reminds them to breathe.
When it comes to good body mechanics, it's important not to forget yourself and your needs while giving a massage. Check in with yourself while working. Are you breathing? Is your back straight? Are your shoulders relaxed? Could you be doing less and getting the same or better results? This is your time, too. At the end of the massage, if our clients are more relaxed but we are more tense, we have only succeeded in transferring tension rather than reducing it.
The same way you are conscious of your breath, remain conscious of your client's breath. Relaxation happens with the breath. The breath moves and circulates. If our clients are not breathing freely, they are like a stagnant swamp, instead of a flowing river. Your massage will be more effective if your client is consciously breathing.
I know right away if my client isn't breathing correctly, because I start trying to breath for them. This obviously doesn't work; we can't breathe for our clients. Encourage your clients to breathe, even if it means breaking a relaxing silence. Encourage them to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Ask clients to breathe under your hands or into an area you are working on that is blocked. Use the client's breath as a helpful and internal tool for deeper release.
It takes time to develop sensitivity in your forearms, but once achieved, there are many advantages, including more durability for increased career longevity and productivity, better leverage for leaning into the tissue and saving you energy, and increased area of contact so you can work more of your client in less time.