Last week I got a massage for the first time in nine months. I needed one. My back, my legs! My body craves deep pressure, verging on unbearable (no swirly Swedish stuff).
The massage therapist, Janet, found my muscles very taut and tight. With two clients who practice yoga, she quipped, “Now I’m afraid to try it. All that stretching and you still need massage?”
I explained to her that yoga encompasses more than passive stretching. Much asana work requires strenuous muscular contraction; it’s not too surprising that muscles might be hard rather than soft.
During the massage services, my piriformis, tensor fasciae latae, and gluteus muscles were screaming. Janet suggested that I sit cross-legged (think sukhasana) and press my thighs down to stretch them. Huh? (My ego kicked in, I admit.) My thighs lie flat in baddhakonasana. I already do gomukasana, padmasana, and the whole series of pigeon stretches!
Then I settled down and pondered: Why do my passive muscles react so strongly to deep pressure? Should my muscles be more pliant at rest? Should I ideally feel minimal sensation, no matter how strong the palpation?
On one hand, maybe all active people who “work” their muscles feel some sensation. After all, with exercise, we can’t help but minutely tear muscle fibers (which increase in size and strength with R&R). Wouldn’t our muscles always be in a state of repair? And, wouldn’t I rather be lean and toned than a squishy couch potato or slack-limbed Gumby?
On the other hand, an acupuncturist acquaintance once told me about a martial-arts master with muscles both very developed and very malleable. “He was strong, very muscular but, at the same time, his muscles were like taffy,” I recall him telling me.
So, I asked an experienced RMT, whom I know through yoga, whether strong sensation is typical. He made some interesting points:
- Generally, the stiffer the musculature, the more ‘reactive,’ tender, or painful it will be during deep-tissue massage.
- You can be flexible and even hypermobile but still have stiff muscles. Dancers, gymnasts, and acrobats can have stiff muscles, just like anyone else.
- Ideally, muscles should be well-toned, strong, and extensible.
“Some clients whom I massage very deeply feel absolutely no pain at all,” he said, before adding, “Just remember that there are always exceptions to the rule.”
Any personal anecdotes about yoga and massage? Any comments from other massage therapists?