I had my first massage rather late, I was already in my twenties. I don’t know why, I just never thought of it before. Why go for a massage when you can have an epic night out instead? Or so my philosophy went…Eventually a friend suggested we both have massages as part of our spa experience, and the rest is history.
That day my masseur, a mature man with a Slavic accent, told me (whilst doing unspeakably painful things to my body): “You’re very UGH” (he held his hands up in fists and lifted his shoulders) “you young man. When you’re 40 – 50, okay. But now is not good. You need to learn to relax. You learn to relax or you always have problem”. I think he meant that I was tense? Rigid? It concerned me somewhat, even if I forgot it soon after, when I joined my friend for a mimosa. But later I remembered it again. UGH? I’m ‘UGH’? I decided to make some lifestyle changes.
You may not be in as sorry a state as I was, but it’s true that whereas a massage can deal with your stress knots, it can’t keep you in that perfect state forever. Bad posture and hours in front of a computer (or hunched over a phone, for that matter) will eventually take their toll. While not everyone can afford to have a male to male massage whenever they need one, everyone can prolong the feeling of flexibility and wellbeing in between their massage sessions. Here are some ideas (or, if you’d rather have a massage, don’t let me stop you).
How to keep your muscles relaxed in between the massage sessions
1. Make sure you’re sleeping right
The generally agreed advice is that you should change your mattress every 10 years, but use your judgement. Your wallet and the environment will thank you. You should not feel that there is a ‘dip’ when you lie down. However, if there is one, don’t rush to dispose of your mattress! Turn it over and test it out again. In general, it’s a good idea to rotate your mattress twice a year (thanks, Martha Stewart -_-). If you can be bothered to do it every three months, you will prolong the life of your mattress by a lot.
2. Take breaks from a static sitting position
This tip is for your eyes as much as for your back. You could use software, for example WorkRave (free), which tells you to take a break at intervals which you set up in advance. When taking a break, do some basic stretching exercises. If you have three minutes, try this free stretching workout by Darebee, built specifically to give your body a break from prolonged sitting.
3. Make time for self-massage sessions
Whilst not everyone might want to invest in a massage chair or a massage bed, two further options remain. First, buying or improvising various massage tools, such as foam rollers and massage balls. Second, self massage without tools. To do this, reach out to your upper back over the shoulder and gently knead, rub and pull on the points of tension. You can massage any part of the body that you can reach, and foot massage can be particularly relaxing.
4. Have a soak to relax your muscles
This one can be particularly pleasant! Take an evening off, fill a hot bath and mix in some Epsom bath salts. Whether the salts actually have an effect on your muscles is unproven, but the hot water will work its magic regardless. Careful if you are suffering from a condition that contraindicates hot baths. If lying in a bath is not your favourite pastime, visit a sauna instead. It’s all about the heat, whichever way you choose to do it.
5. Do isometric relaxation exercises
These are very simple exercises that you can even do at work. All that you need to do is tense a muscle, hold, then relax it. These exercises are usually used to strengthen the muscles, but they are also effective in relaxing them. The key is to tense and relax the muscle gradually and slowly (you can hold your breath and count in your head).
6. Meditation & progressive muscle relaxation
We already know that meditation is good for both body and mind, but what is PMR (progressive muscle relaxation)? It’s a type of muscle relaxation exercise that is often incorporated in meditation recordings. You focus on and relax muscles gradually, starting from one part of your body (e.g. head) and ending with another (e.g. toes). You can meditate by yourself, in a group setting, or by using an audio recording. There are various apps, Headspace is good for beginners and it uses PMR.
7. Tackle the brain
The easiest way to fix a problem is not to let it form. So if your muscles are always tense because you’re perpetually stressed, do yourself a favour and look after your mental health. Actually, do it even if you are not perpetually stressed. Obviously, therapy can be very helpful, but there is a lot you can do yourself, and it doesn’t end with candle-lit baths and walks in the park. We have already mentioned meditation. There are other things out there. For example, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is something you can administer to yourself, and there are useful tools available online. Even the most expensive therapists will give you exercises to practice at home, and you can find some yourself with a quick search.
And if I don’t even have time for massage sessions?
That might sound quite a lot. Do I do all of this regularly? Heck no. I don’t even go in for regular massage sessions. I’m a busy guy, and probably so are you. However, even my minimal effort makes me feel better, and not just because “I’m doing something”. There is an incontrovertible link between muscle relaxation and well being, so by keeping this list in mind and working on it, you are essentially forging your own happiness. Just make it work around your schedule.
You can add reminders to your calendar/planner when it’s time to turn your mattress. Software could remind you to step away from the computer and take a walk around the room before you sit down again. My dad likes to walk on a massage cushion whilst he waits for his kettle to boil in the morning. Audio guided meditation can be done on your commute to work. And do you seriously need an excuse to visit a sauna?