It’s no secret that we are greatly affected by the human touch. In fact, the key to empathy is literally in our hands.
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley cited numerous studies that prove the positive emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. The art of human touch also plays an important role in the way that we communicate with one another. Through our fingertips, we hold the power to release endorphins that can improve our mental health and stimulate the body’s largest organ to enhance overall wellbeing. So why is it then, that that we are often averse to practicing this art form on ourselves? Rather than wait until you have the extra time and/or money to book your next massage, why not take self-care into your own hands and give yourself a massage instead?
Self-care serves as a reminder that in order to serve others and really show up for them, we’ve got to recharge our reserves—we’ve got to take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other, much like putting on our own oxygen mask first. After all, if we burn out, then we are really no good to anyone, despite our efforts. Burnout only leads to resentment, and nobody wants that. Take yoga teachers, for instance, whose job it is to create a container of self-care and healing for their students. Raise your hand if you’ve heard one too many confessionals by teachers on social media (myself included) who’ve run themselves into the ground, who’ve forgotten to carve out the time and space to ensure their own needs are being met.
Self-massage offers an opportunity to stop rushing and feel radiant on your own terms. By pausing to explore your body through your very own touch, you facilitate a deeper connection to yourself; you’ve also stepped fully into your being and arrived in the present moment. Touch begets sensation, and once you begin, say, rubbing your own shoulders with intention, allowing your fingertips to explore the knots and nuances there, you might notice underlying tension that you weren’t aware was there before. This practice of observation is also synonymous with your yoga and meditation practices: you are as much a witness as you are a direct participant to the experience at hand.
Give yourself permission for pleasure.
Kitty Cavalier, creator of the self-love practice, « Sacred Seduction, » says that, « With a practice like self massage, we reclaim it’s core virtue: innocence. This is a perfect time to invest in in the most sustainable source of happiness at your disposal: feeling deeply at home in your own skin. » Kitty’s philosophy is based on the principle that pleasure is the lifeline back to self-love and self-acceptance; that by giving ourselves permission for pleasure leads to greater acceptance of the skin we’re in, of the bodysuit we are born into. So what could happen if we took just a few moments each day to « pleasure » ourselves through the simple act of touch? Meow! Interpret that however you like, but for these purposes, we’ll stick with self-massage for now.
Stimulate your senses.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, and by using your fingertips, thumbs, even a fist or elbow, you can focus on areas of tension with small circular motions and use as much pressure as you like. You can also seek out objects at home, isolating areas with a tennis ball or Tune-Up ball, or even a sturdy foam roller. Not only will you « roll out » the tense spots, but you’ll also increase blood flow to those areas to help the body naturally detox as you massage away residual tightness. The most popular form of self-massage known within the wellness space is probably Abhyanga massage, an ancient Ayurvedic technique that encourages the use of warm herb-infused oils (try coconut or sesame). Your skin will radiate with youth and vitality, and you’ll probably feel pretty darn good, too.
Let’s get practical.
Full disclosure: I was having a rough day and needed to take matters into my own hands. Fortunately a friend had recently gifted me a delicious smelling herb-infused ‘post-training’ oil that was probably marketed to yoga teachers. It had been sitting on my bedside table for weeks and I had yet to use a single droplet on my achy shoulders. Why? Because more often than not, many of us are guilty as charged of taking care of and pleasing others before we ensure our own needs are being met. (When is the last time you gave yourself a hug, for instance, aside from in a yoga class?)
I took five minutes and rubbed the oil together in my palms to generate a little heat. I closed my eyes and allowed my palms to be intuitively led across my trapezius muscles and shoulders to work out the kinks. And though I’m not trained in massage and had no idea what I was doing, as you could probably guess, I felt a whole lot better once I was through. I reconnected to my body; I got out of my head and told my weary mind to take a backseat for a moment while I took care of myself. The best part: I didn’t have to schedule it in or make an appointment with a therapist or even leave my house. A little self-massage does indeed go a long way, and should be a part of everyone’s self-care routine.
Through self-touch, we can facilitate our continued ascension to higher states awareness. And with this raise in our own energetic vibration, we can then offer our best selves forward to the world around us. We have more to give others because we’ve taken time to recharge our reserves. Self-massage creates an opportunity to come home to ourselves, to care for our whole being as our best friend so that we can perform at our best.
And maybe this is why our yoga and meditation practices so often feel like home—they are lifelines back to knowing our true nature and communing with the highest Self. By practicing self-massage, we’re creating a direct lifeline back to the Source, an infinite well of energy from which we can draw upon in any given moment. We can continue to come home to ourselves again and again.
Andrea Rice is a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, NY Yoga + Life, SONIMA, mindbodygreen and other online publications. Connect with Andrea on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her website.