One of the benefits of being a massage therapist is that I get to spend a lot of time in a calm, clear state. Over the years, I have given thousands of massages- which means that I have spent thousands of hours perfecting my inner tranquility. By creating calmness within, I am better able to share intuitive touch and healing energy, helping to foster relaxation in my clients. It is not always easy to maintain this equanimity throughout the day. However, I have learned a few tricks that I use to keep the peaceful vibes flowing. Here are a few suggestions that will help you remain calm regardless of your circumstances.
1. Stay grounded. One piece of advice that I received many years ago during my massage training at the Esalen Institute is to always stay in your feet. It sounds obvious, but we tend to forget that energy naturally seeks the ground. After all, a grounded electrical circuit is far less likely to get fried by a power surge than an ungrounded circuit. This is because all the excess energy will travel down into the earth and be neutralized. The best way to ground your energy is to be aware of your feet on the floor. In this way, any excess energy that is released during a massage gets sent down into the Earth instead of being circulated throughout your system. Keeping your feet relaxed and firmly planted on the floor not only allows you to stay balanced, it also prevents other peoples “stuff” from becoming your own.
2. Maintain good posture. In yoga, they speak about the importance of the “shushumna,”the central energy channel that runs up and down the spine, connecting the top of the head with the base of the pelvis. When this channel is open, prana (life force energy) can flow freely throughout the body. When the shushumna is blocked it can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and ultimately to disease within the body. The best way to keep the shushumna open is to maintain good posture. This means that you have to be aware of the times that you let your posture go. My worst habit, especially when massaging, is to tuck my chin. This not only puts extra strain on my neck, it completely cuts off the flow of energy through my throat. Other ways to block the pranic energy flow include: furrowing the brow, clenching the jaw, shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears, letting the spine slouch, and tilting the pelvis too far forward or backward. Keeping your head balanced on top of your shoulders and your spine perpendicular relative to the floor helps to create a calm and balanced energetic state within the body.
3. Relax your breath. Our lungs are made up of smooth muscle tissue, however our breath is primarily the result of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles contracting and releasing. The diaphragm is located at the base of the lungs and, when it contracts, it pulls downward, causing the chest cavity to become longer. When the intercostals contract, they pull the ribs upward and outward, causing the chest cavity to become wider. The result of these two processes is that air streams into the lungs (otherwise known as an inhale). An exhale occurs when these two muscle groups relax. If you are trying to be calm for long periods of time, then you need to avoid holding tension in your lungs and in your breathing muscles. When you are stressed, it feels like the rib cage is pulling in towards the spine. The abdominal muscles lock up, preventing the diaphragm from performing optimally. Stress can make the chest and lungs freeze up, causing the breath to become short and shallow. The best way to keep calm is to ask yourself, "Are my lungs relaxed right now?" Bringing attention to your internal tension is often enough to release the 'grip' of anxiety, allowing the lungs to soften and the breath to flow freely in and out.
By practicing these three suggestions, you should be able to remain calm no matter what situation you find yourself in. You may even come to the realization is that there is, in fact, no such thing as a stressful situation. This is because situations, in and of themselves, are not stressful- it is you that is creating the stress inside yourself. How you choose to interpret a situation determines whether or not your breath gets tight or stays loose. However, if you remember to stay grounded in your feet while maintaining good posture, with an unclenched jaw and relaxed lungs, then there is no way that stress will ever overwhelm you again.
I'll leave you with a quote that is up on the wall in one of our massage rooms. I've read it almost every day for five years now and it still has a calming effect on me every time I see it:
"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." - Unknown
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.