The Benefits of Yoga and Massage

Perspective of a Yoga Instructor

by Amber DeBarge RYT (Come As You Are Yoga)

Recently I had the opportunity to explore yoga and massage more in-depth as they relate to the healing process. I began discussing this with licensed massage therapist Dana Stein, and this article is the result of our combined perspectives on the benefits of both practices.

I use and teach yoga to help people recover from more strenuous physical activity, long periods of inactivity like those experienced in sedentary jobs, and strenuous mental work. Yoga is a great way to reduce pain and increase resilience not just in your physical body but in your mental body as well. Both yoga and massage relieve discomfort and tension as well as muscle tightness.

So why pick one over the other? Fortunately, there’s no need to choose! Both practices complement each other throughout the healing process. The answer is that choosing both is the better option because of how well yoga and massage complement each other throughout the healing practice. I’ll give you an example of how this benefited me recently.

Like most people I work with, I like to work hard and play hard! While snowboarding with my daughter and her friend over Spring Break, I took a couple of good falls (or perhaps snow-eating is more accurate). When the vacation was over, I got right back to my yoga practice. And after a few days I was no longer feeling the effects of a few good face plants and two 10 hour drives. Yoga contributed to my quick recovery, because it helps lengthen muscles, keep and increase range of motion in joints, and consciously relax muscles or group of muscles. (*If you have an injury, I always recommend seeing your doctor before you practice.)

Five days after I got back from snowboarding, I had my monthly massage. By the time I had the massage, my daily yoga practice and some additional restorative practice had returned me back to a comfortable, easy place in my body. And while yoga is a conscious, intentional, and direct partnership between your breath and your body, massage is a passive way of increasing circulation, breaking up scar tissue, and relieving tension. By passive, I mean you’re not doing the work yourself. When I’m not engaging my muscles, I get a different deep relaxation or release of the muscle in a short amount of time. Likewise, tension in muscles that are hard to stretch on my own, such as shoulders and neck muscles, are really helped by massage. A massage therapist can work on these muscles in a more effective and direct way. And if I do too much or find that a muscle or area of my body is so tight or sore that other methods are less useful, massage becomes the quickest and most effective way to kickstart the healing.

Yoga keeps my body in a comfortable place and encourages healing when I get injured Adding massage to that increases the effectiveness of my practice and further speeds the healing, while also stretching and/or relaxing muscles that are difficult to stretch on my own.

Massage includes the added benefit of someone else helping you. Being cared for by others is a crucial component to healthy living. Life today rewards us for being self-sufficient and self-reliant, but we all know that being cared for is essential to a healthy life.

Perspective of a Massage Therapist

by Dana Stein, CMT, HHP (Soothing Flow Massage)

As a massage therapist with an avid love of yoga, I see both practices as being extremely beneficial for physical and mental health. The two wellness tools have much overlap when it comes to benefits, with a few important differences.

Physically, both increase circulation and mobility and potentially reduce pain and tension. They are also great for managing stress, releasing “feel good” endorphins, and inspiring a sense of wellbeing. Awareness of your physical body often takes a backseat in this busy modern world. Connecting to yourself and being present in your body is therapeutic on many levels. Massage and yoga both facilitate this.

Massage puts an individual into a more passive role, as the therapist performs the treatment that relaxes the mind and restores the body and provides the comfort of touch.

Yoga is an active practice, empowering you to be the “doer” – it is through your movement and effort that your body reaches a state of ease and opening, and builds strength.

Another difference between the two is the frequency each practice takes place. I commonly recommend (as do most therapists) that clients receive a massage at the rate of about once a month.

Yoga, on the other hand, can be practiced multiple times a week, even daily if desired!

Because of this, as a therapist I am often recommending my massage clients consider establishing a regular stretching routine or yoga practice. This extends the life of the massage benefits and prevents a rebound of muscular tension. As therapists we refer to this as “homework” – the work that clients can do between appointments to minimize the return of tension and pain before the next session.

Yoga has helped me on a personal level. About two years ago, my work load was quite high, which was great for business, but took a toll on my physical body. I started experiencing terrible pain and a grinding sensation in my right hip when I took a step. I received massage treatments, adjustments, got new shoes, but none of these totally fixed the problem.

Having a solid understanding of anatomy, I knew stretching certain muscles in my low back, glutes, and upper legs might help with whatever imbalance was taking place. So I experimented with some yoga poses I knew that targeted those areas. I found the most effective pose to be Pidgeon, which stretches the deep gluteal muscles and the quads. I started doing this stretch multiple times per day, and within a very short time span, my pain went away! Stretching these lower body muscles proved to be more effective than massage in treating my pain, partly because I could keep returning to the pose whenever I felt the muscles tightening up again.

Because of my education in anatomy and my knowledge of yoga, I could help myself. However, many people don’t have this background. Luckily, there are amazing yoga instructors who teach these valuable and empowering skills!

Both massage and yoga are amazing, healing modalities. Rather than be competitors in the World of Wellness, they can cooperate as a team to restore and maintain one’s body.