Stretching Into Self-Care

A solid self-care routine is essential for your massage therapy career, but it's also great for your physical and mental well-being.

May 1, 2020

Older person with sun behind them stretching arms and hands in front

Many massage therapists come to the profession with a deep, abiding passion for helping people. Improving the health and well-being of their clients—whether in the health care environment, spa or their own practice—is often central to massage therapists’ work.

You need to extend that same care and commitment, however, to your own health and well-being—something massage therapists let drop off their list of priorities. “It is very common for caretakers and givers to put their own needs last, but we need to put the proverbial oxygen mask on ourselves first,” explains Jill Burynski, an Asheville, North Carolina-based massage therapist and Thai massage instructor. “We need to practice what we preach.”

Following are some stretches you can incorporate into your daily practice to help both ensure career longevity and keep your own health and wellness top of mind.

The Doorway Stretch

  1. Stand in the doorway with your arms at a 90-degree angle (cactus arms).
  2. Rest your elbow and forearm against the door jamb, making sure your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Then, lunge forward with your front leg until you feel a tolerable but effective stretch in the pectorals.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds.

Tip: “The best way to make self-care a regular part of your life is to schedule it and make it nonnegotiable and routine, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower,” Burynski explains. For example, make the doorway stretch a regular part of your “between session” self-care. You can do this stretch when you finish a massage session and are preparing for your next client.

The Clock Stretch

  1. Stand next to a wall with your feet about 12 inches away.
  2. Raise your arm overhead to the 12 o’clock position.
  3. Lean in toward the wall until you feel a tolerable but effective stretch in your side-body.
  4. Hold for five to 10 seconds.
  5. Then, move your hand behind you to the 1 o’clock position.
  6. Hold for five to 10 seconds.
  7. Repeat until you’ve moved your hand through 6 o’clock.
  8. Turn around and repeat the process with the other arm.

Tip: “Having a physical stretch and strengthening routine will greatly benefit you as a massage therapist because massage can be a strenuous profession,” Burynski says. But the benefits can go further. In addition to helping prevent injury and increase career longevity, adding stretching to your daily self-care regimen can benefit your overall physical and mental well-being.

“This is one of my favorite parts of being a massage therapist,” Burnyski says. “In order to be the best possible massage therapist for your clients, you must take care of your own physical and mental health. I believe I am a healthier and stronger person because of my profession."

Forearm and Wrist Flexor and Extensor Stretch

  1. Reach one arm out in front of you with your palm facing upward.
  2. With your opposite arm, pull your arm and fingers toward you until you feel a tolerable but effective stretch in your flexor muscles.
  3. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Now, turn your palm facing downward.
  5. Pull your arm toward you until you feel a tolerable but effective stretch in the extensor muscles.
  6. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  7. Repeat on opposite arm.

Tip: As a Thai massage therapist, Burynski was taught that the essence of body mechanics is working from the core and using gravity and leverage instead of muscle power. “For example, when applying thumb or finger pressure to a trigger point, we keep our arms straight, shoulder relaxed and use ‘bone stacking,’” Burynski explains. “So, although our finger is coming into contact with the client’s body, the power is coming from gravity."

We don’t engage our flexors, extensors or other vulnerable muscles when applying pressure this way.

Burynski compares being in a physically demanding profession like massage therapy to being an athlete. “Athletes will stretch and warm up before performing their sport,” she says. “And they’ll engage in some sort of recovery.” The best athletes, too, Burynski adds, include days of rest into their schedules.

“You deserve to be the best version of yourself, and your life and career will be better for you making self-care a priority,” Burynski says. “Have fun creating a self-care regimen that works for you and don’t beat yourself up if you fall off track from time to time. Success at anything is more about being on a positive trajectory than being perfect all the time."

3 Quick Tips to Jumpstart Your Self-Care

Don't rely on willpower. Set yourself up for success by designing your environment and schedule to make developing and sustaining a good habit frictionless. “Stock your kitchen with healthy options that you like and leave the tempting ones in the store,” Burynski says. “Keep your yoga mat or gym bag in your car so you are ready every time.”

Make it easy. “The more obstacles we put between ourselves and our desired behavior, the less likely we are to perform the desired behavior,” Burynski says. So, if the gym you want to join is a 20-minute drive from your home, check out what’s available close to where you work or find aworkout you can do without a gym membership, whether at home or with a neighborhood running club.

Make it enjoyable. “My two main forms of exercise are mountain biking and yoga,” Burynski says, “both of which I enjoy immensely.” Choose an activity that you look forward to doing,because if every self-care activity is a struggle, the chances that you are going to stick to it long-term are low. Self-care should be a treat, not a chore.