Self-Massage for When Your Budget Is Tight and Your Time Is Short

Photo: Amy Messere/Flickr.

We've all heard about the benefits of massage. In case you haven't, getting regular massage lowers blood pressure, increases the white blood cell count (which is linked to a stronger immune system) and raises cortisol, the feel-good brain chemical that can help with depression, according to Michele Merhib, a licensed massage therapist who has been a practicing massage therapist since 1999. Michele is also the founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage with 90 studios in 28 states — and that means she has massaged a lot of people.

She recommends self-massage as a way to get to know some of the positive effects of the practice and as an every day way to relax and rebalance. She recommends starting with the hands and feet as a simple and easy way to get into massage. Michele's instructions for both techniques are below:

  • Foot massage: Start with a tennis or golf ball on the floor while seated at your favorite living room chair. Roll your foot forward and backward slowly; apply enough pressure to feel a pulling but not enough that you are in too much pain; then roll your foot side to side. Next place your heel on the ball to make circular motions; finally cross your leg over the left ankle and take the ball and roll it up and down the arch of your foot; repeat with the left foot.
  • Hand massage: Take a pencil with an eraser and start by applying pressure to the base of the thumb; make little circles with the eraser in that area, move around to hit all the pressure points in near the thumb.
If you have mastered the above and want to try doing a leg massage or a self-shoulder massage, Michele advises the following:
  • Always make sure that you are higher than the body parts that are to be massaged.
  • Massage long strokes, following a body part until you hit bone where the origin of the muscle lies.
  • Don’t just stop massaging at the neck, rather follow the muscle all the way around the neck and up behind the ear and the back of the head.

And when you're ready to get to a professional for a massage, don't be intimidated. You won't have to get naked — only the body part or parts being worked on during a given time are exposed — the rest of you is under a sheet and blanket (so for instance, if the massage therapist is working on your shoulders and arms, the rest of your body will be covered). "You should never feel too exposed," says Michele, but she also adds, "Most people have a lot of pain in neck and shoulders, and oftentimes they want just a massage in that one spot. Since muscles work in pairs and there's a tug of war from back to front and side to side, it's important for people to know that where pain is is not always where the pain is coming from."