Updated: Aug 22
You’ve already done the difficult part: you’ve prioritised your wellbeing and scheduled regular massage into your life. Congratulations. You’ve noticed the benefits in your body and mind and are looking forward to your upcoming session for that to continue.
But you can’t make it.
Don’t worry, there are some things you can do yourself.
What you would do will depend on why you have massage treatments.
If you receive massage treatments in order to help relieve pain or tension, self-massage followed by some stretches can be a viable substitute. You don’t need to splash out on a massage gun, your hands are a great tool and if you have a tennis ball, yoga block or foam roller even better!
I’ve written a short self-care routine which you’re welcome to try, scroll down to the end of the article. It includes self-massage, stretching, mobility and some strengthening exercises.
Self-massage isn’t a replacement for seeing your massage therapist, whilst you can reach your upper traps yourself, your therapist can work those muscles from different angles and use other applicators, such as their elbows to go deeper.
Please do take care. If you’re in pain or unsure whether it may be unsafe for you, it’s best to see your GP before undertaking any self-massage – you don’t want to make it worse.
But I come for regular massage in order to de-stress, what could I do if I miss a session?
There are several things you can do and below are a few suggestions:
Take a hot bath but make it special: candles, aromatherapy bath oil (no Lush bath bombs here please, nor is this the time to use up those secret santa smellies). Whilst submerged, why not give yourself a slow, mindful face massage:
If you don’t have a bath try a short meditation, perhaps with a scented candle or some essential oils in a diffuser (I particularly like vetiver, myrrh and black pepper, but this is your time so choose a scent that you really like. You deserve this.) If you don’t have either of those, do something that will make the space a little cosier, it could be putting a log fire burning YouTube video on your TV - whatever would help you feel, as the Danes would say, hygge.
Try a yin or restorative yoga class. These classes are great in the evening to calm the mind and body, preparing you for a restful night’s sleep. The poses are held for longer, typically 5 minutes or so, a perfect opportunity for you to surrender to the ground in the same way you do to the massage table.
Lie over yoga block or bottle of wine wrapped in a towel placed between your shoulder blades, legs stretched out and arms resting on your stomach or by your side. Breath in through your nose for a count of 5, hold for a count of five and exhale through your nose for a count of 5. Repeat ten times.
Sit comfortably in a chair, place a tennis ball beneath one foot. Gently roll your feet over the tennis ball, adding pressure if needed. Repeat on the other foot.
Carefully lie down onto the floor with a pillow underneath your knees. Place a tennis ball beneath your left buttock and roll over it, using your body weight to apply pressure as desired. Repeat on the other side.
Put two tennis balls in a sock, spacing them about four or five inches apart and tie the end. Again, lie back onto the floor with the pillow beneath your knees. Place the tennis balls at the small of your back with a ball on each side of your spine. Using your body weight, roll across the tennis balls, moving from the lower back up to the base of the neck.
To massage your neck, clasp your hands behind your head with thumbs pointing downward. Make small circles with your thumbs from behind your ears to the top of your vertebrae. Repeat in a different line on the back of the neck.
Lying down again, place your hands behind your head and gently lift your head and pull your chin toward your chest for a neck stretch. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
Sit up again and lightly massage your temples and the muscles where your jaw hinges with your fingertips.
Wall sits – build strong thighs with this delicious isometric strength exercise. Find some wall space and place your back flat against the wall and slide down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for as long as you can stand (30-60 seconds) and resist the temptation to press your hands onto your legs. The best hand position is above your head with the back of your hands against the wall or by your side if that’s too hardcore. Repeat 2 or 3 sets.
Forearm plank – build core strength with this yoga staple. Starting in a kneeling position, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and pitch forward to place your hands and forearms on the floor. Extend your legs behind you with toes tucked under to press into the plank. Distribute weight in your hands evenly by spreading your fingers apart, creating a stable base. Pull your belly button towards your spine to keep your body in a straight line. Hold for as long as you can stand (1-2 mins). Repeat 2 or 3 sets.
Locust – a favourite of mine from yoga, a great bodyweight upper back strengthen. Strong upper back muscles can help prevent the shoulders rolling forwards due to tight pectorals from sitting at a desk all day. Lie on your front (on a yoga or exercise mat) with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. Lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. Firm your buttocks and reach strongly through your legs. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips. Gaze forward or slightly upward and keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds. Repeat 2 or 3 sets.
Arm circles – I love to do this in the morning as my shoulders are generally tight and afterwards feel fabulous. On a yoga or exercise mat, lie on one side with knees bent to 90 degrees. Keep your knees, hips and shoulders stacked on top of each other and slowly draw large circles with one arm keeping your fingers as close to the floor as possible. Try to resist falling backwards as this takes the emphasis away from the shoulder joint. If it gets stiff or difficult, slow down and ease your way round, with practice you’ll slowly loosen. Roll over to the other side and follow the same routine. Repeat 2 or 3 sets.
Thread the needle – give those pesky shoulder and upper back muscles a good ol’ stretch. Begin on all fours in a table-top position. Raise one arm up then thread it through behind your other arm. Reach as far as your can whilst resting your other shoulder on the mat. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds then repeat on the other side. Repeat 2 or 3 sets.
Cat-Cow – bring some flexibility to your spine by flowing through these two yoga poses. Begin on all fours in table top position, with a neutral spine. Lift your sit bones upward, press your chest forward and allow your belly to sink (cow pose). Lift your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze straight ahead. Round your spine outward, tucking in your tailbone, and drawing your pubic bone forward, pressing into the floor (cat pose). Try beginning the movement from your sacrum (base of your spine), flowing between these two poses for 60 seconds.
Hamstrings – this muscle group is often shortened, especially if you’re a runner or cyclist. My single favourite hamstring stretch is with a yoga strap. If you don’t have one you can easily use a towel or dressing gown cord. Lie on your back with bot legs stretched out. Bend one leg at the knee. Put the strap around the other (outstretched) leg and raise it, holding onto the straps until you feel resistance. Hold for 30-60 seconds. As you feel the muscles lengthen and relax you can pull your foot slowly towards you until you feel resistance and then hold for another 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Glutes – lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle above your left knee and open your right knee to the right. Lift your left foot off the ground, keeping the left knee bent. Thread your right arm through the space between legs and reach left arm around left leg to interlace hands behind left thigh. Guide left knee toward chest and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Chest – often the cause of shoulder heads rolling forwards. Create some space in the front of your torso to complement strengthen your upper back. Sit on your heels with your back straight (if that’s uncomfortable you can perform this stretch standing). Clasp your hands together behind your back with interlaced fingers. Push your hands down and your chest up looking straight ahead. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Relax and repeat 2 or 3 times.