The Base of the Thumb – A Large Small World

 

Seriously, who doesn’t enjoy having their hands massaged? Let’s do a simple one for the thumbs (talk about an overworked area). Think of this as a very small road trip, a tiny but effective exploration. – Take the thumb tip of one hand, place it on the medial  or inner side of the thumb joint on the opposite hand. Stroke it down along that inner edge of the thumb’s metacarpal bone, following it along to where the bone ends. Then turn a right angle to trace inward along the palm’s base, moving toward the center of the hand, still staying low along the base of the hand. It’s simply two short, firmly pressed lines, tracing the outer edge of the thenar eminence, yet these two brief strokes do help to move tension out from the area – and it feels really good! A lot of tension can sit around that edge, in our usually over-used thumbs. Notice spots that are tender, tighter, or even gritty in muscle texture; the left and right hand will probably feel different from one another. Grouping the forefinger, middle, and ring fingers together is a nice alternative to using the thumbs here. With this broader point of contact, you can use these three finger tips to apply strokes from the thumb joint down across the thenar eminence, to the base of the hand right above the carpal/wrist bones. A nice break from the computer, allowing a space for “zoning out,” exploring this small area with simple, focused strokes. 

What are we feeling in there, besides tension or soreness? Applying the above simple strokes explores along the abductor pollicis brevis, the flexor pollicis brevis, and the opponens pollicis muscles. Along with the soft tissue, there’s also the carpometacarpal joint at the thumb, the first metacarpal bone, and a little of the trapezium in the wrist –  all the aforementioned in this small space, receiving needed touch, and working hard and ongoing for us as we move through the world. The complexity of human anatomy seems never-ending, and still our learning about it continues. The power of simple but focused touch seems even more of a universe; constantly new, every time, and so often without words to explain how it feels. You don’t need to know the anatomy of the area to appreciate massage here, though it does help to grow our appreciation of what we are and what we have. The more over-worked or stressed any given region of the body is, the more we seem to expand and let go once these areas are addressed with care and attention. So work on your own hands, or offer this gift to another. Allow yourself to notice in receiving this touch, how a stillness can rise above the noise, and a quiet can grow deeper within.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016

 

 

 

 

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A Furrowed Supraorbital Ridge Impedes the View

Tightness in the brow ridge above the eyes, the supraorbital ridge, is another one of those small, delicate spots where addressing it can be wonderfully helpful, yet it’s an often overlooked area, especially when limited time is usually a part of any bodywork session.  Relaxing this zone can ease eye tension, affecting our eyesight; it can release pressure on the sinuses located right behind the brow ridges; and it can reduce tension being held throughout the facial muscles, felt both within the tissue and the emotions. 

Some people love having their complexion touched while others do not. It’s always best to ask your client first about receiving facial massage, making sure no medium (oil or excess lotion) is on your hands, as it can make people break out, alter their makeup, and so on. Working close to the seat of someone’s sensory organs (eyes, nose, mouth, ears), creates that much more of a need for awareness and sensitivity in approach. The forefinger tips are usually easiest to use here, placing one at a time lightly but with assurance, so the recipient can relax into having digit tips that close to their eyes. Try starting at the medial edge of the brows, doing a gentle pull with the forefingers in a superior direction, away from the eyes. The client can often immediately feel sinus passages opening and tension dissipating out of furrowed expressions, away from the center of the face. Noticing how the therapist gives the eyes plenty of space usually generates even more relaxation within the client. For the massage therapist, it feels good to let the finger tips sink into that bony curve at the top sides of the nose, right between the brows. There is a happy sense of evaporating tension within a few seconds; a sense of positive, focused effect being created quickly and easily.

Working within small, delicate areas can sometimes create more hand tension for the therapist, so it’s good to change how the hands are used. Try thumbs for a few seconds instead of forefinger tips, or all four fingertips on the length of the brows sweeping medial to lateral while also pulling in a slightly cranial direction. Alternating with fluid, slow deliberation amongst the aforementioned approaches can feel good to both the therapist and the client. It creates a subtle wave of changes in address, contact, pressure, and direction, keeping the therapist and client very present, focused yet relaxed, and more interested in what’s occurring. A meditative moment shared by both people, in a tiny space with a big effect.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016

The Sacrum is Often the Heart of the Matter

I’ve noticed that people are generally always surprised by how sore the edges of the sacrum are, and how much relief we can bring in easing the area open. A triangular shape framed between the large wings of the hip bones, the sacrum creates the sacroiliac joints by articulating with the ilium on either side, and even demands some attention as an artistic visual with its unique looking shape. This small piece of our skeletal system holds down some important jobs: an outlet for lower spinal nerves, a support holding the upper body’s weight while also helping to transmit it through the lower extremities into the ground, and a base supporting the upper spine. So it makes sense that this funny, knobby-feeling skeletal bone can run from being hypersensitive to the lightest massage pressure, to feeling eased in receiving touch, often truly creating a sigh of relief for people. With its important roles and structure always kept in mind (the nerves present, the lack of muscle density actually passing over the site), massaging the sacroiliac joints need care and consideration, with the pressure level very specific per individual and even different per side of the same individual.

As long as the client has not mentioned to avoid working on their sacrum, once you make contact with it, you’ll start to get a sense fairly quickly for how the area feels to them. A nice way to start is by placing fingertips on the center of the sacrum first, before gliding off the rough formation and into soft tissue near the edge, noticing how different the bony triangle feels compared to the tissue connecting along its sides. Taking these steps with deliberation before beginning to explore the tissue, conveys a solid sense both of your awareness of the area and of your client to said client. This alone can create a calming effect in a generally overstressed spot. Moving next into massaging the tissue, gently use supported fingertips to create circular or parallel friction along the sacral edge, working superior to inferior and noticing subtle differences in each fraction of an inch along the way, lingering with more time in areas of increased density or soreness. Light static pressure can also be relieving if the tissue has hypertonic spots wanting to spasm. However the area allows you in, it can be wonderful to receive this kind of focus here, like the sweet reassurance of a loving hand placed upon slumped shoulders.

I love that kindness, attentiveness, and relief can all be brought to the sacrum if intention is sustained within the massage. There’s a lot of beauty in this: honoring and caring for an area simultaneously strong and sensitive, with the grace and warmth of knowing our client is allowing us to address this space. Thinking about how the sacrum sits just enough out of easy reach on the posterior plane of the lower body, yet also high enough that reaching back with your own hands is awkward, it’s usually lost to our own attempts to calm it. Allowing another to address this central hub of the body becomes a lovely sharing of trust given by one and acknowledged by the other, and that aforementioned sigh of relief from the body becomes palpable to our very fingertips.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016

Sensing Digits Return As Tense Fingers Relax

I used to love pulling any kind of lace between my fingers as a child. The sensation of having this type of fabric, with all its possible variations, move across the finger webbing and against the sides of the fingers themselves, was comforting. Another wordless feeling – no reason for it if you had asked me, and no really solid descriptions to give for the feeling itself. Yet in thinking about it now, this is a fairly sensitive area that at the same time is always “sensing,” as our hands are generally the first point of contact with the environment. We usually think of the fingertips or the palm with this; the star players. What of the other, less noted areas of the hands, such as the aforementioned webbing? To give specific attention to detailed areas is wonderful to receive, though frequently overlooked in favor of treating larger muscle groups.

Gently compressing the finger webbing, pinching it between your thumb and another finger, a slow dragging pull from proximal to distal, letting each section of webbing between any two fingers come gently free from your grip. Thin at the end of the pull, denser closer to the hand, sometimes stretchy in quality or sometimes tight, short and shallow or with thicker flesh depending on the person’s hands, the webbing is as individual as the hands themselves. On the dorsal side of the hand the webbing can seem so much like tissue paper, while the palmar side has similarity to the sole of the foot, possibly callused from use in the world and protection against it, same time. The digits should have more lightness in their movement after just one pass of this. Taking it deeper, if you move the starting point of the compression in closer, rocking back and forth into the tissue between the base of the fingers, soreness is usually there waiting to be worked out. The recipient might notice being able to splay their fingers apart much wider; hands ready to engage with the world more fully, range of motion increased, and more alacrity in movement.

Given that our hands do an amazing amount of work ongoing, including in that too much keyboard typing, easing tense hands open is a warm, welcome, yet almost forgotten relief. The wonderful thing here is, even if no deeper work is done, simply doing a gentle pull down the finger webbing, letting the client feel how much sensation exists there, and creates lightness through stiff fingers after this simple palliative touch is given. Almost like shaking someone’s hand, briefly being introduced, then leaving a kindness from the exchange to linger hopefully long after.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016

Tight Chin in Hand, Tense Thoughts in Head

If touch is connected more with a sense of feeling, how can we apply spoken or written language to describe a world that may have broader boundaries than language allows for? Massage therapy, both an art form and a science, is a perfect example of this disparity. What does it feel like to do bodywork? More specifically, what does it feel like to work on this part of the body, on this particular individual, in any given approach or style or technique, in this given moment?

When I’m thinking, I often rest my hand along my lower jaw. It’s so natural to do – consider Rodin’s stature, “The Thinker.” How often do we rest our chin in hand, putting pressure there, feeling the weight of our head against it? Fairly strong in appearance and to the touch, the jaw bone has a lot of beauty and looks so different per person. With the actual jaw joint displaying hypertonicity in the surrounding musculature to dysfunction in the joint itself,  it can be challenging to approach the curve of the mandible bone without placing undue pressure on that temporomandibular joint. It’s nice to introduce yourself to the area, allowing the recipient to adjust, since jaws often are tight. Land the fingers softly on the underside tip of the chin, curled and just barely resting there, thumbs lightly contacting the front part of the chin. Slowly beginning to compress the tissue against the substance of that mandible bone, feeling its density in contrast to the skin sliding and moving around it. A lovely contrast, the malleability of the skin juxtaposed to the mandible’s solidity.

Is there bracing felt from the client as the technique is applied to the jaw bone? The pressure can be modified continuously, staying in synch with how the recipient is responding, like a wave back and forth of response and reaction. One round of this kind of touch may be more than enough, especially if done with measured intention and awareness; facial massage is often best if brief and palliative since it’s a sensitive area. Pulling and compressing the skin onto and even a little out from the chin tip and into the jaw, there can be a sense of pulling tension out of the whole jaw itself, before even reaching the jaw joint, or after it has already been addressed. It’s a fine balance point working here, honoring how tension may be held or moving in the client’s face. 

Jaw bones can reside in the face with tension from burdens felt, with a kind of thrust forward in defiance against the world, with a slackness from feelings of defeat, and with a tremble holding back grief, and much more. With these few examples in mind, attention given to an area where so much is communicated both in words and wordlessly, can be palpably effective and even reassuring. And if all else is unsure, it still feels quite good both to receive and give this touch.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016