There I was, lying on the massage table, basking in the afterglow of an hour and a half of totally relaxing bliss, thinking to myself, “Do I really have to get up now?” The reality of my daily life was slowly creeping in. “How can I make the most of this experience and carry the calmness of this moment throughout my day, my week?” I wondered.
Anyone who has ever had a great massage has likely had these thoughts. Fortunately, there are a number of things one can do to maximize the physical and emotional benefits of the post-massage state.
Consider scheduling a massage at the end of the day to avoid making a mad dash back to the office for an afternoon appointment or picking the kids up from school and running them to their activities. Try not to fall back into a routine of drinking coffee to keep you revved up for the next thing on your to-do list. Savor the post-massage moments; extend your massage time by enjoying a cup of tea in a quiet atmosphere or taking a nice, long bath accompanied by candlelight and soothing music. We are all aware of relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to sustain that inner peace, but there are also steps we can take to help our physical bodies garner the maximum benefits of massage.
The post-massage diet
Eating lightly and drinking a lot of water are two of the simplest ways to continue the cleansing process that a massage initiates. A Swedish-style or lymphatic-drainage massage is best supported by a light diet of organic steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. Fresh-squeezed juices, such as a carrot, beet, and parsley blend, are well-known in a cleansing regime. If you’ve had a deep-tissue massage, eat protein to help rebuild the connective tissue that’s been heavily worked. With any type of massage, avoid stimulants, sweets, and fatty foods, and drink plenty of fluids over the next twenty-four hours. A minimum of one quart of water or herb tea is needed, but two quarts is best. Electrolyte replacement (I like to use Emergen-C powder) is also beneficial.
Herbs to cleanse and detoxify
The physical manipulation of massage can stir up a lot of toxins, so drinking herbal teas that are lymphatic cleansers (such as cleavers and calendula) helps to continue the detoxification process. It’s also useful to support the organs of detoxification, such as the kidneys and liver, with burdock, dandelion, parsley, yarrow, and celery seed. Nervine tonics such as wild oats, vervain, chamomile, linden, or passionflower can help one sustain a calm interior while living in a world of stress and tension. Sore muscles can benefit from circulatory stimulants such as ginger, peppermint, or a liniment infused with cayenne and rosemary oil. The antispasmodic activities of cramp bark, black haw, and kava are useful for cramped muscles.
A relaxing, rejuvenating bath
Both herbal teas and essential oils can be used in the bath for their healing benefits and detoxification properties through the skin. Essential oils are powerful, because their scent alone is enough to trigger a memory association, bringing your mind back to the massage table and that same state of relaxation. If your massage therapist used lavender-scented oil for your treatment, using it in the bath can help recall the experience. Lavender oil itself has many benefits beyond the memory association. Its healing attributes for the body include benefits for sore muscles, insomnia, stress, and depression—and it smells wonderful to boot.
When adding essential oils to the bath, start with 5 to 8 drops, but don’t exceed 15 drops of nonirritating oils such as lavender or geranium. If you’re using peppermint, lemon, or another citrus-scented oil such as lemongrass, do not exceed 3 drops, because these oils may irritate the skin. Essential oils can be added to a teaspoon of vegetable oil prior to adding to the bath. This helps to moisturize the skin and reduce any irritant effects of the essential oils for those with sensitive skin. A pound of Epsom salts can also be added to the water; the magnesium chloride in Epsom salts provides nutrients for further muscle relaxation. Soak for about twenty minutes and linger in the memory of the massage.
If you absolutely must do something after your massage, a bath of stimulating essential oils such as rosemary or peppermint can help restore your vigor for the task ahead.
Mindy Green is an herbalist, aromatherapist, educator, and writer. She is also an esthetician, a consultant to the natural products industry, and director of education at the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado.