First and foremost, stomach massage can help with digestion and alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms, but they can also improve your mood, too. "There has long been an association with the abdomen and our emotional health as evidenced by the use of 'gut feelings' to reflect our intuition about things," says Syndey Hastings, a licensed massage therapist at Four Moons Spa in Encinitas, California. She notes that studies, like this one from the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, have connected abdominal massage to the alleviation of depression symptoms, though the connection there may be due their ability to alleviate gastrointestinal distress, which often lead to poor mood.
What's more: Research conducted on a form of stomach massage practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) called "Tongmai Tiaoshen" have shown it to be an effective treatment for chronic insomnia, too, Hastings points out. Plus, perhaps unsurprisingly—at least for anyone who experiences a menstrual cycle—stomach massage has also been shown to relieve menstrual cramps and pain.
And while Hastings admits more research needs to be done, she further attributes the following benefits to abdominal massage: increased relaxation; strengthening and toning of abdominal muscles; physical and emotional tension release; the release of muscle spasms; and increased blood flow to the abdomen.
She does note that there are some contraindications, including recent abdominal surgery, pregnancy, recent child birth or C-section, mesenteric infection, systemic infection, skin conditions or eruptions, or other chronic gastrointestinal disorders. So before engaging in abdominal massage, you may want to consult a physician.
Hastings also feels that it's best to work with a licensed massage therapist, at least initially. "In an ideal setting, it would be preferable to have a professional abdominal massage with a massage therapist first, followed by daily self treatment sessions (of about 5-10 minutes) to help with the conditions or concerns," she says. That's because while massage in general has been shown to boost mood and relieve depression—obviously good things—Hastings cautions that the release of stored emotion during massage can be uncomfortable. "So, it's imperative that any professional therapist be adequately trained and comfortable in providing abdominal massage, and the person receiving the abdomen massage be prepared for the possibility of emotional release," she says.
With that in mind, she offers directions for self-stomach massage below:
How to massage your own stomach, according to a licensed massage therapist
- Find a comfortable and supportive place where you can lie on your back with your belly exposed. It is advised that there is some support (like a pillow) under the knees to ensure proper alignment of the low back. Some people prefer a space with soft lighting or calm music to help promote relaxation
- Prior to the massage, take a few moments to concentrate on the breath, really focusing on full abdominal breathing rather than just in the chest.
- Warm your hands by rubbing them together for about 30 seconds.
- Apply any oils that you’re using. Using a massage oil with an essential oil or fragrance can aid in the deep breathing as well as offer some additional healing benefits or properties.
- Use the palm of one hand to massage your entire stomach in a clockwise direction several times. It is very important that the direction of massage be in a clockwise manner, as that is the general direction of digestion in the small and large intestines. Working counter clockwise could be unpleasant or detrimental in some cases.
- Then massage the centerline of your abdomen, starting one two two inches below your sternum and ending two to four inches above your pubic bone.
- Do three more lines an inch apart down the left side of the abdomen.
- Do the same on the right side of the abdomen.
- Then, press your fingers into your navel firmly.
- Continue massaging with gentle pressure and circle outward from your navel in a clockwise direction.
- You can spend extra time on specific areas or trigger points that feel like they need some extra attention.
- Do this for up to 20 minutes.
- After you are done, take time to continue to focus on breathing and take care to get up slowly.
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