Have you ever had abdominal massage with our licensed massage therapist Katie Depre? People are about her massage therapy. This is a service we provide at Mind Body Spirit Acupuncture Center. Abdominal Massage is an ancient method designed to facilitate the fertility, improve digestion and overall health. Paired with acupuncture and herbal medicine, this focused massage will encourage blood flow to the uterus, improve function of the abdominal organs, increase nutrient absorption, and stimulate the vagus nerve. Also, it feels good! The benefits of abdominal massage are not only limited to fertility patients, it is beneficial to most everyone’s health. You can try it for digestive issues, tension, anxiety, insomnia, to maintain or promote wellness, among many other health concerns. There are a few contraindications for this type of massage, so please discuss your health history with your therapist. Abdominal massage should not be done during periods of, and not limited to: acute abdominal pain, recent surgery in the area, risk of abdominal aneurysm, with metastasizing cancers of abdomen or reproductive system, or with a recent history of bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract or rectum. It is not recommended to work over the area of an IUD implant as well so not to move the IUD out of place or cause scarring.
What is so great about abdominal massage is that it is easy to do on yourself! We encourage patients to make this part of their daily routine to maximize its benefits. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, we are here to help. You can always book an appointment for a massage and your therapist will walk you through the steps until you feel comfortable doing this on yourself. And of course, it’s always nice to RECEIVE this massage so you can just lay back, relax, and enjoy.
Here’s a list of things you’ll need to get started: a comfortable place to lay down (should be a comfortable warm temperature, without a draft), oil or lotion (oil-based lotions are best, water-based lotions absorb too fast and become sticky), and a bolster for under your knees and under your head and neck (pillows work great, or you can use a variety of yoga bolsters). That’s it! You can upgrade your experience with adding relaxing music, a heating pad under your low back, or by adding in some essential oils. You can easily use some oils you may already have at home: consider olive oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil. It’s always best to do a small patch test for allergies before using anything over your entire abdomen. When choosing an essential oil to add, you want to choose something with either a warm or cold nature depending on your constitution. The idea is to balance the body, so if you have what chinese medicinal theory would call “cold in the uterus,” you would want to choose a warming oil. This is a great thing to come into the office and discuss with us. The first step to treating an illness is always diagnosis. Only then, can the appropriate treatment be determined. With this information, you can be confident with using the most appropriate essential oil.
After you have gathered all your supplies, you can begin. I do advise emptying the bladder before starting. Ideally, you are doing this without a full stomach, but also not while you are hungry. During the abdominal massage, more blood will head into the abdomen, so you want to make sure you are not feeling light headed before, and stop the massage if you become light headed. Ok, let’s talk about pressure and pace. A moderate pressure is advised, unless otherwise stated in the steps below. Moderate pressure will feel comfortable, firm, and will not cause pain. The pace should be relaxed, and slow enough that you are able to sense what is under your fingers. Feel for areas that seem tighter than others. This may feel like the tissue is denser or harder. These areas may need a little more attention. Everyone holds their stress in different ways, so it is good to become familiar with your holding pattern. Remember to trust yourself!
There are many different sequences I’ve come across. I will list out a way to start, so that you can become familiar with how to work the different areas of the abdomen, but know that you can personalize these steps to fit your needs, which may change. Customize this massage to fit your current needs whether that means the changes you experience during a cycle, meeting your digestive needs, changing pressure depending on if you want more of a relaxing session or a deeper fascial release, among others.
Step 1: Apply oil to the abdomen. You will likely need less than you think, and it is a little easier to add more than to take oil off the abdomen. You can have your oil in a small bowl nearby to make it even easier to dip your fingers into to reapply oil. Cover the entire area from the ridge of the ribs down to the pelvic and pubic bones.
Step 2: To position the hands, put your four fingers on each hand together, thumbs to the side, and place one hand over the other (both hands will be at a 45 degree angle.) Your hands will make a shape that looks like a pointed shovel. Tuck the thumb on the upper hand under the thumb on the lower hand. You may want to experiment with having your dominant hand be the bottom and the top hand, and you can switch during the massage if one hand gets tired. Your hands will get stronger as you do this more often, and it will become easier. If this part is confusing, there are plenty of videos online that demonstrate the hand position. Also, if some other hand position works better for you, try it out!
Step 3: Start by working in circles around the belly button. Widen your circles with each pass around the belly button. Really try and feel the tissue under your fingers for any tension. If you do find tension, spend some time working over that area in very small circles until it softens. It is good to work in a clockwise motion. Imagine noon as your sternum, and 6pm as your pubic bone. This way, your hands are following the direction of the bowel through the large intestine. This is especially good to do if you experience constipation. Massaging in a clockwise direction will assist the natural movement of the bowels, and even encourage movement in a lazy bowel. If you are experiencing diarrhea, you can work in a counter-clockwise position to slow the frequency of a loose stool. Remembering our contraindications from before, abdominal massage isn’t recommended for acute abdominal pain. If the diarrhea is severe, you’ll want to take another course of action. You can repeat these circles over the entire abdomen a few times, until you feel like the tissue is warmed up and loose. Try three times to start and go from there.
Step 4: To stimulate the uterus: with your index fingers, locate the pubic bone and rest your fingers against it. You may feel a slight indent. Close your eyes and feel around the top until you have found that indent, this will be your starting place. Place your index fingers on the indent and begin to sink deeply into the soft tissue of your pelvis just above the pubic bone. Dig deeply here. If your uterus is in position, you will feel a deep empty space with no resistance. The dropped uterus feels like a balloon filled with water and gives a good deal of resistance to your pressure. Keep massaging deeply in an upward motion toward the umbilicus 9-10 times. You only need to go up 2-3 inches. In the 2-3 days before your menses, it is best to work in a downward position, so as not to work against the natural flow of your cycle. I recommend not doing the massage during the menses. I have personally found some light touch over the uterus during times of intense cramping will help ease the discomfort, but it’s best to avoid any deep work. We always want to work upward after ovulation to encourage the implantation of the egg. Working over the area of the uterus will bring fresh blood flow to the uterus, help flush out cell waste, and with new blood comes nutrients to enrich the tissue.
Step 5: With your pinky fingers, put one on the pubic bone and the other on the hip bone. Find the middle spot, which should be soft and not uncomfortable. With the same hand position, stroke towards your midline and up slightly. You will be making a “J.” Do this about 9-10 times, and repeat on the other side. Here we are working the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Step 6: Placing your hands just below the sternum, massage down the midline to the belly button. Pause and do small circles over any area of tension. Here, you will be working over the stomach and small intestines. This is also the Ren meridian in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Ren meridian is also called the mother line, it is a reservoir for the Yin of your body, and can be treated to treat emotional imbalances relating to bonding. This is a great area to work to stimulate the Vagus Nerve which will relax your nervous system into a parasympathetic “rest, digest, and repair” state. This state is opposite the sympathetic “fight or flight” stress state we are so often experiencing. The body needs to spend time in the parasympathetic state to properly absorb nutrition, do internal repairs, perform certain roles of the immune system, and to increase the lining of the uterus. Other lifestyle choices will guide you into this state as well including, but not limited to: meditation, certain types of movement, and acupuncture.
Step 7: Starting again just below the sternum, this time angle your fingertips to run along the ridge of the ribcage. We are going to work from the sternum to the lateral aspect of your abdomen a few times on each side. The liver is on your right side, while the spleen is on the left. These organs perform many essential functions and will benefit greatly from massage as well.
Step 8: Now that you have covered the entire abdomen, you can do some gentle strokes with flat palms. You can use light strokes that go only skin deep to help flush the lymphatic system of all the waste products we cleared from deeper tissues during the massage. Do a few circles around the abdomen gently to finish up. You’ll want to stay lying still for a few moments. This is the perfect time to do some deep breathing, as moving the diaphragm also helps move the lymph fluid. Remember to get up slowly as some people can feel a light headed after a massage. You can roll to one side and slowly raise yourself to a seated position. Rest in a seated position until you feel steady enough to stand.
Ok! How do you feel? I hope relaxed and refreshed. While this step by step instruction can help you feel more comfortable performing self-massage at home, it is not intended to self-diagnose. Please come on into the office so we can help you find the right treatment for your health goals. We are trained and ready to educate and empower.
By Kathryn Depre