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Getting the most out of your massage

When was the last time you had a good massage?

Just thinking about it makes me tingle. A skilled massage therapist can help relieve aching muscles, balance energy, unlock tension and neutralize stress. And that’s not all. Getting a massage can help you sleep better and improve your body image. It can even help you fight off colds. Let me go on.Studies show that massage slows the heart rate and lowers the levels of stress hormones - like adrenaline and cortisol - which are linked to various nasty diseases. People with back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and a wide variety of other ailments, including cancer and autoimmune diseases, have all been helped by massage.So what are you waiting for? On the road to a healthy lifestyle, always stop long enough to pick up a good body worker, that’s what I say.There are many styles of massage and one of my goals in life is to experience all of them. Some of us like deep trigger-point work, others prefer lighter, longer strokes. Swedish massage, for instance, involves sweeping, soothing strokes, while more Eastern-influenced styles, such as shiatsu, pinpoint target areas and use a lot of pressure to release energy and restore balance.There are tips for maximizing the experience. No matter what style you prefer, here are some suggestions to help you make the most out of your experience:

  • Don’t lie there feeling guilty about the time or money. That kind of unproductive thought gets in the way. Instead, open fully to the experience. What’s more important than your health? Enjoy.
  • Mentally scan your body before the massage and tell your therapist about areas that feel tense or sore. Then completely surrender to his or her touch. Engage your mind, but let the therapist do the work.
  • Avoid idle conversation. It’s a distraction for both of you. Give feedback when necessary - asking for a lighter or deeper touch, for instance - but the quieter you are, the more you can relax and truly tune in to the experience.
  • Use your breath. Take a few deep breaths at the start to help you relax and center. During the massage, continue to breathe deeply, exhaling into areas of tension and stress.
  • After your session, ask your therapist to tell you about areas of muscle tension she or he discovered. This feedback can help you pinpoint areas that hold stress, which may cause problems later on, typically the back, shoulders and neck.

In between massages, do stretches that awaken these areas and keep them from locking up.Watch for knee troubleMany people use a leg-extension machine to strengthen their quads - the big muscles in front of the thighs - but if you’re not using it right, you could cause knee problems. I see it in gyms all the time.What happens is people don’t take the time to adjust the machine to fit their body and build. They just jump on, do their reps and weeks later when their knee feels like it’s caught in a vise, they don’t know what hit them.So, listen up. Here’s the right way to use a leg extension machine:

  • Sit on the machine, grab the side bars with both hands and - very important - make sure the axis pin on the machine lines up with the rear of your knee joint. If it doesn’t, take a moment to adjust the seat back.
  • Adjust the shin pad so it rests just above your ankles.
  • Extend your legs slowly. Don’t rock them up, and don’t lock your knee at the top.
  • Lower the weight slowly, in control and resisting as you go. Don’t lower it all the way before you do your next rep.

Remember: All weight training machines should be adjusted to fit your body before you use them. And if you’re going to strengthen your quads, be sure to balance the workout by strengthening your hamstrings, too.Split sweetsIn blackjack, the rule is always split aces and eights. In life, to be healthier, always split desserts. If you can avoid rich desserts altogether, you’re ahead of the game, but if your sweet tooth demands satisfaction, go for it, but eat only half or less. Small portions, great rewards.Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent toMyEnergyExpress@aol.com.