I was first introduced to the importance of the breath during a massage while learning Ka Huna Massage in 2003 at Mettes Institute, in the beautiful Noosa Hinterland, in Kin Kin. Level 1 & 2 is a 7 day retreat where you learn the beginnings of the Hawaiian 'Huna' principles and the Ka Huna massage philosophy.
When you arrive, the very first thing they teach you is the 'Kiwi Kiss' greeting. This is a traditional greeting in New Zealand where two friends greet each other, firstly touching foreheads, then noses, then with eyes closed taking a breath together. To say it was a little confronting, greeting 20 people you've never met before with a 'kiwi kiss' is an understatement. But Wow! The power of the breath right there. With some people it flowed easy, the breath in rhythm together. With others it was a bit clumsy, rushed and hard to get that flow and connection. But with all, what it certainly did do was put a smile on your face and warmth in your heart. You can truly feel someone's heart and vulnerability, right in that moment.
In what affectionately became known as 'Ka Huna land', we learnt the relevance of using the breath while performing the massage, for both the giver and the receiver. For the therapist, we utilise the breath to help us to fill up on 'Mana' (life force) and to help give us the energy and rhythm to be able to perform the constant movement and tai chi style flow of the massage. Ka Huna breathing for the therapist is called the 'Ha' breath, (breath of life). Breathing the 'Ha', helps us harness the breath, we are able to tap into a clients body and heighten the energy clearing and healing aspect of the massage, helping to shift any stagnant or blocked energy.
For the receiver, you don't need to specifically breathe the 'ha' breath. Just by simply focusing and connecting to your breath brings with it an instant ahhhhhhh moment. Your body automatically goes into a more peaceful and relaxed state. As soon as you become mindful of your breath, you jump straight out of your stressed state and you become present; connected to your body, becoming one with the practitioner in that space.
Picture this if you will - you're on the massage table, light flowing strokes warming up your muscles and easing you into the massage. The lightness of the touch soothing you, allowing you to relax and melt into that touch. Your therapist begins to work a little deeper and you begin to feel all those little sore spots. The pressure deepens further and suddenly it catches your breath. Those tight knots making you wince and flinch, you hold your breath, just trying to bare through it.
Now, this is where it can go one of two ways. Scenario 1. The therapist misses the cues, they carry on with the deep pressure, getting into your muscles with their elbows, pressing and prodding those sore spots. You're feeling tense, holding your breath, your muscles fighting the invasion.
Scenario 2. Your therapist slows down, eases up on the pressure and tells you to breathe deeply and let it out slowly. Suddenly the pain isn't as intense as before and they can deepen the pressure again with only a fraction of the discomfort you felt before. Pretty cool, right? What a difference in the experience. All because of connection and the breath.
Breathing is such an important part of your massage experience, allowing you to get the most out of your massage session. Here 's a bit of science behind why it helps. Firstly, breathing brings oxygen into the blood stream, transporting it to the muscle cells. When muscles get over worked they run out of oxygen, producing lactic acid, which in turn makes the muscles feel sore and tight. Taking slow deep breaths allows your body to replace the oxygen it has lost, allowing your muscles to produce energy and less lactic acid, so in turn the muscles will be able to contract and relax as they need to. Allowing the body to relax and not holding your breath, will help the therapist work the affected area without having to fight the muscles. Secondly, mindful breathing slows down the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure, allowing you to achieve a deeper sense of calm and relaxation.
By focusing on abdominal breathing or breathing into your belly, deeper massage becomes a working together, submitting to the pressure, while also being in control. Allowing you to release and let go of whatever you are ready to today.
Today, in my healing massage practice I use what I learnt in Kin Kin everyday. I utilise my breath in all the styles I offer, from Remedial to Oncology Massage and of course Ka Huna. I start each massage by laying my hands on the back of a client at the heart and sacrum. I invite them to start connecting to their breath by taking some nice big belly breaths. Then as we take some breaths together, the connection is made. By simply asking a client to be mindful of their breath throughout the massage, an opening up occurs, a taking down of the walls, an allowing in and the calm that comes with it is immediate.
This is where the magic lies, where true healing occurs.
You can benefit from the 'ha' breath in your daily life. If you'd like to try it, just stop right now and take a full breath in through the nose, filling your lungs completely. Then exhale through the mouth with the sound "Haaaaa". The out breath should be twice as long as the in breath. Close your eyes. Try this for at least 5 breaths. How do you feel? A little lighter maybe? What were you thinking of? Chances are you were completely in the moment, present within your body and out of your head. Try this whenever you are stressed, not coping, or just want to relax. You can do it anywhere at anytime, allowing you to reconnect with your life force, your supreme Mana, your authentic self.
This all might sound a bit out there for some, but you know I'm just a normal Welsh/Aussie girl that loves a bit of magic. So give it a go; it's a simple as taking a deep breath. I'm sure you'll reap the benefits.
As they say in Ka Huna land.. Mahalo, thank you, thank you, thank you.
The next time you go for a massage, try these tips below to achieve mindful breathing and enhance the benefits of your session:
The following was originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2008. Copyright 2008. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
By Cathy Ulrich
*As you lie onto the table, even before your therapist enters the room, feel the weight of your body on the table. Allow yourself to be supported by the table and begin to notice your breath.
*Feel your breath moving of its own accord. Where is it most noticeable? Where could it express more? Invite your breath to move into the spaces that feel less full (without effort--just invite).
*When your therapist starts working, notice the pressure and rhythm. While maintaining a comfortable rhythm in your own breathing, notice when they let up on the pressure and breathe in. When they apply pressure, breathe out.
*If your therapist comes to a tender area, pay special attention to your breath. Work with the tenderness on the exhale, imagining that you're breathing out the pain.
*As your therapist works on different areas, imagine your breath moving there to meet them. Send your breath to wherever they are working. Allow them to work on the outside, while you work on the inside.
*Notice the changes as the massage progresses. Notice your thoughts. Notice your comfort level. Notice your stress levels and how it is decreasing as you send breath to the various areas of your body.
*When your massage is finished and you sit up, notice how your breath feels. What do you notice about your body, the room, the light?
Try using this life giving force of breath to make your next massage an even more beneficial and enjoyable experience. Just by simple breathing..
Thanks Cathy, great advice