Contact Us:

Massage Body Mechanics™


How to Massage All Day and Remain Stress Free

(Originally published in Massage Magazine) by William Barry LMT,MTI,L.Ac.,OMD

An essential key to success in Massage is the ability to provide daily massage without
incurring stress or injury. Sever upper body stress and burnouts are all too common in
massage. The proper Body Mechanics becomes as essential to success as location and
business know how.

The lower body, to include muscles of the pelvic girdle and legs, is designed to support
the weight of the upper body. The lower body is much more capable of carrying load in
massage just as walking is easier than doing pushups.

It is difficult to conceive of other occupations that use upper body strength at the force or frequency of massage.

Upper body stress among typists and computer operators are minimal forces, although
over time can be debilitating. Considering construction workers and laborers, the loads are frequently carried by the lower body. Body Builders usually exercise the upper body no more than an hour or so a day.

The therapist, more than anyone, requires a viable method to transfer the forces to the stronger lower body.

Massage Body Mechanics (MBM) is a means of transmitting force from therapist to client making use of the reservoir of power in the therapist’s lower body. The upper body functions as a flexible conduit of force from the hands to the stronger lower body.

The benefit of MBM is that the therapist remains free of harmful stresses that cause
injury to the upper torso. With the upper body free from stress, the therapist can easily perform the precise articulations for which the scapula and arms were designed. Fluidity of
the massage is greatly enhanced.

MBM incorporates basic tenants from Tai Chi and particularly Zen Hara Development.

MBM is grounded in physics in terms of application of vectors and center of gravity as will be seen.

The Chi Muscle

To remove stress in the trunk and move forces to the legs, it is necessary to “set” or contract the Chi Muscle. The Chi Muscle includes the urogenital diaphragm, the pelvic diaphragm, the anal sphincter muscle, and the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle.

By way of historical perspective, this zone is known in Taoist Practices, Zazen Meditation, and Akido. In Zazen sitting posture, the meditation emphasizes a long
exhalation accompanied by contraction of the Chi Muscle (Fig. 1 ). The purpose is to bring the energy from the upper torso to the Hara region below the naval. From here the vital energy radiates from the lower torso throughout the body. This serves to harmonize the fire (heat) from the upper torso with the lower region. The end result of this evolved training is promotion of healthy and greater awareness (Fig. 2).

In Chinese Taoist practices, the Hara centered in the lower abdomen is significant in releasing energy to flow around the “microscopic orbit” Chi or body energy travels from the perineum, over the crown, then down the front of the body in a continuous orbit. The
purpose is to nourish vital organs and increase flow to tributary meridians (Fig. 3).

Transmitting Force

To understand Massage Body Mechanics, consider how force is transmitted to the
client. Stand with a table or desk in front and press down firmly. Take note where stress
builds. You will probably notice pain in the wrist, shoulders, and neck. It will become quite uncomfortable as you press (Fig. 4).

Isolate the Chi Muscle by squeezing the muscles posterior to the sexual organ. Do not tighten the gluteal area as you do this. The perineal area will be familiar to women who have practiced the Kegel Exercise in childbearing classes. Similarly, dancers are taught to move from the perineal area or base.

Practice inhaling while the abdomen expands and exhaling as the abdomen comes in
slightly. When you exhale, squeeze the Chi Muscle. You will notice the sacrum extends (tilts forward) slightly and the entire spine begins to straighten. As the Chi Muscle contracts, the center of gravity lowers. Stress and tension are felt to drop from the shoulders and upper body (Fig. 5).

Now you are prepared to push on the table using the Chi Muscle. Tighten the Chi
Muscle as you exhale and push the table again. Stress, once felt in the wrist and shoulder
vanish. Repeat the process 10%, 20%, and 30% harder upon each exhalation. You will
notice the Chi Muscle progressively tightens as pressure is increased. Despite this increased exertion, no tension is felt in the upper torso. This is quite amazing to experience the first time!

Interestingly, contracting this area during lifting is an excellent means to protect the
lower back. Performance in various sports from bicycling to martial arts is seen to improve when the Chi Muscle assists the exertion.

Results become immediately apparent for the therapist. When the upper body transfers
the forces from the hands to the lower body, the wrist, neck, shoulders, and low back
cannot become overstressed.

Finding the Optimum Posture

To optimize transmission of force through the body to the feet, establish your optimum
line of force or “Zero Gravity Posture”. This posture allows forces to be transmitted without blocks at areas such as the neck and low back.

To experience Zero Gravity Posture, have a partner push on your head as you stand
normally. Identify where the blocks are found. You may feel kinks in the neck, shoulder,
and lower back (Fig. 6).

Next straighten the spine by tucking the chin in and by taking the curve out of the lower spine. “Sink” the sacrum slightly as if you were about to sit down. Once again have a partner press on your head. The force now will be felt only in the legs. By bending the knees slightly up and down, you will feel the force move to the feet. At this point you will experience an “absence” of gravity! This kind of feeling is also experienced when sitting on a massage chair. The entire load is reduced from the body so you can rest. You have arrived at Zero Gravity Posture (Fig. 7).

Take a moment to rest in this posture. Close your eyes. See the position in your mind’s eye. Enjoy your self a couple of moments. Now “lock in” this optimum posture using Neuro Linguist Programming (NLP). Squeeze the knuckle of the ring finger with the opposite hand. This is using NLP to establish an anchor for future reference.

When you walk up next to a client on a therapy table, take a couple of breaths and
squeeze the knuckle. You will establish the Zero Gravity Posture and be prepared to work from there during your massage (Fig.8).

In summary, by setting the Chi Muscle, we both, drop the center of gravity and allow
forces to flow to the legs. By optimizing the line of force with Zero Gravity Posture, we
ensure no stresses remain in areas where the force tends to be blocked. MBM takes less than an hour to learn. MBM soon becomes standard practice taking no more than a moment to prepare before massage.

To develop the Chi Muscle, practice the contractions during the exhalation while seated at home or in the car. Superior forces can be generated using the Chi Muscle as shown in the exercise illustration (Fig. 8).

How Massage Body Mechanics are used during Effleurage

MBM Cycle

Initial: Set Zero Gravity posture. Take a few deep breaths. Contract the Chi Muscle during exhalation.

Breathe In: Enlarge the Abdomen (drops the diaphragm)

  • Relax the Chi Muscles
  • No Pressure on Client (Return Stroke)
  • Shoulders Dropped
  • Arms Rounded Slightly

Breathe Out: Abdomen In (raises the diaphragm)

  • Squeeze the Chi Muscle
  • Apply Pressure
  • Shoulders Dropped
  • Arms Rounded Slightly

Massage Body Mechanics in Practice

To apply massage along a limb, or trunk, stand with feet at 45 degrees to the table. To massage, shift your weight to the front leg as it bends at the knee. The rear leg stays planted on the floor. Weight is shifted onto the forward leg up to about 60%. Beyond this, balance could be lost. This forward movement is sufficient to advance the torso to reach most body areas. To continue the stroke or advance along the table, bring the rear foot just behind the lead foot. Step forward with the lead foot while maintaining a constant flow.

Keep the upper and lower body in a straight line as best as possible during the massage. Do not bend at the waist over the client. In this stance, force is transmitted to a stable base shared by both legs. The lower legs act as a triangular structure to carry the load to the floor. It is known in engineering the strongest structure is the triangular shape. (Fig. 9) This may be seen on bridges for example.

As can be seen in other methods, to have the trailing leg carry all the load requires that the therapist lean on the client to stabilize himself. The stable triangular base is eliminated. Precise articulations from the pectoral girdle are not possible when leaning on the client. Also the center of gravity is much higher which further reduces stability. (Fig.10)
While performing massage the arms move in unison with the torso as the body weight is
shifted forward. The arms neither lead nor trail motion of the torso. To do so would involve work from the shoulders and arms. This would prevent force from being fully transmitted to the floor. (Fig. 11)

For continuous strokes done within a defined area, as in cross fiber friction, the Chi
Muscle is lightly squeezed. Breathing is normal. As additional pressure is needed, squeezing the Chi muscle maximizes the force available with the least effort. This ensures that force is transmitted to the floor.

It is important to emphasize that the therapist position himself, in so far is possible, directly behind his work. Both arms and legs should face the direction in which pressure is
applied. This is the most natural position to assume. If you were pushing a heavy box, you would not stand beside it. Instead you would stand directly behind with one foot trailing the other. For smaller forces, as in massage, standing at the side of the weight at first seems natural. However, the cumulative effect of this torque produces severe strain on the body. It is important to remember, “Always get behind your work!”

Ask the client to give you feedback with MBM versus other methods. He will be quick
to point out the continuity and smoothness of the massage. MBM unloads your body of
stress so you are free to concentrate on your techniques. Also the level of energy at the end of the day will be higher as will be the number of clients you will see with comfort.
MBM yields further benefits to the therapist in that the chi flow throughout the body
amplifies the more often it is used. Continued use of MBM can make the rewarding field of
massage take on new dimensions for both the therapist and client.

Breathing from the Dan Tien

To prepare, choose a quiet place where you are relaxed; wear loose clothing. The
meditation can be done standing, sitting, or lying. Expand the rib cage and breathe deeply
and slowly. Breathe out completely. Breathe gently. After a few minutes, concentrate on the area just below the navel, the Hara, or Dan Tien (“Golden Stove”)

Hara Breathing Pattern

1. Inhale through the nose, expanding the Hara and relaxing the Hara with the tongue at the roof of the mouth, to a slow count of 5. Visualize the Hara filling with Chi. Think downward movement with Chi into the Hara region.

2. Hold store Chi in the Hara region (to slow count of 5) without tenseness; Chi now
revitalizes the Hara region.

3. Exhale through the mouth with tongue position relaxed, contracting the abdomen as you exhale. Exhalation should be quiet and gentle.

Repeat exercise 10-20 minutes per day to build Chi.

To Channel the New Chi

You need not hold the Chi in the Hara during channeling. Breathe in as before and
then exhale sending the Chi up in the midline through the heart region and then down the
arms and through the palms.

Repeat several times

Practice channeling energy to a pet or friend in this pattern. You may visualize the
area touched being released from tension and filled with vibrant Chi.

Use this pattern before each massage. It may also be used at the conclusion of the massage or even during the massage.