Massage therapists’ hands are a powerful tool. Like an extension of the brain, hands are a highly intelligent sense organ that can perceive and communicate without words. But are we taking them for granted? In this episode, Heath and Nicole Reed discuss the “elusive obvious” that is our hands; the value and importance of how we interact with the world through touch; pre-, mid-, and post-session stretching techniques; and how dynamic stretching differs from static stretching.
Recent Article in Massage & Bodywork Magazine:
“Tending to Our Hands: Exercises to Strengthen, Stretch and Activate,” Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2021, page 44
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0:02:09.2 Darren Buford: Welcome to the ABMP Podcast. My name is Darren Buford, and I'm Editor-in-Chief of Massage & Bodywork Magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP.
0:02:17.3 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's Director of Professional Education.
0:02:22.8 DB: Our guests today are Heath and Nicole Reed. The Reeds are co-founders of Living Metta and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, and have been team teaching touch and movement therapy for 16 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs and online trainings, which may be found online at livingmetta.com. Hello, Heath, hello, Nicole, and hello, Kristin.
0:02:53.3 Heath Reed: Hello.
0:02:55.1 Nicole Reed: Hi.
0:02:55.8 KC: Hi, welcome back to The ABMP Podcast, Heath and Nicole. It's so good to have you back.
0:03:00.5 HR: Thank you. It's so great to be back.
0:03:02.2 NR: So good to be here.
0:03:03.6 KC: We wanna talk to you today about your Massage & Bodywork magazine feature article titled Tending to Our Hands: Exercises to Strengthen, Stretch and Activate. We're curious, what motivated you to write about this important topic?
0:03:18.0 HR: So, of course, as bodyworkers our hands are our moneymakers, but regardless, if it were a touch therapist or any human being, every time we go through life we're putting on clothes, we're brushing our teeth, we're eating, we're driving, anything, almost always involves using our hands, so we thought what better way to give a little awareness and attention to how we're feeling than going through the portals of our hands, our emissaries of touch.
0:03:48.7 DB: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about hand-brain connection?
0:03:53.3 HR: Absolutely. So, we already know that our hands in addition to our face and our feet, have some of the highest concentration of sensory neurons anywhere in our body. So, really as bodyworkers, if we wanna help elicit the relaxation response, starting with a client's hands or feet or face is a great portal to relaxation. But looking at the hands specifically, it's really fascinating that our motor cortex, right? The part of our brain that helps us organize movement and motion in 3D space, resistance and gravity, well, about one quarter, a full 25% of the real estate of the motor cortex is devoted simply to with the hands. So of course, the hands aren't a quarter of our mass in our body, much less significant proportion of our body mass, and yet the motor cortex sees the value and importance of how we interact with the world via our hands as establishing that very significant role and position of the hands' relationship to the motor cortex.
0:05:00.5 NR: Yeah, it's a super highway. Our hands are super highway to our brain and to the relaxation response. They're are just an amazing receptors and emitters of information, and we're constantly hearing or listening and sharing information with our hands. And I think a lot of times we forget how much we use our hands, how powerful they are in relationship to connection, and how much information we're constantly gleaning from just the slightest contact, the slightest change in temperature, the weight of our clothes. I mean, just even noticing those little small nuances, our fingers are highly intelligent and underestimated, I think, or taken for granted as bodyworkers.
0:05:44.9 KC: Do you think that most massage therapists and bodyworkers and humans in general take our hand health for granted?
0:05:51.7 HR: Absolutely, yeah, I think it's just... We've always been doing this. It is kinda like the air that we breathe as massage therapists.
0:06:00.4 NR: Right. Moshé Feldenkrais calls it like, the elusive obvious.
0:06:04.1 HR: Yeah, the hands are like our elusive obvious. Like, we're always connecting, we're always making this relationship at least in therapeutic settings via the hands.
0:06:13.4 NR: Yes.
0:06:13.7 HR: And it's... Sometimes I think we lose the value and significance of, this is how we are interacting and interfacing so much of our time, so much of our communication, so much of our healing capacity for others, but also I think we take for granted the capacity of using our hands for healing and wellness and restoring balance within ourselves too.
0:06:38.5 NR: Well, and there's new research talking about how our hands are constantly communicating how we feel. So not only are we understanding the depth of tissue that's under our fingers or feeling for restrictions or tensions in the body, in the tissue itself, but we're also understanding and getting a sense of, "What is the feeling here, who's here? Is this tissue angry? Is this person feeling happy or joyful?" And we can... Really, it's so exciting to see science talk about how our hands are detecting so much more than just depth of pressure.
0:07:14.9 HR: Yeah, I think to follow up on your question, do we take our hands for granted? Anybody who's had a little paper cut or a little hangnail knows immediately like, "Oh my gosh, I use my hands all the time."
0:07:28.6 NR: I know. We didn't... You don't notice anything really until it hurts. [laughter]
0:07:33.5 HR: So we like to suggest, instead of learning how to feel better after we hurt ourself, we'd like to prevent trouble before it arises.
0:07:43.3 NR: Right. So self-care, self-care for our hands is a practice of self-awareness, so we have to kind of get in front of the injury so that we're not hurting at the end of our day. Our hands aren't aching or our thumbs aren't sore, we're not over-using our tools in a way that's compromising our well-being or distracting us from our present moment awareness.
0:08:06.0 KC: Yeah, let's talk a little bit more specifically about that self-care for the hands. Your article is about ways to awaken your hands and protect them by doing specific daily exercises. Can you tell us more about why doing that daily is so important?
0:08:21.2 HR: Oh, absolutely.
0:08:22.3 NR: Well, we're athletes. I think bodyworkers are a form of athlete and constantly using our hands for hours, session after session, some people... We know therapists who do eight-hour shifts, 11-hour shifts and using their hands consistently, and if we're not preparing ourselves, we're putting ourselves at risk for injury.
0:08:43.0 HR: The repetitive use, injuries and strains, but also taking time before or in-between sessions or following sessions, just as a way to consciously re-bathe our joints with that synovial fluid. When we move purposefully, we help produce and secrete more of that lubricating synovial fluid. We help assist with the venous return, we help get the necrotic dead tissue out of that space. So there's lots of physiological benefits to taking ways... Making practices to awaken and protect your hands. Not just physical, but also for our awareness, also so that we are more sensitive and we prevent trouble before it arises.
0:09:30.9 HR: We don't end up having the same arthritic hands or the same kind of carpal tunnel that our clients are experiencing because we are investing, we are seeing the worth and value of protecting our hands. So this is why we esteem it so that we feel as good, if not better, than our clients.
0:09:52.3 NR: Yeah. I remember once we went to a massage conference and Benny Vaughn was instructing and as he was preparing for class, he was walking in and he had gloves on. He had these giant gloves on and it was the first time I've ever seen anybody walking with giant gloves on and he was asked about them and shared about how he consciously protects his hands everywhere he goes to preserve his tools. And he wears them when he is traveling through the airports handling luggage, he wears them when he's cooking, he wears them throughout his day to protect his tools, and I think oftentimes we forget how valuable these tools are, and we constantly put them at risk, and we can also constantly put them in care.
0:10:35.6 DB: And you mentioned something earlier, I know we all cringed a little bit when you said like a paper cut or having something wrong with your nail, like an in-bed nail or something like that, because that's 48 hours where you're like, "No." For every single time you run it under water or anything, you're like, "No. That stings."
0:10:51.8 HR: Exactly.
0:10:52.3 NR: Yeah and it happens to be the day that you squeeze a lemon. You're like, "No."
0:10:55.5 DB: Totally true. Yes. Okay, let's dive right into the pre-session warm-ups. Can you take us through some of those exercises?
0:11:03.7 HR: Yeah, I'd love to.
0:11:04.7 NR: Yeah. I think we both have our own individual favorites.
0:11:06.0 HR: Absolutely, yeah.
0:11:07.8 NR: What's your favorite?
0:11:08.9 HR: Well, one of my go-tos, and this kinda leads off of what you were mentioning with Benny Vaughn, and for those who don't know Benny Vaughn, right now, he's over in Tokyo helping with the American Olympics team. He's the Chief Massage Team Coordinator, and he's been kinda nicknamed the 'Father of Sports Massage of America.' Really incredible gentleman, if you ever have a chance to learn with Benny Vaughn, highly recommended it, but... So you can just take your hands in front of you and start to shake up.
0:11:39.7 NR: Yeah, that's one of my favorite shakes.
0:11:40.8 HR: Just shake your hands. It doesn't matter if you're sitting or standing. I'd recommend everybody listening in, just shake your hands. You can shake them side to side, up and down, you can flap them like little wings, you can move them as though you're alternating or you can do it same time simultaneous. Try with your elbows bent. Try with your elbows straight with your hands down beside you, or maybe your arms out, straight out with your elbows extended and your hand straight out like wings, or bring your hands up over your head. Change the venous return, that relationship with gravity. Can I get a witness? Imagine your hands shaking up there. [chuckle]
0:12:15.2 HR: Yeah. And find your breaths. Yeah, find another place to shake your hands. Move your arms in a new place. Maybe put one hand in front of your body, one hand in the back as you continue to shake. And here we're moving upwards of about a minute and a half or two, takes about two minutes of conscious physical or breathing exercise. Do this for three more breaths as you shake your hands to create a physiological difference, a change in your psychological and physiological state. How about one more breath, inhale through your nose as you shake, shake a little more, a little more vigorously, and let that go.
0:12:51.5 NR: I know one of my favorite is to just rub, just to massage, just to kind of... Just to heat up and warm up my hands. It can be really quick, it can be really slow, but you're just kind of massaging and working and pulling and kind of brushing over all your fingers, and you say hello to your pointer and your middle and you just kinda brush the back of the fingers, inside the palm, back of each of the hands, in-between each of the fingers.
0:13:18.9 HR: So you're just brushing...
0:13:19.7 NR: Brushing, all around.
0:13:20.3 HR: With one hand on the other hand, and you're trying to see how many different new little areas in-between your fingers, on the backs, on the fronts, on the tips of your fingers, you're massaging, you're squeezing, you're compressing, remember, we've got a quarter of the motor cortex of the... Excuse me.
0:13:40.1 NR: The motor cortex?
0:13:40.2 HR: Yeah, that is associated with the hand, so here, we're waking up our brain and good thing.
0:13:46.8 NR: Yes, yeah, this is probably one of the best ways we can wake up our hand-brain connection.
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0:14:34.9 KC: Okay, so those are some great pre-session warm-ups. Let's talk now about mid-session or between sessions. I think a lot of therapists will think, "Well, if I've done my pre-session and then I've been giving bodywork for 60 to 90 minutes, do I really need to do anything mid-session or between sessions?" What do you think about that?
0:14:52.5 HR: Yeah, I love that, yeah. And so I love that you actually asked two different ways, in-between sessions and mid-session, so yeah, being mindful in the middle of your sessions, how can you organize your body, your ergonomics, your body mechanics in ways that allow for maximum impact and minimal effort? So I know sometimes when I'm bringing a form of up the erectors, what have you, maybe with my other hand, I'll lift it over my head and shake it a little, [chuckle] shake it up, not that I'm vibrating the whole day though, but lift an arm up, move my arm around the non-working hand, so there are opportunities actually mid-session to simultaneously take care of yourself as you're simultaneously taking care of someone else.
0:15:40.3 NR: And one of the hardest things for me, or one thing that I recognize myself doing during sessions is gripping my fists. So for me, I have to consciously let go of my hands throughout a session, and that in itself is therapeutic. [chuckle]
0:15:55.9 HR: Yeah, something I... Especially for several years, as I continued to improve, a few years into my practice, I realized I was using really hard hands, like you say, I was unnecessarily clenching...
0:16:08.3 NR: Like gripping, squeezing.
0:16:08.8 HR: When I would use a soft fist or maybe even when I used a form, I would be clenching my hand, so simply telling myself, and it could have been dozens of times per session till I learned it, I would remind myself, "Soft hands, soft hands, let your bones be soft in your hands, [chuckle] let your muscles be soft, soft hands." And probably hundreds of times a day, I did that for several months till I actually was able to embody it. But do you have a favorite one Nicole that you do in-between your sessions?
0:16:39.8 NR: In-between sessions. There's an old school one that I do in-between sessions.
0:16:42.8 HR: Oh. Yeah, what do you do?
0:16:43.6 NR: Like learned all the way back in massage school.
0:16:46.0 HR: Back in the day.
0:16:46.7 NR: Back in the day, at the old UCMT College, right? Remember that place? Wow. So that was the waterfall hand. So for me, it was just taking a hold of my fingertips and then stretching...
0:16:57.7 HR: Let's describe it, 'cause they don't have a visual.
0:17:00.4 NR: That's true, thank you. [laughter]
0:17:00.8 HR: So your hand is right in front of your chest, everybody put your palm face up in front of your heart, right hand, left hand, just grab your palm so that...
0:17:10.6 NR: Or your fingers.
0:17:11.6 HR: Yeah, yeah, go ahead, please.
0:17:12.9 NR: Your fingers, I think it's your fingers, 'cause you wanna stretch those fingers away from your palm and then start to reach your hand straight out in front of you so that your fingers are pointing back at your body, your arm is long out in front of you and you feel a nice, big, long stretch in your palm. And you can make this a little more dynamic by dropping it down towards the floor and creating a waterfall effect and you'll get different kind of... You get access to different muscles in your flexors and your form.
0:17:40.2 HR: So just to describe it a few times, your palm is face up in front of your chest, and then your opposite hand is holding those fingers.
0:17:46.7 NR: Yes.
0:17:47.0 HR: You can extend that arm straight up, palm up, use your other hand to bend back, extend the fingers, extend the wrist, so you're opening the wrist flexors and you can keep that arm stiff in front of you.
0:18:00.4 NR: You can keep it static or you can move it. So you get to choose, yeah, what feels better.
0:18:02.6 HR: Yeah, do the other side too. If you've only done one side, try the opposite side. Sometimes I like to lift the hand all the way up in front of my head, stretch the arm straight up, and then point the finger nails toward the ground, open the palm toward the ceiling or away from me, and bring it up and down a handful of times.
0:18:20.0 DB: Alright, let's jump to the post-session cool downs, can you take us through some exercises there?
0:18:26.9 HR: Yeah, sure, sure, sure, sure. So there's a few, and there's a couple in the article too that I'd love to point out. One really nice one, and I wouldn't say this has to be done at the end, but it's really nice 'cause it helps combine both little muscular engagement with some flexibility and that's the one that we nicknamed Get a Grip and Take a Bow.
0:18:50.7 NR: Oh yeah.
0:18:51.9 HR: So in a standing position, you can try this at home. Stand up, you're gonna come to a standing position and you're gonna interlace your hands behind your seat. And so for a lot of us, we need to bend our elbows and just find the hands behind your seat. If you can't interlace your fingers, you could also use one hand to grab the opposite wrist. And then what we'll do with our feet about hip-width apart is we're gonna start to bend our knees and fold forward while we hold our interlaced fingers or while we hold that one hand and wrist behind us and we take a bow. So we're holding the fingers, interlacing the fingers or the opposite hand and we're folding forward, and remember to breathe. So we notice when we're applying some intense pressure on our clients, they tend to hold their breath, when we're applying a tense stretch on ourself we tend to hold your breath.
0:19:49.9 HR: So try this, don't hold your breath, but hold the pose for one or two more deep breaths, trying to reach your hands up over your head toward the ceiling or even where the wall meets beyond your head and shoulders. So then release the tension in your fingers, you could even release your hands, bend your knees, roll up one vertebra at a time, and come to a standing. You'll notice a little blood pressure re-establishing itself, you'll hopefully feel some nice openness in your thoracic outlet as we open up the chest and then engage the lats, engage some of the posterior kinetic chain that help counteract some of the slouching or rounding that sometimes happens in our forward head position or when we're rounding around the table or when we're rounding from too much sitting.
0:20:37.2 NR: That's a great way to punctuate the end of a session, like a full-body stretch.
0:20:41.3 HR: Yeah, like, "And that's over."
0:20:45.5 NR: I know one of my favorite is to do what we call the crane's beak. So you can bring all your fingers together, reach your arms out to the side, and then just rotate your fingers up, down and back. And you're keeping your fingers all together, thumb with all the rest of your fingers pressing, holding, squeezing together as you rotate your shoulders back and forth, and you get really nice opening not only in the back of your hand but also throughout your forearms, flexors, and extensors. Really great way to kind of squeeze out the tension like you're squeezing out a sponge or a rag or something.
0:21:21.9 KC: And Nicole, I loved when I was following along with the article, I loved that crane stretch, first because it was new to me, I had never done it, and I love how you also added the neck stretch with that as well.
0:21:31.0 NR: So good, yeah, so you can just isolate just your forearms, get into your shoulders, and/or have that neck, bringing the ear to the shoulder. You can even rock your head forward and back a little bit to kind of open up those tendons, being very patient, being very kind, with your attention on those parts of the bodies as they start to melt and relax and around your effort, around your shape and form. And yeah, it's such a great way to, for me, one of my favorite ways to finish.
0:22:02.9 DB: And Nicole, you also do a little finger flick too, which I think is a perfect way to kind of wrap up your sessions, right?
0:22:10.6 NR: Yeah, it's like shaking off the day, just like you have wet hands, you have all this stuff, like maybe you were in the sand or something with your hands and you just wanna shake everything off. It's like let go of the day.
0:22:22.7 HR: Yeah, yeah, and it's just like you started with crane's beak, you bring all your fingers and thumbs together, or you even close your fingers into a soft fist, bend your elbows, and then you real quickly, vigorously straighten out your arms like you're trying to flick off water like Nicole said, you're trying to flick off sand off your fingernails, and even try to make like a flicking kind of noise with your fingernails flicking off the heels of your palms, and you can flick with your hands aimed down to the ground for a handful of times.
0:22:51.6 NR: And it's nice with the elbow bend, you wanna add that elbow bend so you're getting that good movement through to there, through your fingers as you flick down, down towards the earth. And what I like doing that about, going down towards the ground is a great way to kinda let the earth take the day. The earth knows what to do with our excess energy, knows how to recycle really well, compost, and so we can compost and recycle our energy just the same way we can compost and recycle our food. So let it just all go into the ground, out to the sides, up to the sky, and any other direction that feels supportive to you.
0:23:26.6 KC: Let's talk about dynamic stretching. So how is that different from static stretching, and why is it important to incorporate that into our daily routines?
0:23:35.3 NR: So static stretching is when we take a stretch, we bring any muscle into a particular kind of stretching sensation and hold for a period of time.
0:23:43.8 HR: Yeah, so when we were holding take a bow, get a grip and take a bow, when we hold it there, that's a static stretch, and that's beneficial, that helps really build the collagen, the tensile strength of the fascia, it's really good for helping re-organize and re-align in healthy organization for your fascial alignment.
0:24:06.5 NR: It's also great for injury prevention, cooling down after you're doing your work or after you've had a day walking or whatever you've been doing outside, gardening or anything that you're up to, it's a great way to kind of elicit that parasympathetic response where the body begins to rest and restore, especially as we hold static from three... For at least 30 seconds, we find it to be really beneficial.
0:24:31.4 HR: Yeah, and we are trying to overcome what's called the myotatic or the stretch reflex, which for superficial fascia takes about 20 to 30 seconds to overcome, but for deeper fascia, like into the joint capsule or ligaments which take a little longer, they're more dense than other fascia to release, upwards of 90 seconds or a couple minutes. And one of my favorite static stretches for the hands that I'll do oftentimes when I'm driving home is I will place one hand...
0:25:05.5 NR: It's not dangerous?
0:25:06.9 HR: Well, if you have a stick shift it's dangerous, but if you can...
0:25:13.2 NR: You're not putting our listeners at risk here, Heath?
0:25:15.4 HR: Well, please make sure you can steer with one hand only. If you have a stick shift, maybe leave this out till you get home, but...
0:25:23.9 KC: When you're at the stoplight.
0:25:24.9 HR: At the stoplight.
0:25:26.0 NR: Right, there we go, there we go.
0:25:28.3 HR: You're gonna lift up one hamstring and put your palm flat down under that hamstring, put the top of the hand under the hamstring, and just with the fingertips pointing to your back seat, you can get a really nice wrist flexor stretch.
0:25:44.0 NR: And it's a good static stretch.
0:25:46.2 HR: Oh! It's a great static. I like to hold that for about a half-minute or so, and then after that, I lift up my leg, I flip the palm over, still, fingertips point mostly backwards behind me or to the side. Now the top of my palm is on the car seat and my hamstring's on my open palm and now we get the wrist extensor. So that's one of my all-time favorite static stretches and it's very versatile 'cause I'm driving home anyway, here's a great opportunity to combine getting home with feeling good.
0:26:16.6 NR: [chuckle] You're a good multi-tasker.
0:26:19.4 NR: And then there's dynamic stretching.
0:26:19.5 HR: And then dynamic stretching.
0:26:22.2 NR: Yes.
0:26:22.3 HR: So dynamic stretching, think of if you were to take a wide step and to lunge forward, that's often given as an exemplar of a dynamic stretch where you're both moving the body and mobilizing it, but you're also helping to challenge the tensile strength and continuity of the fascial system.
0:26:41.7 NR: Yeah. You're stretching the muscle while you're moving through range of motion, as in a walking lunge, or even arm circles, reaching your arms out to the side and circling your arms forward and backwards is an example of dynamic stretch. We do one for the hands where you just bring your palms together, resting your hands on a table, and you would just press your hands side to side and you're activating muscle at the same time that you're stretching it, and that's really great for when you're ready to perform, so it's a excellent stretch. Dynamic stretches are excellent to do before you get ready for your sessions as well so finding different ways to activate the muscles as you're moving them will help performance, improve power, strength, agility, balance in your hands. It's got so many wonderful... New research. New research is going into this about all the cool benefits of dynamic stretching and incorporating those as a way to improve our performance.
0:27:38.8 HR: And our coordination, and our... All those other benefits we were speaking about earlier with the synovial fluid production and the venous return and really helping to open up those brain centers in our central nervous system, to help us to be more attuned, not only with the environment outside of us, but also what kind of environment are we experiencing inside, and are there any kind of simple, easy and friendly ways that we could do to enhance our inner environment.
0:28:09.6 NR: Well, and I forgot to mention, it also stretches, strengthen your muscle, and I think we sometimes forget that. We just think that we're lengthening, we're creating more range of motion, we're creating more space, which we are...
0:28:19.9 HR: Yoga is just, you know, for wusses. You can't really get a good workout for yoga. I've been hearing that for the 20 years that I've been teaching yoga, and I will often challenge some of these muscle men, "Okay. Let's... Come on over. Let's see how you do in 20 minutes."
0:28:35.8 NR: Multi-tasker and competitive.
0:28:37.8 HR: And competitive, yes.
0:28:42.2 HR: I'm a competitive stretcher. Not competitive in many areas of my life but yes, I like to be flexible.
0:28:49.4 HR: So dynamic stretching, and stretching in general, when you stretch the fascia, you are creating more tensile strength and integrity. You're building more collagen fibers. You're getting stronger as you get longer.
0:29:06.3 NR: Yes. Love that. Getting stronger as you get longer. It's cool.
0:29:10.5 KC: I wanna thank our guests today, Heath and Nicole Reed. For an in-depth dive into some of the techniques mentioned here today, visit their article in the July/August print issue of Massage and Bodywork Magazine, or go online to massageandbodyworkdigital.com for the related videos. Listeners interested in finding out more information about Heath and Nicole, their teachings, and their continuing education, visit livingmetta.com. Thanks, Heath, thanks Nicole.
0:29:35.0 HR: Thanks so much.
0:29:35.1 NR: Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, Darren and Kristin.
0:29:37.1 HR: Appreciate you guys.
0:29:37.5 NR: You guys are awesome. We love you.
0:29:37.9 KC: We love you too, and thanks so much for sharing such great information to help us keep our hands healthy so we can do the work we love, we appreciate it.
0:29:47.8 HR: Our pleasure.
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