5 Yoga Poses for MTs

Tips to Avoid Common Injuries

By Brandon Twyford
[Tips for Today]

Massage therapists’ bodies require strength and stability in specific areas to effectively perform bodywork on their clients and avoid injury from overuse, repetitive motion, or muscle strain. MTs’ most common injuries occur in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and lower back. To avoid these issues, proper body mechanics are crucial, as is a self-care regimen that alleviates stress in these areas.
According to massage therapist and yoga instructor Cindy Williams, who suggests the following routine for Massage & Bodywork readers, “The key to unwinding any stress or tension in the body is to start with the spine. Move it in all its varying directions—extension, flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion.”
To preserve your best form, perform the entire sequence at the start or end of your day, and choose one or two of the poses that target your problem areas to practice between sessions.

1. Cat/Cow (alternating)
Helps relieve: shortened/tight chest and anterior shoulder area; neck flexion; tension in the mid-thoracic spine; and shortened/tight forearm flexors.
• Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Keep your back flat and your abs engaged. Inhale.
• On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling. Imagine you’re pulling your belly button up toward your spine. Tuck your chin toward your chest, letting your neck lengthen.
• On the inhale, arch your back and let your abs release. Lift your head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
• Continue alternating between the two poses, inhaling for cow pose (back arched) and exhaling for cat pose (back rounded).

Cow pose opens the chest and anterior shoulders, which are commonly shortened when performing massage. Cat pose releases tension in the mid-thoracic spine and engages and strengthens the core.

2. Downward dog
Helps relieve: tight chest, shoulder, and neck muscles; and tension in legs, ankles, and feet.
• Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, with your knees under your hips, and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your fingers.
• Exhale and lift your knees up from the floor, pushing the floor away from you, and push yourself into an inverted V pose.
• Press your chest toward your knees and straighten your legs, pressing your heels toward the floor. Keep your eyes focused on your toes.

Gravity releases the neck muscles and sends blood to the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. The Downward Dog pose expands the anterior shoulders and chest, lengthens the low back, and eases tension in the legs and feet after prolonged standing. A very grounding pose, it also calms the nervous system and helps relieve stress.

3. Mountain pose with arm variation and side bend
Helps relieve: shortened/tight shoulders, arms, and hands; and weak core muscles.
• Stand with your big toes touching, your heels slightly apart, and your weight evenly distributed between both feet. Let your feet and calves root down into the floor.
• Engage your thigh muscles and draw them upward, causing your kneecaps to rise.
• Rotate both thighs inward, creating a widening of the sit bones. Maintain the natural curve of your spine. Draw your belly in and widen your collarbones, opening your chest. Draw the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

The modified Mountain pose improves posture by lengthening the lower back; opening shoulders, arms, and hands; and strengthening the core—specifically the obliques and psoas.

4. Seated twist
Helps relieve: spinal tension.
• Begin seated, with your legs extended in front of you.
• Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, and slide your right foot under your left leg, placing your right heel as close to your left sit bone as you can. Cross your left foot over your right knee. Now your left foot is on the floor and your left ankle is next to your right knee.
• Reach your left arm behind you and place your palm on the floor. Then, bend your right elbow and cross it over the outer side of your left knee. Keep your elbow bent.
• Gaze behind you, over your left shoulder. Keep your left hand on the floor, or bring your left arm around your lower back for a greater stretch.
• Continue pressing your right arm into your left knee, using each inhale to lengthen the spine and each exhale to rotate farther to the left.
• Stay here for several breaths. Release the twist, come back to neutral, and straighten your legs. Repeat on the opposite side.

The Seated Twist unwinds spinal tension that builds up while leaning forward too much during massage. It relieves all of the torso muscles and opens the shoulders, neck, and forearm/hand.

5. Bridge
Helps relieve: lack of spinal flexion; and weak core or low-back muscles.
• Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-distance apart and flat on the floor.
• Press your weight into your heels to lift your hips toward the ceiling. Keep your thighs parallel. Bring your arms underneath you and try to clasp your hands together. (Don’t worry if you can’t do it at first; simply put your palms on the floor for support instead.) Roll your shoulder blades toward each other and hold the pose for 45–60 seconds.
• Release and slowly roll back to the floor. Repeat two more times.

The Bridge pose lengthens the lower back, hip flexors, abdomen, and psoas. It opens the shoulders, chest, and arms while extending the spine, and strengthening the core and lower back.

Brandon Twyford is assistant editor at Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. Contact him at brandon@abmp.com.