Yoga and massage therapy are two of the most popular wellness practices, and if your instinct is telling you to combine them, you’re definitely on to something.
Massage and yoga are actually more similar than you may think. Both practices detoxify and oxygenate the body by increasing blood flow; both can increase flexibility and range of motion; and both are excellent for relieving stress.
And did you know yoga is actually a type of self-massage? The twisting, bending, and folding that takes place during yoga actually massages the internal organs, making it an excellent way to gently promote their healthy function.
So What’s the Best Way to Combine Yoga and Massage?
You can’t go wrong by simply having massage and yoga both in your overall wellness routine. However, you may be wondering abut the benefits of practicing the two in tandem, and what the best sequence is—yoga then massage, or vice versa? The answer depends on your goals.
Getting a Massage BEFORE Yoga
Getting a massage before practicing yoga class will increase blood flow to your muscles, lengthening the outer layer of muscles and connective tissue (AKA “fascia”) and allowing you to stretch more deeply into your asanas.
A massage warms the muscles and “pre-stretches” them in a way, so you’ll likely be able to stretch farther and hold the poses longer. Thanks to its tension-relieving, focus-inducing powers, massage may also make it easier to stay present and focused during your yoga session, enhancing yoga’s meditative effects.
It’s important to note, however, that you should be very mindful of your body’s sensitivity during a massage-yoga tandem. Very intense forms of massage—such as deep tissue or sports massage—require a period of muscular recovery afterward, which is liable to make an immediate yoga practice uncomfortable, costing you some of the benefits of both. A gentler technique, such as a Swedish massage, is better suited to pre-yoga prepping, as it focuses on warming, lengthening, and relaxing the outer layers of muscles.
Likewise, you should listen to your body during your post-massage yoga practice. Start gently. If you feel extra energized and limber after your massage, awesome! Go in deep! But if you find yourself feeling tender or sore, listen to your body and respond compassionately. Remember, while yoga can be rigorous, it should never be painful, so if your muscles are sending you distress signals, slow your roll or take a break.
Massage, while invigorating, can also be very, very calming, so if you find yourself feeling drowsy during your post-massage yoga session, proceed with caution—or not at all. The last thing anyone wants is a yoga-induced concussion after dozing off in Naṭarājāsana.
Getting a Massage AFTER Yoga
As with the massage-then-yoga sequence, yoga-then-massage will allow your body to maximize some of the other benefits of both practices.
If you get a massage after a yoga session you’ll benefit greatly from the massage’s reduction of lactic acid that builds up in the body after exercise. This will help you recover more quickly (after any type of exercise—not just yoga). If the therapist is targeting deeper connective tissue and fascia, the effects will encourage your freshly stretched muscles to stay at their increased length—extending and compounding the yogic benefits.
If your goal is to achieve maximum relaxation through your yoga/massage tandem, then this is definitely the sequence you want. A calming massage after yoga can be a profoundly relaxing experience. Combining the calming, stress-relieving benefits of both—particularly with a massage designed specifically for maximum relaxation like Zeel’s Sleep Massage—is an exceptional remedy for anyone who suffers from insomnia, or just can’t turn their mind off at night.
What Sounds Best to You?
However you choose to double up your yoga and massage practices, you’re sure to see exponentially increased benefits from both. Just remember to always communicate with your massage therapist. Tell them about your current physiological state before they begin (i.e. if you just came from a vigorous hot yoga sesh) and/or what you plan to do after your massage (say, two hours of vinyasa flow). They’ll be sure to customize the massage to your needs and goals so you get the most benefit, the most safely, out of your entire wellness routine.