How To Combine Yoga With Massage and Bodywork Therapy

Performing Bodywork on a Client Doing a Yoga Posture on Massage Table

Way back in 1977 it became clear to me I could combine yoga with massage and bodywork therapy to produce a more highly effective and efficient, hybrid system of soft tissue therapeutics.

That became a major focus of my life for the last 40 years.

I will in this article give you a broad overview of how that works.

If you’d like to know the more precise history of how it happened, you can go to my Bio / History page here.

Can Physical & Mental Yoga Be Used As A
Basis for Massage and Bodywork Therapy?

What Does It Mean to Combine Yoga With Massage and Bodywork Therapy?

The Short Answer is we use the mental focus of yoga and yoga postures invested in the physical movements, tissues, and sensations in the physical body during massage and bodywork treatments.

Moving Mind Into Musculature Such that Distinctions Between them DISSOLVE …

~David Scott Lynn

I started in martial arts & zen-style meditation when I was 13 years old, then began doing yoga when I was 19. When I was 22, in 1976, I took a one-month intensive in Physical, Mental & Relational Yoga with Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad.

Joel was recognized as a Leading Edge innovator in yoga and had developed some groundbreaking perspectives and practices in his Hatha (physical / postural) Yoga practice. This involved an intense application and injection of Jnana (mental / emotional) Yoga into the practice and experience of the physical postures.

I write more on that elsewhere, but it was a major and life-changing experience for me. And I immediately thereafter became a yoga teacher.

Soon after, I was meeting various massage and bodywork therapists and teachers and experienced various approaches to soft tissue therapy. One of them was Eugene Donaldson, who had recently graduated from the Polarity Institute in Washington State. Eugene soon became the co-founder of Educating Hands, one of the more pre-eminent massage schools in Miami, Florida.

Eugene was my first real exposure to this thing called “bodywork,” and his was a VERY deep and intense approach to bodywork. It was a VERY aggressive form of Polarity Therapy … and it was VERY painful.

Playing The Edge of
Pain, Fear & Resistance

But I had learned Joel Kramer’s concept and technique of “playing the edge,” which was all about going up to, but not into, pain. We should literally explore along the very edges of the sensations of pain, without actually going into pain.

This was not about avoiding pain, it was about getting as close to it as possible without triggering negative reactions inevitably arising when pain shows up in one’s experience.

We also work with the Minimum Edge, the Maximum Edge, and the Spectrum of the Edge in between.

playing the edge in dsl edgework medical massage

From NO Edge to OVER the Edge

When using Yoga for FITNESS or Maximum Flexibility with NO injury or excessive stress in the background, then working toward the Maximum Edge can be fine. That is the level of maximum intensity of sensation before moving into pain. This level of intensity will most likely activate the Sympathetic Nervous System which will tend to suppress or shut down the Parasympathetic Nervous System. 

The Parasympathetic System stimulates Self-Healing, health-building processes such as Rest, Rebuilding, Rejuvenation, Recovery, and Immune Function. You want to make sure you are truly HEALTHY enough to accommodate having your Internal Self-Healing systems suppressed or shut down for a while.

The Downside is many people are so DE-Desensitized they do NOT really know what’s going on inside their body. They also might not have a realistic sensory assessment of whether they are experiencing pain at the semi- or unconscious levels. So they might well be more subject to injury.

When using Yoga primarily for Building Foundational HEALTH, then working more toward the Minimum Edge is more productive. This is a lower-intensity, lower “dose” of stretch than when one is working toward the Maximum Edge.

The Minimum Edge is like the “Homeopathic” level of intensity, which is not very intense at all.

Those individual who are highly stressed, highly tense, injured, traumatized or the like should work as close to the Minimum Edge as possible until they are well on the way to recovery back to a more normal state.

This is covered in my article and eBook on the Health / Fitness Spectrum. [NOT YET AVAILABLE]

Health Fitness Spectrum in Yoga & Exercise - No Pain, No Gain versus No Pain, MORE Gain - medical massage therapists in medical practice

When first doing yoga, we are usually quite de-sensitized. So these negative reactions of the soft tissues, are often VERY subtle, requiring a more highly refined sense of the feelings in the tissues to even notice them at all.

THAT becomes a primary meditative focus or mindfulness in the yoga postures.

Yoga Is About The QUALITY Of Attention We Pay To Whatever We’re Doing In The Moment …

~Joel Kramer (approximate quotation)

Therefore, the Object of a Yogic Approach is for the Massage / Bodywork Therapist to:

A.) Develop a more highly refined sense of mindfulness, a more meditative focus, while working with and feeling their Clients’ tissues. With increased mindfulness and focus, we become far more sensitive to the feelings produced in our own nervous system and mind by the Clients’ tissues. We more closely notice the levels and textures of resistance (or tension), and how it feels when the tissues begin to react or relax or otherwise change.

B.) Encourage the Client to ALSO use the massage or bodywork experience to become more mindful, more meditative, in the focus of their attention on their own body. They get focused on the sensations produced by the pressures and movements of the Therapists’s hands, fingers, elbows, or whatever.

C.) Produce a DYNAMIC SYNERGY between Client and Therapist, a Relational Yoga between them.

How To Combine Yoga With
Massage and Bodywork Therapy

How To Combine Yoga With Massage and Bodywork Therapy