Sweet release: How tending to tight muscles can reduce stress

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 5, 2017


METRO DETROIT — Theresa May, owner of Santosha Yoga in Chesterfield Township, tells her clients that stress impacts the body the same way frigid temperatures do. 

“When we’re stressed, we tighten up. It’s that fight-or-flight process: There’s more blood pumping to your heart to give you that boost of energy you need to escape a threat in the wild, but afterward, we’re supposed to calm down, and in today’s society we just don’t,” May explained. “So that blood isn’t going to the other limbs in your body, and it all tightens up. Kind of like when you’re cold and you hunch into a little ball to keep warm.”

That was May 17 years ago, when despite being trim, she was hardly fit and overwhelmed with stress, she said.

“I tried yoga just because I was curious to see if it lived up to the hype; I had heard it was good for stress release and good for the body. It was all that and then some,” she said.

Combating stress is something May helps her clients do lately in her yoga studio, where stretching tightened muscle tissue and breathing deeply work in tandem to bring individuals back down to earth from their heightened state of anxiety.

“Breath is an important part of the practice,” she said. “We breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth with longer breaths than normal, and it’s calming. They say, ‘As is the breath, so is the mind.’ So if you learn to slow down your breath, the mind will follow.”

Stretching tight muscles is one way to release stress, but so is giving them a good rubdown. That’s according to Lucinda Hoose, owner of La Vida Massage in Troy. 

“Massage has been around for thousands of years, and it really does help to manage pain, stress and fatigue, improve concentration, improve sleep,” said Hoose. “All of those things, when they’re out of whack, contribute to stress.”

Plenty of the clients who go into La Vida are there to treat themselves for a special occasion, a concept Hoose has dubbed “fluff and buff,” even though she just doesn’t understand that way of thinking.

“People say, ‘I’ll do it for my birthday once a year.’ But we have stress coming at us constantly, and massage is becoming much more accepted as a health preventative,” she said. “Once a month is recommended, but if you can do twice a month, you’ll reap all those benefits and much more.”

Massage, she said, works for our body in a similar way as yoga does: by loosening tightness to allow increased blood flow to muscles. 

And it doesn’t stop there. 

“Massage releases toxins from the body, and we’re constantly getting inundated with toxins from the food we eat, alcohol we drink, makeup we wear, shampoo and so many other places,” she said. “We tell you to drink extra water after a massage because you want to flush those things we just released out of your body so you’ll feel better.”

Something else yoga and massage have in common is that many newbies think they need to be experienced to come in for the first time. May said she couldn’t even touch her toes at her first yoga class.

“Yoga is where you come to get flexible, not if you already are flexible,” she said.

Massage is similarly welcoming for first-timers. 

“Even if you’re not getting that deep-tissue massage for pain relief, just being in the darkness with no phone or computer and giving that time to yourself for a whole hour — we forget to do that,” she said.