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If you’ve ever tried to soothe a crying baby or console a loved one, you know that one of the most helpful things you can do is to make physical contact and rock with them back and forth. This simple act has an incredibly powerful and calming effect on both the body and mind. It’s a comforting and reassuring gesture that’s practically embedded in our DNA. When you consider the fact that the average adult male is about 60% water, the adult female, 55% water, and a one year old infant is close to 75% water, it’s no wonder our bodies have adapted to this movement. Much like the tide, the inherent rhythms of our bodies have an ebb and flow.

The therapeutic benefits of rocking can be clearly seen in what Thai yogis refer to as the rhythmic, rocking dance. In Thai yoga massage, the practitioner moves their body in rhythmic and swaying fashion to help create an even distribution of pressure during the massage. And herein lies the key to getting a great massage that’s both therapeutic and extremely relaxing.

The principles behind rocking are rooted in Thai Chi. A Thai Chi master uses very little of his or her own energy to create their movement. Their bodies are never rigid or stiff but instead fluid and graceful. This is because their center of gravity is rooted in what Eastern body workers refer to as the Hara, which in Japanese loosely translates to “soft belly.” The area three finger widths below the naval is anatomically referred to as the solar plexus. It’s the location of the your 2nd chakra or sacral chakra. It’s also referred to as the Tanden or Dantien.           

When movement is initiated from this area, the practitioner is using their body weight instead of the force of their muscles to deliver the pressure. As a result, energy can move freely up and down the spine, through the practitioner’s limbs, and out their hands. When pressure is applied in this way, it feels great. The pressure is even and deep, never jerky or awkward. If the body is stiff and the practitioner is using their own strength to deliver pressure, the kink in the flow of energy will quickly tire them out and eventually affect the recipient. In other words, it’s not going to feel good.

There are three basic forms of rocking employed in Thai massage, the bamboo rock, the forward rock, and the whirlpool rock. The bamboo rock or side rock is used frequently during meridian work in Thai massage. The movement is a fluid side-to-side motion much like a bamboo reed being blown in the wind. The bamboo rock is a great way to gently stimulate the energy meridians throughout the body without causing pain in stagnant areas. The forward rock is often used during certain stretches and tractioning movements as an effective way of opening up the body. A traditional stretch can be painful if done too aggressively. The forward rock allows the body to relax during the entire stretch. The whirlpool rock can be looked at as combination of both the bamboo and forward rock. The circular motion of the whirlpool rock has a very meditative quality which can be employed anywhere from Hara work to range of motion movements of the limbs.

So far all the rocking techniques discussed have been movements the Thai yogi employs in administering a natural and even distribution of pressure. Another form of rocking, which is commonly used in Shiatsu but can be translated into Thai or even table massage is called kembiki. In this form of rocking, the recipient is lying in a prone position while the therapist is applies an oscillating motion to the torso and limbs. In kembiki the recipient’s body is in constant motion. Doing this creates an almost trance like quality which is deeply meditative and very relaxing.

Regardless of the form it takes, rocking is an effective tool in reducing tension and stress in the body. Unfortunately, it tends to be under employed in traditional massage. For those people that find a static table massage uncomfortable or painful for whatever reason, a little bit of rocking can be a transform a regular massage into a truly amazing experience.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Thai yoga massage has been around for millennia. This very ancient form of bodywork uses elements of compression, rocking, stretching, and various yoga poses to create a therapeutic response. But there are a few key distinctions which set it apart from a traditional Swedish or deep tissue massage. If you’re new to massage or if you’re trying to decide which is best for you, knowing what to expect may make that decision a little easier to make. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between a Thai massage and a table massage.

  1. No table: One of the main differences between Thai massage and a table massage is that Thai massage is done on a mat on the floor. A traditional Swedish/deep tissue massage is done on a massage table.
  2. No need to undress: Thai massage is done fully clothed wearing loose, comfortable clothing. A full body table massage is usually done with the client partially or fully undressed, underneath a sheet and cover.
  3. No lotions or oils: A Thai massage does not use any crèmes, lotions, oils, or gels. Whereas a table massage can use any of the latter in its application.
  4. Techniques: A Thai massage will often use elements or compression, rocking, stretching, breath work and range of motion to create its therapeutic effect. A table massage may also use elements such as these but mainly focuses on techniques such as kneading, stroking, effleurage/petrissage, and friction for breaking up of adhesions and knots.
  5. Energetic component: A Thai massage incorporates energy line work through the use of palming and thumbing of the Sen lines in the body. A traditional Swedish/deep tissue massage does not work these energy lines specifically.
  6. Stretching: As mentioned already, Thai massage uses a great deal of stretching to address areas of tension and to relieve energy blockages. A table massage may also incorporate stretching but not to the extent that a Thai massage does.
  7. Positions used: In traditional table massage, most will lie face down (prone position) or face up (supine position) for a majority of their session. On occasion a side-lying position is used for targeted work. In Thai massage however, in addition to both the prone and supine positions, the side-lying, semi-prone, and seated positions are used as well.

Given these differences, one form of massage may be better suited for you than the other. Although both have their therapeutic qualities, personal preferences and expectations may have a significant impact on how the work is received. Also, each practitioner may have his or her own unique style, which will influence the work as well. No matter which form of massage you choose, make sure to seek out a knowledgeable, well-trained, and licensed professional to ensure you’re getting the best possible work available.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Chances are we’ve all experienced the painful effects of a muscle cramp. Some can be mild and annoying and others can stop us dead in our tracks. Whether we’re out for a jog in the morning, sitting at our desks at work, or sound asleep in the middle of the night, muscle cramps can strike suddenly and without warning. So what exactly causes a muscle cramp? What are some of the risk factors that predispose us to cramps? And what can be done to break a cramp when it occurs?

A cramp is an involuntary and sustained muscle contraction that can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Commonly referred to as a “Charley Horse,” these sudden and painful spasms cause a noticeable hardening and bulging of the affected muscle(s), and can at times leave some residual soreness once they’ve passed. It’s not uncommon for a cramp to strike multiple times before it’s completely resolved. Let’s take a look at the different types of cramps and what’s behind them.

Types and Causes

Muscle cramps can occur anywhere in the body. True cramps, as differentiated from tetany, dystonic cramps, or even smooth muscle cramps (i.e. menstrual cramps), are cramps that affect voluntary skeletal muscles. Some commonly affected areas include the hands, ribcage, abdomen, thighs, calves, and foot muscles.

Cramping that occurs during or after exercise or physical activity is considered a fairly normal occurrence. Muscle fatigue and over-exertion, such as in writer’s cramp or long distance running, are the likely culprits in cases such as these. But more often than not, the exact cause may be hard to identify since there are so many contributing factors. Here are some other leading causes:

  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Poor circulation
  • Dehydration
  • Overuse
  • Injury
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Drug side effects
  • An overly facilitated nervous system
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Insufficient stretching before or after exercise
  • Increased levels of lactic acids and metabolites
  • Medical conditions such as: diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, MS

A muscle spasm can develop in any of the voluntary muscle groups as a protective mechanism against further injury.

Repetitive use of certain muscles can lead to muscle fatigue, which in turn can cause cramping.

Resting cramps, such as those that occur while we’re sitting or lying down in awkward positions, are more likely to occur as we age.

Dehydration, either from a lack of proper hydration or excessive perspiration, can increase the chances of cramping due to sodium depletion; so can diuretics, which are medications that promote urination.

Severe vitamin deficiencies have also been associated with muscle cramping. B1, B5, B6, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are all important for proper muscle functioning.

Leg Cramps

Leg cramps, such those that affect the front and back of the thigh, as well as the calf and foot muscles, are usually at the top of the list of afflicted areas. Cramps that occur while walking or running can be the result of poor circulation caused by muscle tension in the lower leg. The gastroc/soleus complex, the two prominent muscles of the lower leg, is an integral part of the venous return to the heart. The soleus muscle in particular has the unique distinction of being called the “body’s second heart.” The reason for this is that the soleus contracts both while shortening and lengthening, making it very efficient at pumping blood back to the heart. If the muscle is chronically tight and shortened due to trigger points or poor conditioning, it can impede blood flow and therefore be an indirect cause of calf cramps.

Muscle tension on the top of the foot, whether due to tight footwear or trigger points in the interosseus muscles, can cause numbness, swelling and cramps on the top of the foot. The poor circulation resulting from this is likely to promote trigger points in the area.

Nocturnal leg cramps can also be the result of trigger points in the lower leg muscles. Vitamin deficiencies, such as magnesium and potassium, can be a significant factor in such cases. Calf cramps that occur in the later stages of pregnancy may be considered normal to some, but can often be the result of a calcium deficiency.

Poor circulation can lead to decreased levels of oxygen to the muscles. In some cases a condition known as claudication, which causes pain and/or cramping in the lower leg or thigh, is a result of inadequate blood flow to the leg. The pain is typically felt while walking or running, when oxygen is needed the most. It subsides while at rest and is sometimes referred to as “intermittent claudication” for that reason. Claudication can be a symptom of a more serious condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries due to high cholesterol and an accumulation of plaque in the arteries, often begins in the arteries furthest from the heart. The pain associated with claudication however does not necessarily come from a muscle cramp, but from an accumulation of lactic acid and other chemical byproducts held in the tissue.

Cramp Relief

There are a few things that can be done when we’re in the throes of a cramp. Most of us will gently massage and/or stretch the affected muscle until the cramp subsides. This is an instinctual reaction to an acute attack of pain. And for most of us, is all that it takes. Here are some alternate ways of breaking a cramp.

Sustained compression: Hold the cramped muscle with steady pressure until it subsides. This is an especially good technique when dealing with multiple cramps.

Ice/Heat Application: The numbness caused by icing a cramped muscle will inhibit nerve impulses and help to break the cramp. Although it may take longer, it will aid in reducing post cramp soreness and may be a good option when a muscle cramps multiple times. Heat is also a great way of soothing and relaxing cramped muscles. A twenty-minute soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt or applying moist heat compresses should suffice.

Reciprocal Inhibition: Muscles work in opposition to each other. In order for one muscle group to contract, the opposing muscle group must relax. For example, in order for the calf muscles to flex, the shin muscles must relax and give to a certain degreee. This neuromuscular technique uses the inhibition naturally created in the opposing muscle group to stop the cramp. If the cramp occurs in the calf muscles, place the opposite (non-cramping) foot on top of the cramping foot to provide resistance, and try to lift your toes against the resistance. Flexing the shin muscles of the cramping leg against resistance will create reciprocal inhibition in the calf muscles. Although this technique is a bit more involved and requires some forethought, the relief it provides is often immediate and well worth the practice.

Muscle Spindle Approximation: This other neuromuscular technique uses a set of proprioceptive cells found in the belly of a muscle to provide relief. This technique is ideally suited for large, graspable muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and abdominals. Grasp either end of the cramping muscle and squeeze the ends together. If the quadriceps are cramping, grasp just above the knee with one hand and just below the pelvis with the other hand and bring the ends together.

Stretching: Although stretching is one of the most common ways of breaking a cramp, caution should be used as stretching during a severe cramp can make it worse. For lower leg/calf cramps, gently point the toes up and down until the cramp subsides. Stretching before and after exercise is an excellent way of reducing your chances of getting a cramp. For those who suffer from nighttime cramps, some gentle stretches before going to bed should be part of your routine.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Love it or hate it, everyone has an opinion when it comes to stretching. Yet we all do it instinctually. Whether it’s the first thing we do in morning when we get out of bed or the last thing we do after being hunched over our desk for hours. The point of contention arises when stretching is done purposefully, as part of a regimen — either before or after an activity, or as a practice all its own. Whether you fall into this latter category or not, there are a few things we should know about stretching before we make up our minds on its efficacy. In this first post on stretching, we’ll be discussing the anatomy of a stretch.

Let’s face it, some people are naturally more flexible than others. Women tend to be more flexible than men. The young are more flexible and limber than their adult counterparts; and there are several reasons for this. As we age, we progressively loose flexibility as part of the normal aging process. Degenerative changes within the muscle and/or joint capsules (arthritis) can lead to an inactive lifestyle. Inactive muscles will adaptively shorten and eventually become weak. Stretching helps to maintain a certain degree of flexibility, which in turn improves our range of motion. Range of motion (ROM) is the degree of movement available for any given body part or joint.

What is stretching?

So what exactly does it mean to stretch? Stretching is the act of placing a specific body part into a position that will lengthen a targeted muscle, muscle group and/or soft tissue structure. Soft tissue structures come in two varieties: contractile and non-contractile. Examples of non-contractile structures include: ligaments, menisci, and joint capsules. This type of soft tissue was designed to provide support and stability. Their primary job is to limit or control the amount of movement across a joint. Other types of non-contractile soft tissue include fascia, skin and scar tissue. Muscle and tendons are the two primary contractile structures. Tendons attach muscle to bone, and by extension only transmit the force of the contracting muscle across a joint to create movement. Since tendons don’t actually contract themselves, that leaves us with muscles as the primary target for stretching.

Every joint in the human body has a range of motion that is considered normal for that joint. Let’s consider the hip as an example. The hip joint has six planes of movement: flexion, extension, adduction (swinging leg across the opposite leg), abduction (swinging leg away from the opposite leg), medial rotation (rotating leg so knee is pointing towards opposite leg) and lateral rotation (rotating leg so knee is pointing away from opposite leg). For each given movement there is a degree or range, which is considered normal.

Range of Motion Available at the Hip:

Flexion: w/extended knee = 80-90 deg, (w/flexed knee = 110-120 deg)

Extension: 10-15 deg

Adduction: 30 deg

Abduction: 30-50 deg

Medial Rotation: 30-40 deg

Lateral Rotation: 40-60 deg

Some people will fall below this range, others slightly above it. Hip flexion (w/an extended knee) for example tends to be the most limited movement of the hip for most people. Think of bending over to touch your toes. If you have trouble doing this, chances are tight hamstrings, as well as tight gluteal and calf muscles are contributing to this limitation. Those who have suffered an injury or lead a sedentary lifestyle might find themselves in this category.

Stretching can be done actively or passively with the help of an aid or an assistant. Depending on the joint where the stretch is performed, you can see a noticeable difference in the amount of passive ROM available. The neck is perfect example. You can yield a greater amount of ROM at the cervical spine if it’s done passively. This is not always the case for every joint however. The hip joint generally yields the same amount of ROM whether it’s done actively or passively.

Tight, short, stiff muscles have a tendency to limit this normal range of motion, as well as contributing to some other issues, such as:

– Chronic muscle and joint pain due to constant tension

– Interference of proper muscle functioning

– A loss of strength and power

– Restrict blood flow and circulation

– Increased muscle fatigue

– Muscle strain or injury

What happens during a stretch?

Muscles are comprised of thousands of tiny cylindrical cells called muscle fibers. Each muscle fiber contains thousand of ‘threads’ called myofibrils. These myofibrils are what give muscles their capacity to contract, relax and lengthen. Within each myofibril are millions of bands of sarcomeres. Sarcomeres are made up of thick and thin myofilaments containing contractile proteins called actin & myosin. When sarcomeres are regularly stretched to their end point, the number of sarcomeres increase and are added to the ends of existing myofibrils. This is what increases the muscle’s length and ROM.

There are two primary reflexes that are engaged when you do a stretch: the “stretch/ myostatic reflex” and the “golgi tendon reflex”.

Stretch/Mysotatic Reflex: During the first few seconds of a stretch (6-10 seconds), tiny proprioceptive cells called muscle spindle organs (MSOs) are activated. MSOs located in the belly of the muscle contract in order to protect the muscle. Their primary function is to detect changes in the length and speed of the stretch and contract accordingly.

Golgi Tendon Reflex: After the first few seconds of a stretch, another set of proprioceptive cells called golgi tendon organs (GTOs) are engaged. Located near the tendons of a muscle, GTOs detect the amount of tension being exerted over a joint and automatically stop contracting in order to protect the muscle from being overloaded.

Knowing about these reflexes can help us to stretch in a much more effective and safe way. Here are two keep points to remember when stretching:

1. Move slowly into the stretch: In order to mitigate the effects of the stretch reflex, it’s important to move slowly into the stretch and only to the point of comfortable resistance. If you move too quickly or stretch to the point of pain, you will activate the stretch reflex and create resistance within the muscle.

2. Hold the stretch for  at least 10 seconds: After this initial period, the MSOs will cease firing and the GTOs will kick in. GTO activity will create inhibition in the muscle, allowing you to stretch further to a new end point.

In part 2 on stretching, we’ll discuss several different types of stretches, the benefits of stretching, and more pointers on how to stretch safely and effectively.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

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