The following is an excerpt from Mirka Knaster’s book Discovering the Body’s Wisdom, published in 1996 by Bantam Books, which is a comprehensive guide to more than fifty mind-body practices that can relieve pain, reduce stress, and foster health, inner peace and spiritual growth. The main goal is to help consumers and health care professionals to become savvy about the numerous Eastern and Western body/mind disciplines, or forms of bodywork now available. It also can reveal different approaches to the readers, as to how they may befriend their own bodies, provided they read the text with an open mind ready to receive new input.
In India, massage during pregnancy and after delivery has a long history. It is practiced even today in traditional form in many villages among the members of extended families. The claim of some website that “massage therapy during pregnancy is one of the most recent and trendy health trends” only shows a bit of ignorance of Indian medical and health care tradition. Be it as it may, old or new, pregnancy massage is a good tool, and Mirka Knaster’s presentation demonstrates, why.
“Pregnancy is a time to be pampered. Just being pregnant demands a lot of physical effort. All of a woman’s body systems are working twice as hard to sustain another being. When you’re pregnant, the extra and unevenly distributed weight keeps shifting your center of gravity, creates aches and pains in different parts of your body (especially in the lower back, neck and shoulders, and legs and feet), and makes it more cumbersome to move and harder to rest for long. The major changes that pregnancy generates in your body and psyche call for special attention. Prenatal massage can help reduce these difficulties as well as comfort and affirm you during this significant life transition.”
“Even when there are no specific aches, massage acts as an overall tonic. It increases body awareness and gives you a chance to learn how to relax in preparation for labor. In sedating your nervous system, massage facilitates the release of endorphins, leading to a state of deep relaxation, which also affects your baby in utero. Focusing on your body in a positive way can engender self-acceptance at a time when it would be too easy to think of yourself as ‘fat and ugly’.”
“Massage can also have a rejuvenating effect if you work during your pregnancy. By increasing both blood and lymph circulation, it brings more nutrition to all parts of your body, including the placenta, and aids in the removal of waste products. This can translate into greater energy, less fatigue, and reduced swelling. If moving about is limited or impossible because of a medical condition, massage is an alternative for stimulating circulation, stretching muscles, and keeping joints flexible.”
“There was a time when [according to western doctors] pregnancy alone was considered a contraindication for massage, but doctors now agree that massage can be beneficial, unless it is administered aggressively. For example, slow, gentle circling of the abdomen and at the lower back and sacrum is soothing, but there should never be any vigorous rubbing. Nor is deep pressure acceptable in any other part of the body if it causes pain. Beginning in the second trimester, lying supine may not only be uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous. In this position, the baby’s weight could compress major blood vessels (such as ascending vena cava) against the spinal cord and result in a marked decline in blood pressure. In the later stages of pregnancy, when the hormone relaxing loosens the joints in preparation for childbirth, only careful handling – no yanking or jerking of the joints – is safe.”
“Around the world, postpartum massage is as much a time-honored tradition as pre-natal massage. It helps relieve the fatigue and tension incurred by the strenuous effort made during labor and delivery. It also aids in ‘figure control’ and toning the uterus. Massage can strengthen muscles and prevent weakness due to inactivity, particularly if you’re confined during pregnancy and in need of convalescence afterward. As you face the challenge of mothering, you can appreciate the physical and emotional reassurance and nurturance you can get from postpartum massage.”
For those of our readers who want to find out more about Mirka Knaster and her work, go to: www.mirkaknaster.com. If you want to read up on pregnancy massage, there are a number of excellent books on the market; there is also quite a bit of information available on the net, of course.