Love Your Guts Seminars director, Marty Ryan, is in Australia during Massage Therapy Week teaching Australian massage therapists the very real value of a belly massage – a sensitive region that has historically been a -no go area' for massage therapists and clients alike.
The belly is an area that many people dislike being touched, especially if they have digestive problems or pain – however according to Marty Ryan, educated and therapeutic touch could be the very thing your belly needs most.
'Massage has huge benefits for the belly, and can make a real difference to the discomfort and pain people are experiencing," says Marty Ryan. 'Belly massage is a gentle practice and people can be massaged through a sheet for privacy to allay any feelings of self-consciousness."
According to Marty Ryan, the abdomen or belly is one of the most neglected areas in massage therapy. This happens for a number of reasons including misconceptions that it is not effective to massage the area – a belief he states, couldn't be further from the truth. Other reasons include inadequate training, fear of creating harm or stirring up emotional releases.
'Like back, neck and head massage, a belly massage can help with circulation of blood and lymph, decrease inflammation, and release tension. It can also help improve digestion and ease common problems such as acid reflux and constipation."
Marty Ryan goes on to explain that it is often important to massage the belly when low back pain is presented. 'The axial skeleton – spine, pelvis, ribs, and cranium, and the -core' skeletal musculature and fascial pathways all connect our belly to our arms and legs. What happens in the belly effects other parts of the body, for example lower back pain can actually turn out to originate from our abdomen."
During Massage Therapy Week (2-8 September) Marty Ryan will be teaching massage therapists who are members of the peak industry body, The Australian Massage Therapy Association, (AAMT) how to effectively massage the abdomen to alleviate digestive and other belly related problems. 'In my seminars I build on the massage therapist's understanding of how to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle and focus on expanding this skill set to treat the connective tissue and organs between the belly wall and the spine."
Could a belly massage be just what you need?
Feeling bloated? A belly massage can decrease the feeling of bloat and fullness in the belly by improving digestion and reducing inflammation.
Constipated or run down? A belly massage improves blood circulation to our organs helping the liver with detoxification, the kidneys and spleen to clean blood more efficiently and helping the large intestine with elimination of food waste.
Suffering from period pain or fertility problems? Belly massage improves the reproductive system functions and can help with period pain, prostate gland swelling, erectile dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse, to name a few.
Recovering from abdominal or pelvic surgery? Sometimes after surgery there is a reduction in organ mobility due to the surfaces of our organs sticking together because of trauma, inflammation, or poor fluid circulation (termed post-surgical adhesion syndromes). Massage can help identify this and gently mobilise these tissues to alleviate discomfort.
Who benefits from belly massage?
People with digestive complaints such as acid reflux and constipation.
People with reproductive system challenges such as painful periods, and infertility.
Post-partum women with pelvic organ prolapse.
People with bladder issues such as incontinence or those that experience pain with voiding the bladder.
People who need post-surgery rehab care from organ removals or mass removals, hernia repair, and other procedures. These clients will often report numbness at the scar, pain, swelling or just not feeling well in the belly after surgery.
Men with swollen prostates glands.
Australian Association of Massage Therapists (AAMT) is Australia's peak professional association in the field of massage therapy. With 7,500 registered members nationally, AAMT is committed to upholding and promoting best practice in the industry. AAMT members have formal, accredited qualifications, are bound by a Code of Ethics, and are committed to professional development.
To find an AAMT massage therapist or further information www.aamt.com.au
Marty Ryan LMP has taught belly massage and palpatory anatomy seminars internationally since 1998, and is in private practice in Seattle, WA / USA. Marty has actively pursued his clinical treatment style, and his classroom teaching style is often regarded as an open and fun learning environment where everyone has the opportunity to participate, learn, and be heard.
Love Your Guts Seminars is a bodywork education company dedicated to bringing the world of the abdomen and viscera into a whole new light. We utilize high impact learning strategies to integrate whole body systems physiology and visceral anatomy information into a thoughtful and effective approach to belly massage. All seminars are presented with joy, laughter, gratitude, studiousness, clarity and most of all FUN! We invite everyone to truly Love Your Guts.
Question: What are the top five main benefits of belly massage?
Marty Ryan: Improves digestion
Reduces bloating and gas
Promotes whole body relaxation and enhances mood
Aids in detoxification
Helps alleviate abdomen pain and cramping
Question: What are the values of belly massage?
Marty Ryan: The primary values of belly massage are that the abdomen should not avoided. There are important organs and metabolic functions here that should not be ignored and play major roles in our good health. The abdomen not only houses important metabolic functions - elimination, digestion, reproduction, immunity, etc; it also plays a role in spine health because of its physical relationships to the spine, ribs and pelvis. Plus we hold stress and emotions here in the belly, so helping to relax and release this area is also very valuable.
Question: Why has the belly previously been a -no go area' for massage therapists?
Marty Ryan: It has been a "no go area" for massage therapists for a number of reasons - primarily because the industry and the customers have defaulted to muscle as our primary intervention layer. This means that people expect for their massage therapist to touch their muscles, and massage therapists are most fluent there anyway because of the amount of training they have focused there as opposed to other items like fluids, organs, or bones. Plus, touching the belly does not feel like touching muscles and joints, and both practitioners and customers are not so comfortable here.
There are also issues around fear and not wanting to cause harm (even if that is not a very realistic fear). Many people are also self-conscious about this area of the body and it creates anxiety to feel exposed here.
Up until recently, just very basic kinds of abdominal massage work were taught in schools, and so practitioners were not exposed to anything more advanced. Again we default to muscles because of our training history.
Question: How does massage help with digestive problems?
Marty Ryan: Belly massage improves circulation to the digestive organs, helps to release holding around the intestines, decreases bloating and belly pain and decreases constipation.
Question: What techniques can we use, at home, when massaging our own bellies?
Marty Ryan: Touching the belly can be a form of meditation - gently hold onto the abdominal wall with both hands and breathe. This can be done before sleeping or just before getting out of bed in the morning. Feel the weight of the hands and the movement of the belly wall with each breath. This is an excellent start.
Also, gently lifting with both hands the small and large intestines towards the navel is a good way to improve awareness of the guts and help relax the whole belly and spine.
Question: How can belly massage aid in period pain or fertility problems?
Marty Ryan: This is the realm of a skilled belly massage therapist who knows the anatomy of the pelvis well. Work here can decrease the pain of dysmenorrhea, decrease cramping and also pre-menstrual type symptoms.
The reasons these symptoms change is not entirely known, but we believe it's about optimising the position of the uterus and broad ligament so that blood flow and lymph flow are improved as well as hormone communications from the uterus, ovaries, and the rest of the endocrine system.
Question: How does belly massage help men, in particular?
Marty Ryan: Men have the same digestive system complaints as women, but will often complain differently or wait a longer before asking for help.
Both men and women will hold the belly wall tight when stressed which can create shallow breathing.
As men age, the prostate gland can sometimes swell. Improving circulation in the pelvis for men is critical for changing this. Of course, belly massage is not the only answer for prostate swelling, and often a constellation of factors and interventions is the best strategy. It is my opinion of course that manual therapy be a part of this conversation.
Question: How often do you suggest massages, especially belly massages?
Marty Ryan: Different treatment plans are indicated for different clinical conditions or presentations of course, but many digestive and reproductive system conditions respond beautifully (50 - 75% improvement) with 3-6 sessions. Also, stress management, exercise, and good nutrition play huge factors here.
Question: What types of techniques are used with belly massage?
Marty Ryan: "hugging" organs - meaning compression with 2 hands
"shearing" - which means moving structures at an oblique angle in the belly to improve the range of motion of the organs
"swimming" in the belly - which means creating a rocking motion with 1 hand while creating space between organs with the other
"lifting" - which means mobilizing organs and their fascia from their present place to a new place. The stretch and the movement are the therapeutic event here.
Question: If there are issues, can belly massage hurt?
Marty Ryan: It is never the intention to create unmanageable pain or tenderness, although some areas of many people's bellies will feel tender when touched even if they were asked beforehand if anything hurts and the answer was no.
The no pain/no gain principle definitely does not apply here. Too much tenderness causes recoil, fear, and holding which is exactly what I am trying to dismantle.
Marty Ryan, Love Your Guts Seminars
To find a massage therapist www.aamt.com.au
Interview by Brooke Hunter