Five Benefits of Abdominal Massage

The abdomen can be a powerful place to work during a massage treatment, but as Clare Maxwell-Hudson says in The Complete Book of Massage (the first massage book that I ever read, which was decades ago now): “At first some people are a little apprehensive about having their abdomen massaged. I think this is because they carry their tension there, and to expose the abdomen makes them feel vulnerable.” And it is true that the posture of fear is being closed up at the front of the body as if curled in a ball to protect the soft belly and the vital organs within it. We even feel fear in the abdomen as ‘butterflies’.

If we can overcome that sense of vulnerability in exposing the abdomen to massage, some of the main potential benefits are for:

  1. healthy breathing

  1. fascial release

  1. hip and lower back pain

  1. emotional release

  1. digestive problems.

Abdominal massage can support healthy breathing by relaxing the abdominal muscles, which allows the breath to move freely. So often we focus on holding the belly in, which can restrict the natural breathing pattern. At rest, the diaphragm sits as a dome below the rib cage. When we breathe in, it contracts and flattens to draw air into the lungs, which naturally pushes the abdominal contents down and outwards. This natural breathing pattern massages the internal organs by squeezing and releasing them if we allow that abdominal movement to happen. I have certainly found my breathing to feel noticeably different after abdominal work, easier and more relaxed.

Relaxing the abdominal muscles and releasing the fascia in the abdomen can help alleviate pain around the lower back, pelvis and hips. As I mentioned above, fear and stress can make us tighten up in the front of the body, which can cause musculoskeletal problems elsewhere in the body. Releasing tension in the abdomen allows a healthier posture to return.

We are all familiar with the term gut feeling, but perhaps less so with the concept that emotions and trauma can be stored in the abdomen. Abdominal massage can help release these in a therapeutic way.

And of course massage can be beneficial for digestive health. In part because chronic stress can impair digestive health. The relaxation of a treatment can help calm the system down allowing it to return to a state of rest and digest. The circling techniques used in abdominal massage are always done in the direction of the digestive system, which is clockwise, to support the digestive process.

In qigong we often practise self massage of the abdomen by circling the hands around the area (over our clothing) to massage the internal organs and to build qi in the lower dantian (elixir field). That is something that you can do for yourself, standing up, seated or lying down. With one hand on top of the other over the abdomen, start off with a small circle around the navel and gradually make the circle bigger until it takes in the whole abdomen, circling clockwise as if you were looking out of the clock face. Another technique is to place both palms over the abdomen, thumbs and index fingers touching, then draw them up the centre line over the navel to the lower ribs before drawing them out to the sides and down before drawing up the centerline again, as if drawing a circle on each side of the abdomen with the hands circling up the middle and down the side.

I hope that you can enjoy the benefits of abdominal massage whether that is from a treatment or through self massage.