As the realization that shame, deep-seated stigmas, and general apathy toward women's healthcare and education continue to come to light (in what I can only describe as a misogynistic manipulation of legislation, among other things), we're all left searching for a way to empower ourselves and take control of our bodies. Rather than focus on the collection of people fighting for power over my flesh, I've decided to invest time in organizations that are working to improve wellness for women.
Such is the case with The Chopra Center, a San Francisco–based treatment center that provides experiences, education, teacher trainings, and products meant to improve your health from a physical, emotional, and spiritual standpoint. Its mission is for women to take breast health into their own hands, and as such, has launched an Ayurvedic breast massage as part of its offerings. (It's the only wellness center in the nation to offer the holistic treatment on a large scale.) Having dealt with taking my own breast health into my own hands a few years back, the massage immediately peaked my interest.
First, a little background: Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old healing wisdom tradition from India, teaches in order to maintain a state of balance, the whole person must be addressed—no part of the body or energy is excluded. Though, as you may probably have guessed, many healing practices overlook the breast area. "The conversation began while the Chopra Center spa was working on a study for breast cancer survivors to see if meditation, massage, and other daily practices like yoga and pranayam could help reduce the number of reoccurrences," explains Jennifer Johnson, the spa director of the Chopra Center and the creator of the massage.
"Over years of work, we found that many women work through complicated issues with their breasts, confusion from oversexualizing, and shame carried through various belief systems, and also that women very rarely touch their breasts," says Johnson. "We also saw women confronting complicated emotions after recovery from breast surgeries—everything from biopsies, lumpectomies mastectomies, reconstruction, and augmentations. We have introduced the Ayurvedic breast massage to bring awareness back into the body and breast, to help women know what healthy tissue feels like so they can better recognize abnormalities early on, and discuss the best course of action with their healthcare provider. We are really excited to offer this innovative new treatment that we believe will change the conversation around breast health, which is a vital component on the path to total well-being," said Johnson. "Our Ayurvedic breast massage combines movement, breath and manual manipulation to provide lymphatic circulation to this part of the female body that wouldn't otherwise receive the lymphatic benefits of exercise."
Below, she answers more of my questions.
What is the Ayurvedic breast massage?
"The Ayurvedic breast massage is one of the most effective and nourishing ways to maintain healthy breast tissue and musculature before potential issues arise—and a way to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually after life-changing disease such as breast cancer" explains Johnson.
"First, we review medical referral and consent forms as well as discuss level of comfort and coverage draping for treatment. Throughout the massage, we use a combination of lymphatic strokes, active muscle techniques, and marma point therapy. Marma points are energy centers similar to acupressure points—we stimulate marma points that encourage flow of lymph and breast health. Massage starts from the sternum, then the diaphragm, then the shoulders to bring awareness of congestion or limitations in range of motion, then the breast tissue. While working on the breast, the therapist will show the client how they can do their own daily self-massage. Then, we finish with more massage to the neck and shoulders and marma point therapy." By keeping the healthy flow of lymph and blood, ideally for faster recovery, the massage also can minimize adhesions and scarring for better overall results and healing."
There are three key pillars for which the massage is helpful.
- Lymphatic system and pain relief
"When healthy movement of the lymphatic fluid becomes restricted—whether from compromised health, surgeries, restrictive clothing, or even tense posture—toxins can accumulate and lead to disease. Exercise is effective at pumping lymph fluid around every part of the body, except the breast, where the flow is often restricted by workout clothing. The breast massage clears the lymphatic channels and ensures any toxins in the breast have a pathway to leave the body. In addition, by clearing up the lymphatic channels, pain is reduced in the breast as well as the entire body.
- An improved range of motion
"Breast massage includes muscle release techniques to open up the shoulders and chest. In those who have had breast surgeries such as augmentation or reduction, this can restore range of motion that has been often severely restricted. This is also extremely beneficial for anyone who regularly sits at a desk, drives a vehicle, or works at a computer."
- Increased "prana and life energy"
"In Ayurveda, Prana is the vital energy that gives life to all beings. When the flow of Prana is restricted, we may experience symptoms such as fatigue, unhappiness, or illness. Breast massage provides the vital function of opening up the flow of Prana in the chest, gently removing energetic blocks around the heart that might otherwise remain unaddressed. We often carry emotional burdens from traumatic experiences. By introducing targeted and intentional movement of the body, the Ayurvedic breast massage increases blood flow and activates endorphins—boosting mood and combating symptoms like depression and anxiety."
"In the massage itself, we work a lot on the neck and shoulders, which we can improve range of motion and posture. One thing to note is that the breast massage is more about supporting healthy breast tissue and less about specifically preventing disease, something which is also hard to prove since most clinical studies are about treating disease rather than preventing it. Also, it’s about paying more attention to a part of the body that is often ignored, so we can look at and support the body, mind and spirit comprehensively."
Who is the massage meant for?
"The Ayurvedic breast massage is beneficial for all women—healthy women, women who have been diagnosed with or are survivors of breast cancer, women who have fibrocystic breasts, and women who are recovering from breast augmentation or reduction, cardiac abnormalities, or chest pain. We encourage all women to make the breast massage a part of their comprehensive and preventative self-care routine. Men can also get the massage, as its benefits expand beyond the breast and to all parts of the body."
How can this be incorporated into other healthcare practices?
"The breast massage should be a supplement to other treatment and prevention measures. Clients need a referral from a California-licensed physician because we work in conjunction their primary healthcare providers to determine the best approach with their body, which is especially important for women who have had breast cancer or a breast surgery. We never massage active cancer centers and wait a minimum of six weeks after a woman’s procedure such as a mastectomy to do a massage.
"In order to perform this specialized therapy, the female massage therapists undergo additional extensive training of more than 125 hours in oncology and breast massage. Therapists provide a customized healing touch based on medical history, personal preference, and mind-body type, as well as a level of coverage that feels comfortable for the client, working with them through the massage. About 10% of the massage includes touching the actual breasts, and the nipples are never touched."