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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Holding Onto Stress

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

"Take some calming, deep breaths and try to disengage your muscles & joints as much as you can."

I don't know how many times I'll have to go over this with clients- I suppose I will always have to... but you have got to let go of stress! Easier sais than done, I know. I myself am occasionally caught tensed up on the table. But trust me, holding onto stress during your massage is the WORST thing a good client can do!

It's kind of like getting into a car crash. You know how they tell you if you're ever in a car crash to not tense up and brace for impact? If your muscles and joints are tense in a wreck, you risk increasing the damage to your body from the crash. Massage is like a car crash in this way. If your joints/muscles are tensed up while your therapist tries to apply force, you risk damage being done. That's the complete opposite of our objective in a massage.

Remember, the whole point of a massage is to relax and receive therapeutic benefits. But you have to be willing an open to receiving those benefits, that includes letting go of stress- emotional & physical.


Most people hoard their stress as if it will someday be worth something or of use to them. Some people even carry it like a badge of honor! But there is no badge of honor for stress and there's no reward you can trade your tension in for. In reality, all accumulated stress will amount to is more stress and pain later on down the line.

Let It Go! Why hold onto something so devoid of value? Something so worthless and eventually harmful? Free your psyche and release your body from all the stress you force it through.

I cannot begin to count the amount of clients I have worked with that are unable or unwilling to relax. For whatever reason, conscious or subconscious, they must remain tense and contracted. Despite every invitation and insistence to the contrary.


There is a fundamental rule of massage, and it goes like this:

"If your muscles are contracted,

they cannot be relaxed."


"Relaxed" is being used here in its capacity as an adjective and as a verb. Think about it! If you flex your bicep (go ahead and try - right now!) and try to massage that contracted tissue, nothing you do will relax that muscle until you disengage the muscles and joints involved.

Sometimes this can be overcome in a massage with gentle verbal reminders, "let your muscles relax", "disengage this joint for me" or with non-verbal cues such as jostling or rocking the tissue. Ultimately, if your body is contracted- it cannot be relaxed. Your massage therapist can't do it for you.


You would benefit so much more from your massage if you worked harder at relaxing than holding onto your tension. Massage isn't some magical procedure you have done to you and then your conditions improve. No, you are a participant in the session as much as your therapist is.

You get out of massage what you put into massage. Your therapist can't do anything but match the energy & effort you bring to the table (literally). Nor should expect them to, that'll set you both up for failure. Neither of us want to waste our time or money.


Recall from my previous posts. You essentially have only three jobs while on the massage table:

1) relax

2) keep breathing

3) inform your therapist if there is anything keeping 1 or 2 from happening.


Getting a massage is not an effortless task for the client. Relaxing is a skill man of us struggle to master (especially over the last half dozen years at least!) but it is critical if you want to get the most out of your massage experience.

You have a role to play in your massage. The great thing about your three jobs is that the first two make each other easier. If you focus on one, the other becomes innately easier! If you're concentrating on relaxing, your breathing naturally comes easier. If you're focused on your breaths, relaxing can flourish.


So I urge you; let go of your stress.

Leave tension at the door!

You can pick it up in an hour (if you really must).

Holding onto stress is self-inflicted violence, and violence has no place in massage.



Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT


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