Shannon Brown investigates how to use yoga and massage together for the best pain-management results. Photogaphy by Romain Garrigue.

In today’s fast-paced world, we often wake up to find our schedules full, our stress levels high and our bodies aching.

Yet in Saigon and throughout Southeast Asia, we have a unique privilege – this is a place full of opportunities to connect to the body through yoga and massage. But what is one without the other?

In the wellness arena it is a widely-held opinion that yoga and massage are sister arts: two healing modalities under one holistic umbrella. Many massage therapists utilise standard yoga postures and breathing exercises in their work and sometimes assign postures as ‘homework’ to help clients minimise tension before a session.

As Shawn Anderson, a massage therapist at Mandala Wellness, puts it: “I work with clients with a wide-range of body types and activity levels, but in almost all cases I tend to recommend regular yoga practice. Even just a few postures alone at home can help.

The body work and myofascial release I do has a symbiotic relationship with yoga, because yoga trains the mind to work with the body in movement while massage helps to unblock, loosen, and unwind the tissues of the body that have become stuck or stagnant.”

According to research, massage tends to work best when you fully trust your therapist and allow them to apply the proper pressure. While massage is a passive way to boost the natural lubricants in your connective tissue, yoga is an active way to relax and transform your body.

Yoga is a self-directed, conscious and intentional partnership between the breath and the body. Through consistent and correct practice, yoga lengthens muscles, increases range of motion in the joints and improves posture and breathing. In learning yoga, you learn how to trust yourself as you breathe space into areas that are tight and find the right balance of tension and release. Yoga builds strength of both body and mind. On it’s own, yoga is an amazing discipline to cultivate, but adding massage to the practice can increase its effectiveness.

Rae Dohar of Home Yoga Saigon is a big believer in combining the two, although advocates for yoga as a vital way to reorient the body and create new patterns.

“Massage can only be so effective as pain management. Unless you retrain your body to have a healthy alignment, your natural learned movements will continue to give you pain. Yoga and other realignment practices use body movements to heat and soften the muscles, but if you already have hardened patterns of tension, you are essentially stretching and strengthening on top of them. You can only remove so much yourself. It is important to access both passive and active healing methods as well as learning to train your body from the inside out. Massage is very beneficial when you can start bringing breath and attention to your sessions and stay present through the pain.”

Shawn concurs that awareness is important. “There is something to the idea that you get more out of massage if you are in tune with your body. I’ve worked with many dancers, athletes, and yogis and they do tend to be more aware than average, which can sometimes allow them to release their tension more quickly. However, sometimes I meet pent-up athletes that can’t relax and sometimes there are inactive people who are highly bodily-aware. Bodies are weird and crazy and I love them.”

Yoga and massage are best used together. Knowledgeable and client-focused yoga teachers and massage therapists can cooperate as a team to assist you as you maintain and restore your body.

Both yoga and massage release endorphins – those ‘feel good’ chemicals – into your brain. Both relieve discomfort, tension, and muscle tightness. Both improve circulation of blood and oxygen in the body and can lead to deeper sleep and improved focus. As Rae eloquently put it – “Massage and yoga alchemize together to do what neither can achieve on their own.”