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Dr Evelyn Lewin explores this latest hybrid yoga trend, and went to exercise heaven in the process.
So, massage yoga is a thing. Called Massoga®, it’s the brainchild of Wallis Murphy.
Wallis officially started Massoga back in 2016, after she kept hearing positive feedback from her students on the adjustments she performed during her classes as a yoga teacher.
She realised her ‘adjusting’ was “more massage in style” and that’s why her students clamoured to attend her sessions. Wallis had a light bulb moment. “I realised this must be something that people really love, and obviously I’ve got a bit of a knack for it, so it kind of just evolved [into a business],” she says.
Since she started Massoga, Wallis has been overwhelmed by people’s interest in it.“It’s been quite incredible, actually,” she said, of the fact her classes almost always book out.
Since launching Massoga, Wallis operates classes in Melbourne, but also runs retreats around Australia and has facilitated sessions in Townsville, Perth and Sydney.
So what is Massoga exactly?
When I ask Wallis this, she explains it’s about lying on a yoga mat and having a “deeply relaxing experience where you are immersed in the practice of Massoga”. She says this involves the use of essential oils, in a low-light environment, aimed to soothe.
So far, it sounds too good to be true, and I’m practically salivating at the idea of spending two hours immersed in this experience.
So on a windy Saturday afternoon, I attend my first ever Massoga session. The room is set up like most yoga classes, with mats and props like bolsters and straps by our side. There’s also a blanket laid out for each person, to ensure we can stay extra cosy.
The practice itself involves deep breathing and gentle yoga poses, along with Wallis’s soothing voice guiding us through relaxing notions and philosophies. Throughout the class, massage therapists roam. But it’s not about being massaged the whole time. Instead, I count seven therapists for the 27 attendees, and you can do the maths.
So, don’t rock up expecting a full body deep tissue experience. Rather than relaxing into long periods of massage, it’s more about getting a quick one every once in a while. And don’t expect to break a sweat, either. This is yoga, yes, but it’s not yang or designed to test your strength.
This is all intentional, Wallis says, as the type of yoga performed is a restorative yin practice, and that the experience is meant to be more nurturing, than exercise-based.
What are the benefits of Massoga?
When it comes to the benefits of Massoga, Wallis can’t stop gushing. She says the major benefits are physiological. “Massoga drops you into a state of conscious rest which is very beneficial for the body, brain and heart as a whole,” she says.
Physically, she explains, Massoga allows the nervous system to “down regulate” as the body’s soft tissues are stretched and compressed. “The science behind the power of touch demonstrates it activates this physiological system that enable us to feel safe.
“Nurturing touch and massage lower cortisol levels, reduce sympathetic nervous reactivity, it activates heart rate variability, and can increase oxytocin levels in the body.” But perhaps the greatest plus lies in just how soothing the experience can be, says Wallis. “The biggest benefit is that people are finding it deeply relaxing, very nourishing for their body and their heart and brain as well,” she says.
She says the most common piece of feedback she receives is, ‘That was so nurturing’. “And I think in modern society, we’ve lost the ability to nurture one another and to nurture ourselves,” says Wallis.
“So this really gives people permission to relax into the present moment, to stay mindful, and clear and really focused on their breath or on perhaps setting an intention.”
As for me, I must say there wasn’t enough massage for me to consider the experience really massage-based, and the yoga wasn’t my favourite type. But, as the immersion ended, I understand it wasn’t necessarily about either the massage or the yoga.
The beauty of Massoga is the fusion of the two, and how bringing them together creates what Wallis set out to achieve: a deeply relaxing experience.