There is so much to say about our anatomy. As an occupational therapist, I worked with women’s bodies and the breasts for five years before stumbling into my own bodily pain. I noticed how different my pelvic pain felt from past shoulder or neck pain— the vulnerability and identity wrapped up in these realms.
We are nearing the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We hear about the importance of monthly self-checks, of additional research and attention, and no doubt, these ring true. But I am consistently struck by the sense of urgency and alarm that comes to conversations about our breasts. How often we become aware of them (or our pelvis) only when there is a problem. Or a thing that we’re trying to accomplish (e.g. get pregnant, breastfeed, achieve orgasm, get out of pain). A thing we are hoping that our body will do for us that it isn’t. A failing of some kind.
If you’re a woman or person with female anatomy who feels disconnected from (or even disapproving of) these spaces, I get it. I was one of those women too. Sometimes I still am one of those women. It’s a practice.
Still, breast massage has been a way for me to come home to my body in a way I didn’t think wholly possible. This practice is a way to bring more of myself online— the heart-centered, knowing, vivacious, drenched-in-possibility version of myself. And what’s better than that.
Preparing for Breast Massage
You will want to bring a sense of honor to this practice. Before you begin, take a moment to visualize the connection between your hand and your heart. From an anatomical perspective, this is also true. There is a swath of fascia (i.e. connective tissue, or the bridge between your physical and energetic bodies) that sweeps from your breastbone into each fingertip. Stay conscious of this connection. You are engaging with your breast tissue as a part of you– not some separate entity.
Energetically, your breasts hold a “yang” energy. They extend out into the world with an active, engaging, ‘doing’ quality. Your breasts have also been called the antlers to your heart. Imagine that in using your hands in breast massage— or an honoring tool such as a Chakrubs breast massager—, you are in fact coming home to your heart. That vibrant pulse that may be covered by layers of grief or disconnect, but is nevertheless still there.
You’ll want to get in a position that feels supportive— either lying back against a stack of pillows or a bed, or in a rooted seat. You’ll want to get an oil— rose, castor, sesame, coconut, almond oil. Find one that resonates with you and keep it close by.
Waking Up Our Lymphatic System
You’ll begin by waking up the lymph nodes in each armpit. Your lymphatic system is like a filter in your body. It provides you with immunity and recycles nutrients back into your bloodstream. It runs alongside every artery and vein. Placing a flat, dry palm in your armpit, press in gently through your entire palm, about the width of a nickel. Make 7 to 10 circles here (or as much as feels complete) in either direction. Repeat this motion in your other armpit. At your breastbone. At each collarbone, with your thumb pad bordering the bone’s border, your fingers splayed at your upper pec. Breathe.
As you breathe, imagine each lung expanding underneath your breast tissue. Your breasts extend out from each lung space. Imagine the web of lymphatic vessels coursing through each breast with each breath. If you tend to have swollen or tender breasts before your bleed, stay with this visual. After you complete the circular motions above, draw gentle sweeps across each breast from your heart to your armpit, like in a fanning shape. Imagine each inhale and exhale flushing out any toxins, grief, or stagnation. Repeat 7 to 10 times at the top, middle, and underside of your breast. Repeat the flat circles in your armpit.
Now let your mind land in this area. Notice, with a hand atop your breast— what emotion comes up? Apathy, nausea, disconnect? Discomfort, angst, fear? Is there a sense of grounding? A familiarity or sense of home? What sensation do you find at your fingertips? Numbness, warmth, a cooling? Can you identify the weight of your fingers on your chest?
If you’re having difficulty staying here, or it feels like your brain is flitting offline, bring your hand back to your heart. Remember, this is not an achievement-based massage. It is not something you need to rush through. You are meeting your body wherever it is— and staying with it from there. You have time.
If you’d like to move on, keep one hand atop your breast (where the bulky part of your pec muscle might be) and another below (where an underwire bra might be. Note to reader: as you continue with breast massage, you may find that underwire bras slowly begin to lose their appeal).
With one hand at your upper breast (or pec) and one hand underneath your breast (or lower rib cage), press both hands in until you connect with the fascia. This will be about the width of a nickel. Imagine the connection between each, like a sheet of fabric connecting top to bottom hand. Breathe 7 to 10 times. Imagine you are illuminating the space between your hands—bringing to life your lymphatic system, your fascia, and anything that has been stored there, any emotion you might find.
Now, maintaining a connection to your heart space, allow yourself to explore your breasts with your hands or breast massager without rule or restriction.
For the person who feels comfortable with this area, treat your breasts like you would a masterpiece— with tenderness, curiosity and care. Sweep your breast tissue away from your armpit towards your nipple line. Cradle it between both hands and move it in all directions, as if following the hands of a clock. You are not hoping to squeeze the tissue between your fingers, but to maintain contact between flat palms. You are not wanting to bulldoze the tissue with a massager, but to glean information about tender spots. As you move, linger in the spaces that feel sticky or tight. Breathe into these— again letting your touch, your breath and your attention radiate on each.
When you feel called, bring two fingers to your areola or nipple. Press your finger pads gently inward. Breathe into this space. Slowly, start to trace the circumference of your nipple, spiraling your way out to the perimeter of your breast. Notice where there’s numbness. Notice where there’s pleasure. Notice when boredom creeps in. Come back to the physical sensation of your fingers or tool against your skin when you can. Breathe.
To close, place a hand on each breast, anywhere where you feel you can land. Move your breasts up and down, imagining that anything you no longer want to carry is raining down into the ground— letting yourself be light. Letting yourself be free.
For the person who feels that this area is over-touched (e.g. during or after breastfeeding), unlike your own (e.g. after surgery or diagnosis), or tangled in a story not of your choosing (e.g. one of shame, pain, or gender identity), treat this area with a little more tenderness. Go slowly. It may be that you are simply placing a hand at your sternum or over a scar, and breathing. You may benefit from connecting with this area energetically to start.
Tami Lynn Kent, a women’s health practitioner, shares that every organ has both a physical and energetic imprint. So even though the physical body may be altered in procedures such as a mastectomy, lumpectomy, hysterectomy, or oophorectomy, the energetic body remains. We also have an energetic connection between each breast and each ovary. We can affect the flow and shape of each through the other.
To connect with your energy body, bring your hands to a part of your chest space that feels neutral. Breathe into this area 3 to 5 times. If you feel like you can move forward, bring a hand to a part of your breast that you feel drawn to. Notice what lives there— an emotion, a sensation, an image, a word. Breathe into this space 3 to 5 times. Notice if this changes. More than anything else, you are a witness to whatever your body is holding. Continue to breathe.
Imagine a place in nature that feels peaceful or nourishing. Bring the sensations of that space—what you might see, hear, touch, smell, taste— to your breast space, landing there with an exhale.
Stay with the sensations of this place. If you’d like to move on, imagine an infinity symbol circling around each breast— crossing over your heart and back around. Repeat this 7 to 10 times.
Now, bring your attention back to your heart. Notice what is there— perhaps a feeling, a remembrance, a newfound desire. Let this permeate the entirety of your breast tissue. Imagine it running through the riverbeds of your lymphatic system— through every stream in your body.
Do this for 3 to 5 breaths, or until you feel complete. Bring yourself back to your physical body. To where your hands are. To the feelings of your fingertips against your skin.
Bring yourself back into the room. To the sensations against your lips or face. To the feeling of your seat. Offer your breasts thanks. For engaging not just with the world, as we can, but with your self.
Come to this practice as often as you’d like. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to start; you may find that as you dip in, your practice extends longer and longer. You may find it most supportive during your luteal phase, or when moving through grief or transition. Remember, this gets to be without rule or restriction. Find your own rhythm.
Know that you can come back to this practice again and again.
Know that this is your body. Know that you have time.
*These energy-based exercises are informed by Holistic Pelvic Care™ principles, a framework developed by Tami Lynn Kent to restore balance and energetic flow in the pelvic bowl through physical practices, organ alignment techniques, and body awareness exercises.
**Erica will be leading a virtual breast massage workshop, using some of these same practices, on Thursday, November 18 at 7:00pm EST. You can learn more about this offering here.
Feature image by Cece Di Paolo.