The physical demands of the daily grind plus the non stop technological addictions we have to our cell phones, computers and social media; it is no surprise we are suffering from mental and physical exhaustion. It’s very common these days to live most of our lives in our heads --the constant chatter of to-do lists, errands, worries, decisions and criticisms. This mental chatter disconnects us from our bodies and depletes our energy. In fact, it is just another form of stress that over time pulls the energy from our body and keeps it stuck in our head.
The healing power of touch has been known and practiced since earliest times. We know that the art of massage was practiced by the Greeks and Romans, in ancient India and China. Massage can also help increase alertness, significantly reduce stress and has proven useful in the treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Massage has even been linked to slowing the aging process!
Massage was used by early physicians to treat fatigue, illness and injury based on their basic understanding of how the body functions. Egyptian tomb paintings show people practicing massage, and Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, places great emphasis on massage and it remains widely practiced in India. Massage was one of the principal methods of relieving pain for Greek and Roman physicians and, Julius Caesar was apparently given a daily massage to treat neuralgia.
It is important to understand how massage works on the body. When the body undergoes massage therapy, it responds at two levels - relaxation and mechanical response. The relaxation response is nothing but an involuntary yet predictable response of the nervous system to the therapist's touch. When you experience relaxation, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure decreases and most importantly, the stress hormones in your body are reduced. Due to this response, serotonin increases in the body, which helps you feel positive and relaxed.
Mechanical responses are the physical changes that occur in your body when pressure is applied to its soft tissues. When you get a massage, there is an increase in blood circulation and lymphatic activity due to the physical manipulation of the tissues and the production of serotonin in the body. This enhances the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells, which in turn helps detoxify these cells, thereby reducing swelling in the tissues.
While there are a wide variety of forms of massage therapy and bodywork, all with their own theoretical or philosophical perspectives, there are certain basic principles they all tend to; hold in common. They are as follows:
Circulation of Blood.
Perhaps the most basic principle in this field is that improved blood circulation is beneficial for virtually all health conditions. Tension in the muscles and other soft tissues can impair circulation, resulting in a deficient supply of nutrients and inadequate removal of wastes or toxins from the tissues of the body. This in turn can lead to illness, structural and functional problems, or slower healing. Recognition of the importance of blood circulation is implicit in all forms of massage and bodywork.
Movement of Lymphatic Fluid.
The lymph system is almost as extensive as that of the blood. The circulation of lymphatic fluid plays a key role in ridding the body of wastes, toxins, and pathogens. The lymph system also benefits from massage, particularly in conditions where lymphatic flow is impaired by injury or surgery (e.g., in postmastectomy women).
Release of Toxins.
Chronic tension or trauma to the soft tissues of the body can result in the buildup of toxic by-products of normal metabolism. Hands-on techniques help move the toxins through the body's normal pathways of release and elimination.
Release of Tension.
Chronic muscular tension as a result of high stress lifestyles, trauma, or injury can accumulate and impair the body's structure and function. Psychological well-being is also affected. Release of tension allows greater relaxation, which has important physiological and psychological benefits.
Structure and Function Are Interdependent.
The musculoskeletal structure of the body affects function and function affects structure. Both can be adversely altered by stress or trauma. Massage therapy and bodywork can help restore healthy structure and function, thereby allowing better circulation, greater ease of movement, wider range of movement, more flexibility, and the release of chronic patterns of tension.
Enhancement of All Bodily Systems.
All bodily systems are affected by better circulation and more harmonious functioning of the soft tissue and musculature. Internal organ systems as well as the nervous system, the immune system, and other systems can benefit. There can be an overall improvement in the quality of life and physical health.
Mind and body have a reciprocal relationship. Soma (body) affects psyche (mind) and vice versa. Hence there can be somatopsychic effects, in which the conditions of the body affect the mind and emotions, and there can be psychosomatic effects, in which psychological or emotional conditions affect the body. Change in one domain may cause change in the other. A habit or fixed pattern in one may also impede change in the other and require special attention. Often psychotherapy and massage or bodywork complement each other.
Reduction of Stress.
Stress is increasingly believed to induce illness, and perhaps 80 to 90 percent of all disease is stress induced. Massage therapy is an effective non-drug method for reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
Many modalities in this tradition work with the flow of energy through the body as a means to promote healing. Energy can be directed or encouraged to move through and around the body in such ways as to have impact on the physical structure and function of the body as well as on emotional well-being. This work may involve hands-on contact or may be done with no contact with the physical body.
More and more people recognize massage as an important element in their overall health and wellness. Massage therapy is a combination of science and art, providing a relaxing experience by soothing and artful hand strokes on the body to rejuvenate the mind and body and eliminate stress scientifically.
The therapeutic benefits of massage are many and continue to be researched and studied. Recent research has shown the effectiveness of massage for the following conditions:
Massage therapy for cancer-related fatigue.
Massage for chronic low back pain.
Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee.
Massage after surgery to help with post-operative pain.
Research has also shown massage to be effective in:
Boosting the body’s immune system functioning.
Decreasing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Reducing anxiety and lowering blood pressure in stroke patients.
Reducing headache frequency.
Easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Decreasing pain and anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients.
So whatever your reason or ailment is, know that massage therapy’s benefits will improve your body, mind and soul.