Massage and Healing Touch
Healing Touch is a Lifesaver
We can eat right, optimize nutrients, balance and build our chi. We can detox, exercise, tune our brainwaves, harmonize our chakras ... all of these can help but it may not be enough if there's no touch.
Skilled human touch reassures, nourishes. The sensitivity, trust and communication good massage requires reminds us that working together gets us places competition never can. It's the fastest way to deeply surrender the control that keeps us stressed and armored. And it feels great.
- Break Emotional Patterns
Massage can unwind and release the emotions buried within our defensive muscular armor. Living in today's highly structured society means we can't always express what we're feeling. It's easy to develop emotional habits that involve tensing specific parts of the body as we suppress our natural responses to life's challenges. Suppressing our feelings can embed emotion in muscular tension. Experience has taught massage therapists that the tension stores the emotion. Carrying these feelings around with us can lead us to react stereotypically in situations where other responses might produce better outcomes.
In other words, if we respond to frustration by wanting to lash out, tight necks and shoulders resulting from these feelings put us on a hair trigger when we encounter new frustrations. By releasing these tensions, regular massage can help us build new habits of responding, habits that are more likely to create the outcomes we want in difficult situations.
- Activate Parasympathetic, Dissolve Stress
When we're relaxed our bodies work to refresh and repair themselves. When we're stressed our bodies mobilize to achieve peak awareness and performance. Stress starts breaking down body tissues to fuel this performance even while it shuts down the repair work to focus on the task at hand. Stress mode is known as sympathetic activation, relaxed mode as parasympathetic activation. These two parts of the nervous system together orchestrate a wide array of metabolic actions.
Massage is a powerful parasympathetic activator.1 The shift in awareness that good massage brings is in part the effect of changing the mode of operation of the central nervous system. The gentle persuasion of skilled hands is often crucial for people who have trouble turning their stress responses off.2
When we're stressed our cells work harder and produce more waste. Massage improves the circulation of lymph, the garbage collector of the body. Unlike blood, which moves under pressure generated by the heart, lymph flows only when the muscles it drains contract and squeeze it out ... or with massage. Moving lymph rapidly out of the muscles has the same effect on your body that clearing out the trash has at a building site: it makes it easier to get new work done.
Athletes know that when they get a massage promptly after a competition or demanding workout they recover faster with fewer muscule aches. This is because lactic acid, a naturally occurring waste product produced by each cell's energy-burning machinery, makes muscles sore and stiff as it accumulates. Massage promptly after a workout moves the lactic acid out of the muscles before it can create the ache.
- Improve Circuation
Massage also stimulates nerve endings producing a neurological reflex effect which causes the arteries leading into an area to dilate or relax, becoming wider. More blood entering the tissues nourishes them and helps remove waste even more efficiently. This reflex effect, in which blood flows into stimulated tissues, is the reason skin becomes red when you rub it vigorously.
Improved circulation improves the health and slows the aging of any body tissue. There are other ways to increase circulation but the vast majority of them don't feel nearly as good as a good massage. And feeling good is good - it's essential for parasympathetic activation.
Massage is particularly helpful when passing through demanding psychotherapeutic processes. Insights gained in therapy can be eroded if chronic muscular armoring limits a client's ability to integrate their cognitive process into their daily lives. Relaxing this armoring becomes a "punctuation mark" in a person's life, a rite of transition. Old habits are more easily shed when their somatic reflections are dissolved along with them.
Massage has been shown to be effective for both acute and chronic pain.3 It's particularly effective for back pain.4,5,6,7 Regular massage helps in rehabilitation,8 recovery9 and a wide range of chronic health10 and behavioral11,12,13 problems because accumulated wastes, emotional, endocrine and muscular stress all interfere with optimized metabolic, regenerative and healing processes, setting the stage for disease. A large body of research supports its efficacy in successful surgical outcomes.14
Massage is only one of many healing forms in which practitioners use their hands. A wide range of disciplines includes acupressure and shiatsu, aggressive deep tissue and gentle lymphatic forms as well as many traditions of energy healing. Each has its advantages. While it can take some shopping around, finding the right person and technique is usually an unmistakable experience.
Regular massage or healing touch sessions can be a vital foundation for any comprehensive stress management or healing program.
1. Field, T., et al. 2005. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience. 115(10):1397-1413.
2. Katz, J., et al. 1999. Pain and tension are reduced among hospital nurses after on-site massage treatments: a pilot study. Journal of Perianesthesia Nursing. 14(3):128-133.
3. Walach, H., Guthlin, C., Konig, M. 2003. Efficacy of massage therapy in chronic pain: a pragmatic randomized trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 9(6):837-846.
4. Preyde, M. 2000. Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 162(13):1815-1820.
5. Furlan, A.D., et al. 2002. Massage for low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (2):CD001929.
6. Cherkin, D.C. 2001. Randomized trial comparing traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and self-care education for chronic low back pain. Archives of Internal Medicine. 161(8):1081-1088.
7. Hernandez-Reiff, M., et al. 2001. Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience. 106(3-4):131-145.
8. van den Dolder, P.A. 2003. A trial into the effectiveness of soft tissue massage in the treatment of shoulder pain. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. 49(3):183-188.
9. Piotrowski, M.M., et al. 2003. Massage as adjuvant therapy in the management of acute postoperative pain: a preliminary study in men. Journal of the American College or Surgeons. 197(6):1037-1046.
10. Hernandez, R.M., et al. 2000. Premenstrual symptoms are relieved by massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. 21(1):9-15.
11. Diego, M.A., et al. 2002. Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence. 37(147): 597-607.
12. Field, T. 2002. Massage Therapy. The Medical Clinics of North America. 86(1):173-171.
13. Khilnani, S., et al. 2003. Massage therapy improves mood and behavior of students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Adolescence. 38(152):623-638.
14. McNamara, M.E., et al. 2003. The effects of back massage before diagnostic cardiac catheterization. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 9(1):50-57.