Just a week ago I wrote a posting about massage (Self Nurturing- Massage). The following is an essay that I wrote as part of my massage therapy certification.
“Many studies in recent years have shown how important touch is to the human development on a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual level. As Far back as 1971, Ashley Montagu wrote a book titled Touching: The Human Significance of Skin in which he states That touching is as basic to human need as breathing, eating, and resting, and without which our survival is in doubt.
I have recently finished reading anther book written by Madeleine L’Engle titled A Circle of Quiet, which she wrote in 1972. She too states that “….true charity is reflected in the words of a song …’See me, feel me, touch me, heal me’.” Our kids today are once again trying to find out what touching people means.
More recent studies show that babies who are not touched, held, or comforted in any way begin to withdraw and their physical, mental, and emotional development is damaged. Volunteer programs to help alleviate this problem have been established in many leading hospitals in both England and the United States of America.
The volunteers go into special pediatric units where babies, particularly HIV/AIDS infected infants or newborns with a drug dependency, are receiving long-term intensive care. Most of these babies have been abandoned by their parent(s) or the parent(s) has other children to take care of or a job to return to. The hospital staff does not have the effective time or man-power to give these children beyond the already time-consuming medical attention that they need. So the volunteers spend time simply holding, caressing, and rocking the babies talking and/or singing to them.
An example of the negative effect of lack of human touch was seen on a world level in 1989 when Romania was liberated from the dictatorship of Ceausescu. Countless numbers of babies and young children were discovered in desperate conditions in state-run orphanages and institutions. Under Ceausescu’s regime, married couples had been forced by law to conceive as many babies as possible ‘to ensure the country’s future’.
These ‘extra’ children had been literally ‘incarcerated’ with just a handful of non-medically trained staff to take care of them, and they were barely fed and given minimum sanitary assistance. As a consequence, the children were grossly neglected, left alone for hours on end, and were rarely touched or spoken to. At the time of their discovery, many of them had retreated into varying levels of autism and most of them will be emotionally and mentally scarred to different degrees for the rest of their Lives.
In December 1997, the Today Show presented a high profile segment on the benefits of therapeutic massage. During the course of this program a doctor stated that therapeutic massage was emerging as an important part of preventative health care as well as being integrated into a cure regime by doctors who are recognizing the link between stress and physical illness.
The same doctor indicated that more and more doctors in the American Medical Association were of the opinion that laws should be passed allowing them to prescribe massage in the same way they prescribe chemical medication. My personal opinion is that if more people used massage as a de-stressor, there would be less need for medical attention and less need for chemical medication.
In today’s hectic, fast-paced lifestyle, with many people working two jobs and running a home and a family, the negative effects of stress and tension on the human body are numerous. At hte very least they manifest in the form of headaches, stomachaches, tiredness, and general irritability. Going to the other extreme, we see people relying on drugs and alcohol to the point of addiction in order to relieve their stress.
On the continuum between these two points, we see child and spouse abuse, road rage, and many other incidents of violence due to unrelieved stress. Looking even further into this issue we find people suffering from severe body aches and pains, ulcers, and even cancer. The mind-body relationship is no longer a ‘fancy new age theory’ to be ignored. Caroline Myss in her book Anatomy of the Spirit, reminds us that everything we carry in our heads, including all the negative stuff, ‘becomes part of our human biology’.
One of the ways we can help reduce our stress is through the healing use of therapeutic massage. The main benefits of this healing are
- it improves blood circulation and helps relieve congestion
- it stimulates lymph circulation
- it stimulates The digestive system, hastening the elimination of waste and toxic debris
- it relaxes muscle spasms and relieves muscle tension
- it increases blood supply and nutrition to muscles
- it improves muscle tone, helps prevent/delay muscular atrophy resulting from forced inactivity
- it helps lessen inflammation and swelling in joints and therefore alleviates pain
- it brings increased awareness of the body
- massage makes you feel GOOD!
Different people come to massage therapy for a variety of reasons. Some come because they are suffering from stress and tension and it has been recommended by a doctor or a friend. Others come because of actual body pain either caused by stress but possibly due to injury or physical overexertion. Yet others come out of curiosity: ‘I’ve always wanted to try massage’, ‘my best friend swears by it’. And some come by ‘default’, that is they have received a gift certificate from their spouse or a friend.
In my work with massage therapy over the last twelve months, I have become very aware of the powerful healing that can take place through the caring touch of massage. Some of the healing is purely physical, some of it is emotional or mental, and even more of it is on the spiritual level. Most of my clients have come to me for one of the above-mentioned Reasons. However, I have one or two ‘connoisseurs’ who, through their own journeys of personal discovery, arrived at massage therapy several years ago and have since integrated its use into their regular health maintenance routine.
In my opening blog post back in April this year (Taking Care of Spirit, Body, and Mind), I talked about the importance of taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Something that I do with as much frequency as my wallet allows is to receive a massage. Although massage is a very physical mode of therapy, if you find the right massage therapist and if you approach massage with an open heart and mind, then you will also be taking care of yourself on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels.
So let’s take a look at the different benefits of massage. Apart from the most obvious physical relief from having aching muscles and joints massaged and gently moved, there are several other physical benefits to be received. Massage stimulates the circulatory system, helping to bring blood out to the extremities of even the tiniest of the veins in our bodies. This helps us to deal better with any form of pain as well as improving the circulation of the blood in general.
Another bodily system that is stimulated by massage is the lymphatic system. Without getting too scientific or technical the best way I can describe this is as a series of vessels that runs parallel to the veins. They carry a liquid called lymph and the whole system is extremely important to the good functioning of the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and digestive system. The lymphatic system helps the veins do their job better.
Having mentioned the digestive system I will also point out that massage stimulates this system too. It is not abnormal (and should not therefore be cause for embarrassment!) for the stomach to start grumbling once the massage starts. All toxins in the body are helped to exit the body more readily by the action of a massage.
So to recap, it’s not just a question of “feel good” or a good way to relax, massage is also a vital way to help maintain our bodies healthy. Improved blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and digestive systems help us to live longer and with a better quality of life. But let’s not downplay the “feel good”; that’s important too!!
However, the physical body is not the only part of us to benefit from massage. The simple act of laying down on the massage table should induce a certain level of relaxation. Today’s frenetic pace of life brings heavy doses of stress and tension into our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. The more we choose to reduce stress the better our health will be in all those areas.
Most massage therapists today, with perhaps the exception of those working in the sports arena, provide calm and peaceful environments in their studios. Music, soft lighting, and the use of aroma therapy via oils or candles all help to set an environment where the client can let go of worries and anxieties at least for the hour or so of their appointment.
The massage table is also a good place to let go of any toxic emotions that we may be clinging on to. Most therapists and psychologists who are helping people deal with hurtful and damaging issues will also recommend that their clients try massage to help them release trapped emotions. This is important because negative emotions that are not dealt with properly will take up physical residence in our bodies, eventually causing illness and disease.
In my opinion, there is no better place to pray than on the massage table. Whatever belief system you may have can only get better by indulging in some form of spiritual connection while receiving a massage. Allow your soul to be massaged by your Creator as the therapist massages your body.
The actual origins of therapeutic massage are in the instinctual response to hold and rub a hurt or pain. Therapeutic massage is found in all cultures and in all historical ages as an integral part of health care and maintenance. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, considered massage of prime importance in any health regime.
So next time your body, your mind, your heart, or your soul seem to be in need of attention and pampering, book a massage and come home to yourself. If you don’t know of any massage therapists and you are concerned about finding a good one, ask around among your friends. I bet at least one person that you know receives massage on a regular basis and can give you a good referral.