M a s s a g e M e s s a g e
by Michelle Margherita
Health/Beauty Section ,Bride To Be magazine, March 1998.
© Bride to be. Reproduced by Permission ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Work, home and family are often the main causes of stress, so when you add the pressures of an impending wedding to the mix, you are flirting with a situation that could play havoc with your health. Michelle Margherita investigates the healing effects of massage on the body, mind and emotions and finds that the power of touch can have remarkable results.
Stress affects our health and well being on a daily basis. Whether you’re coping with mounting wedding preparations or simply navigating a minefield of domestic and/or work pressures, stress sometimes seems an unavoidable part of life. It’s well documented that emotional stress can physically affect the body, weakening the immune system and often resulting in long term conditions-from insomnia to more serious ailments-that can be debilitating if left untreated. Treatment is essential for healthy, well functioning bodies and, while the methods of therapy range from exercise to yoga to breathing techniques, one of the most powerful and beneficial is massage.
Different types of massage.
Massage therapy generally takes either an Eastern or Western approach and this determines the techniques and practices used. Western types of massage are considered more “medical”in approach, focusing on specific injuries or problem areas of the body. It is believed to have originated from Swedish massage, and is quite active, using forceful kneading actions. Remedial massage, therapeutic massage, sports massage, Swedish massage and physiotherapy are all different types of western massage techniques, and are all used to treat specific muscular problems.
Eastern massage follows the medicinal traditions from China, India and Japan. Eastern types of massage include reflexology, shiatsu and acupressure, which use friction, pressure and manipulation on certain lines of energy which flow through the body. Eastern massage therapy acknowledges the importance of the body’s energy and thus takes a wholistic approach, whereby the entire body is treated ,rather than specific problem areas.
An Wholistic Approach.
The body responds to wholistic massage therapy on three significant and interconnected levels: the physical, the emotional and the psychological. The concept of treating the body as a whole rather than as a composite of individual parts is far from new, and not specific to massage therapy. However, it is an extremely important element. Eastern techniques have taken this approach for literally thousands of years, basing entire philosophies and medical systems-such as shiatsu, acupressure, relaxation massage, acupuncture, moxibustion and reflexology-on this approach. An wholistic massage deals deeply with the internal problems of the mind, emotions and body, rather than simply with problems on a physical level. According to traditional Chinese and Aruveydic medicine, the external problems of the body are a manifestation of internal problems of the mind. The philosophy behind Eastern medicine is that to treat the internal (mental) first so as to prevent exterior (physical) complications.
As traditional health therapist Stephen Wayne-Smith explains, “The emotional and internal tensions happen first. They happen a long time before physical problems follow. So as a massage therapist, you should ideally be able to prevent illnesses from happening. In China, f your clients get sick it means you’re a bad therapist because you haven’t done the job of preventing illness. If all your clients are healthy, it means you stop things before they happen……As a massage therapist ,I take the pulse and look at the tongue first and feet. There are certain points and areas on the body that you can look at to see if there are blockages. We work along the meridian lines to help prevent illness.”
A combination of both Eastern and Western techniques allows a greater diversity of treatments to be used for healing the body and mind. In many cases, Western techniques mirror Eastern methods, so a massage therapist who is skilled in both will undoubtedly be able to provide a more comprehensive service. Wayne-Smith agrees, “When you touch to release a muscle, the West calls this touching a trigger point. Often this matches an acupuncture point, so in fact the Western medic is actually using acupressure and an Eastern technique but is calling it trigger point therapy. If you are a good practitioner, and you know both Eastern and Western massage techniques, then you should combine both, but unfortunately most practitioners are either one or the other. They don’t want to take the benefits of both. You can take the best out of each of them. There are Chinese techniques that I will never use and there are Western techniques that I will never use. I look at it as ‘well,this method will treat that kind of condition better than this technique’. You should use whatever tools you have at your disposal to give a person the best treatment possible.”
How does it work?
Massage therapy works on two levels: the manipulation of soft body tissue and the positive healing energy that is transmitted through touch from the massage therapist to the patient. This invisible energy is felt and received by the “patient” and has great healing powers, both physically and psychologically. In Eastern traditions, the energy is called “chi”. Because blood and lymph follow the chi as it flows through the body, energy blockages affect healthy circulation. As chi, or energy flow, and circulation affect all parts of the body, an wholistic approach is taken. Many scientific experiments have proven the existence and validity of the concept of this bodily energy field, with visible manifestations being photographed through Kirlian photography. According to Eastern ideas, anxiety-such as the stress many bodies feel in the lead up to their wedding day-eventually causes blockages. Stress, nervous tension and worry may eventually “manifest” as an illness, be it a particularly bad bout of PMT, a night or a week of insomnia or even stomach upsets and flu. Massages-and other similar therapies-work to release the tension before any physical ailments develop. And, on a simpler level, being pampered has great psychological benefits, especially for the nervous bride to be. Finally, your aching muscles will appreciate the attention!
The physical, psychological and emotional benefits of massage therapy are numerous (as outlined below).
Most people will seek out massage therapy to treat physical problems that ail the body, and justifiably so. The mechanical stimulation of massage on the body, and in particular the muscles, has numerous positive effects depending on the style, stroke and method of massage used. If essential oils are used, the combination of soft body tissue manipulation and the chemical reaction of the oils with the skin can result in heightened positive healing effects on the digestive, cardiovascular, lymphatic, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. Aromatherapy is also widely used to relieve stress and nervous tension. A one hour massage with lavender oil, or example, can be as relaxing as a week on the beach! Massage therapy can also promote urination and the removal of fluid, useful if you are suffering from nerve-induced water retention, plus it can stimulate the release of pain killing hormones, such as endorphins and prolactin, which may decrease the need for artificial painkillers (if for example you are being bothered by headaches).
Massage also helps to improve the circulation by removing the build up of toxins and wastes in the blood. This allows nutrients into the muscle cell fibres. Massage can also relieve muscle spasm by kneading, “When a muscle tears it heals across the muscle fibres,” says Wayne-smith. “This often leaves internal scarring which prevents the muscle from being used at its maximum power and making it prone to pulling again. If you don’t treat it, the muscle becomes more and more scarred until the adhesions are like huge golf balls, and those lumps can start interfering with nerves.” If left untreated, adhesions can result in painful muscle ache and restricted limb movement caused by the restricted flow of blood to the muscle: however, regular massage can break up the scar tissue allowing the body to heal itself. “The idea of the massage therapist, says Wayne-Smith, “is to break down those lumps, as the blood isn’t going into that area, and also to squeeze the blood out of the muscle, allowing new blood to come back in.”
Massage therapy goes beyond relaxing the body: the gentle kneading motions also relax the mind, allowing the release of mental stress and tension. Psychologically, the power of touch through massage provides a feeling of support, protection and comfort, while physically stimulating the nervous system to produce chemicals that add to this soporific state. A relaxed stress free body is often only achieved by having a stress free mind and physical relaxation through massage can reduce mental stress, promote heightened mental alertness and greater mental clarity. De-stressing the mind through massage can often have astonishing results on a physical level, for example, allowing the body’s T-cells (your immunity cells) to increase. “It has been medically registered that your T-cells before a massage will be a certain level, and after a massage they are four times greater.” says Wayne-Smith. “And when your immunity levels rise this much, you are able to fight disease. That’s why we get sick when we are stressed, because our immunity levels drop.” Mental stress also releases adrenaline and “fight or flight” hormones into the body, turning the psychological stress into bodily stress. To treat one, you must treat the other as well. “It becomes a physiological thing,” says Wayne-Smith.” “Even though you want to de stress, you can’t, because adrenaline and hormones are being released into the body. Massage helps to get them out of your system and therefore calms the mind too.”
On an emotional level, being touched via massage is calming and nurturing and gives the recipient a feeling of being cared for. The greater mental clarity which results promotes calmer, more balanced emotional responses, leaving one more able to deal with problems and emotional decisions. Studies show that the power of touch is imperative for emotional security, with deprival of touch sometimes having fatal results. “It’s a physiological thing,” says Wayne-Smith. “Something happens through the skin. The power of positive touch affects you mentally, physiologically and emotionally.”
Anyone for a hug?
Health and Beauty
And the benefits don’t end there. As we all know, a few difficult weeks can take a huge toll on our skin, leaving us from anything from pimples to eczema and dermatitis, to name just a few “external manifestations” of stress. And, let’s face it, who wants pimples on their wedding day? While massage will have a beneficial effect all over, facial massage alone is an ideal way to treat and help prevent blemishes that are a result of internal or environmental factors. Facial massage works by increasing tissue oxygenation which improves texture and also helps to remove dead skin cells from the epidermis.
Massage is a powerful physical tool that can have positive and healing effects on the body, mind and emotions. If you’re under stress at the moment, perhaps it’s the ideal “cure”. A few hours spent looking after yourself can have a beneficial effect which lasts for days or even weeks afterwards Our mind, body and emotions are inextricably connected and impact on each other as a matter of course.
To simply treat one part of your body without considering it as a whole will ultimately impair the healing process, as a physical equilibrium is of no consequence if the psychological and emotional states are unbalanced. Massage therapy is the first step in achieving and maintaining a harmonious balance between the body, mind and emotions. And we all deserve some pampering now and then.
Many thanks to Stephen Wayne-Smith for his invaluable help and information. Stephen Wayne-Smith is a traditional health therapist specialising in remedial massage, Swedish massage, shiatsu massage, dance and sporting injuries, reflexology, aromatherapy, acupressure, moxibustion and acupuncture.