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Why have a massage?

 By Karrie Osborn


Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Do you remember your first massage? Maybe someone gave you a gift certificate for your birthday and that's what first brought you to your massage therapist's door. Maybe the promise of pain relief had you consider therapeutic massage as an option for the first time. Or, maybe it was a quest for renewed health and "balance" that prompted your initial venture into the world of bodywork.

All of us come to massage for different reasons. And your reason today may not be your reason tomorrow. For some, that first experience of being touched with therapeutic hands is literally life changing. For others, the process of becoming one of the "massage initiated" is a slower evolution of understanding.

Whatever your experience, you know the value of massage in your life. And I'd be preaching to the choir if I tried to define that experience for you. Instead, let's take a look at the myriad benefits of massage and see if some might fall on your list, too.

Massage, as a healing tool, has been around for thousands of years and in many cultures. Touching is a natural human reaction to pain and stress, and for conveying compassion and support. Healers throughout time have instinctually and independently developed a wide range of therapeutic techniques using touch. Many are still in use today, and with good reason.

Reinforced by Research
Research is showing us the enormous benefits of touch--benefits ranging from treating chronic diseases and injuries to alleviating the growing tensions of our modern lifestyles. Having a massage does more than just relax your body and mind--there are specific physiological and psychological changes that occur, even more so when massage is understood and utilized as a preventative, frequent therapy. Massage not only feels good, but it can cure what ails you.

From the cradle to the nursing home, tactile stimulation and the emotional assurance of caring touch bring about a sense of well-being and security. In numerous studies conducted on massage for infants at the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute (TRI), researchers have found improved weight gain and development in preterm infants and improved weight gain and decreased stress behavior in HIV-exposed infants. Full-term infants who receive massage also benefit with increased alertness and social behavior, less crying, and increased weight gain.

With more than one hundred research studies completed, TRI has also found massage to have positive effects on children with asthma (improved pulmonary function and less stress), arthritis (decreased pain), burn injuries (reduced pain and anxiety during wound dressings), cerebral palsy (decreased spasticity), Down syndrome (improved muscle tone), and leukemia (white blood cells increased), to name just a few.

Medical Might
Outside of the research arena, massage is being ever-more embraced by the medical community. Hospitals across the country have begun incorporating on-site spas into their paradigms at a quick pace. And it's not unusual for a postsurgery or pain patient to now have the option of receiving therapeutic massage as part of their recovery process at many U.S. hospitals.

In hospices, where patients are living their last days, massage--for some--has become an integral part of the final transition. Finding safe, nurturing touch in the hands of a massage therapist helps many attain peace and comfort in their last stage of life. On the opposite end of that spectrum, massage of the most delicate nature works wonders in helping premature infants thrive during their daily, often painful struggles in neonatal intensive care units.

Stress Less
One of the most valuable aspects of massage is its role in reducing stress. Experts estimate that upwards of 90 percent of disease is stress-related. Massage and bodywork combat that exorbitant number by helping us remember what it really means to relax.

Relaxation is more than just the body unwinding, it's also allowing the mind a chance to quiet itself and go inward. It's what causes some clients to easily fall asleep on the massage table, while helping others "see" more clearly afterward. Finding a relaxed state lets the body slough off the shoulder-bearing burdens of the day, while letting the mind take a romp in the park, if you will. And that's exactly what massage does.

Besides decreasing anxiety through relaxation, massage also lowers your blood pressure, increases circulation, helps you sleep better, and increases concentration. Like exercise, massage reduces fatigue and gives you more energy to handle the day's stressful situations.
Massage is a perfect elixir for good health, but it can also provide an integration of body and mind, a valuable tool for our often disparate lives. By producing a meditative state or heightened awareness of living in the present moment, massage can provide emotional and spiritual balance, bringing with it true relaxation and peace.

So, Pamper Me
While we often downplay the pampering nature of massage in favor of its medicinal value, there is great benefit in treating ourselves to some self-care on this level. In fact, self-care plays a huge part in how healthy we'll be with each passing year. Father Time can devour us quickly if we sit back and offer no sort of healthy defense to his ravages. Massage offers that defense in so many ways.

Taking care of ourselves can never be a bad thing, whether it be eating a diet filled with fresh, unprocessed foods, taking a week's vacation, or bathing in a hydrotherapeutic tub of skin-enriching oils and scents. Massage is no different. In fact, there's simply no way to separate the luxury or pampering from the healing and therapeutic, because they are one in the same.

More is More
Experts say the incredible benefits of massage are doubly powerful if taken in regular "doses." Dr. Maria Hernandez-Reif--one of the lead researchers at TRI who, along with colleague Tiffany Field, has been proving the efficacy of massage for years--says massage is not a "drug" on which you can overdose.

While the TRI studies have shown we can benefit from massage even in small doses (fifteen minutes of chair massage or a half-hour table session), Hernandez-Reif says they know from their research that receiving bodywork two to three times a week is highly beneficial. And if resources of time and money weren't an issue, Hernandez-Reif has the ultimate prescription: "I feel a daily massage is optimal."
In a touch-deprived society, there's no denying the power of healthy, therapeutic touch. Regardless the adjectives we assign to it--luxuriously pampering or medically therapeutic--or the reasons we seek it out, touch therapies can be powerful allies in your healthcare regime.

And you know what else? They simply feel good.

Karrie Osborn is contributing editor for Body Sense.

By Shirley Vanderbilt

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2002.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

What am I feeling?

The healing benefits of massage

Touch. We come into this world being touched, and we hopefully can leave being touched. Whatever our experiences in this life, touch is usually involved in some form.

Each time we are touched, the emotions related to that touch are stored in our mind and in our body's tissues. We not only store the emotions of pleasure and happiness, but also stress and fear. These stored experiences show up in bad posture, aches and pains or, when we're fortunate, healthy, functioning muscles and joints. Just as it takes the use of more muscles to frown than to smile, the effort it takes to tuck away experiences or feelings we'd rather forget can cause fatigue and painful tension.

When you receive a massage, the muscles and tissues release on an emotional level in much the same way they release physical tension. This letting go manifests in many forms -- an audible sigh, laughter, muscle twitching or even tears. the In the safe, nurturing space of a therapy room, people are able to let down their defenses, making these kinds of emotional releases a common occurrence.

"Crying is a pretty normal response," says C.G. Funk, branch director at the Utah College of Massage Therapy, Arizona campus. It can be about something in particular, or about nothing at all. "It can come from a variety of things, including having work done on a part of the body where the person holds the memory of emotional or physical trauma. Of course, physical trauma has an emotional component, too."

Massage also allows the body to let go of stress. "It may be that the client has had a stressed-out year, or month, or several months and all the stress is built up," says Funk. In some cases, the body may be holding the memory of a trauma long forgotten. When your body finally relaxes, that memory can surface as you become more connected to being in your body. There may be tears or some other expression as your body releases and lets go of these emotions.

Flashbacks that occur during massage are a part of this same memory mechanism, according to psychotherapist P.K. Hawk, formerly of the East-West Health Center in Denver, Colorado. "If a certain area of the body is being touched in a similar way to what the trauma was, it can actually feel as if they're repeating the trauma," said Hawk.

Massage therapists are accustomed to these emotional expressions from their clients and have been trained to help you feel safe and supported when overwhelmed by these events. If this happens to you during a massage session, and you feel too uncomfortable to continue, just let the therapist know. The two of you can decide how to proceed next.

Remember that emotional release during bodywork is not unusual and is actually a natural and beneficial part of the cleansing, rejuvenating process of massage. After a few moments, you may choose to continue the massage, or request the therapist work more slowly or only on certain areas. But if you decide not to go on, that's okay, too.

"It's important for clients to know they can stop the session at any time," says Hawk. "A lot of people aren't sure they have the ability to say 'no' or stop. If the emotion continues, if they continue to struggle with it or it turns into depression or anxiety, they should seek help." The guidance of a counselor or psychologist can be helpful in working through the emotions.

Hawk recommends that in cases where a client knows touch is discomforting to them, or is currently working through an emotional crisis, it is best to talk with your therapist beforehand.

Massage is a healing touch that relaxes and releases. Welcome that release, accept it as your body's way of finding balance and leading you to a higher state of health, both emotionally and physically. If you find yourself on the massage table laughing or crying, you are in a true state of body-mind connection. Go with the experience. Relax, breathe deeply and allow your body and mind to free itself of the past.

Shirley Vanderbilt is a staff writer for
Body Sense.


Making the most of your massage.

How to achieve lasting effects.To Achieve Lasting Effects

By Nina McIntosh

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

It may seem like all you have to do to get the most out of a massage is show up, relax, and let the massage therapist do the rest. In some ways, that's true. But there are also some things you can do that will make your experience even more enjoyable, all while building a solid working relationship with your massage therapist. Following are some "insider tips" to help you get the most out of your sessions.

Speak up about your concerns and questions.
I've learned that expressing myself to my massage therapist is an important key to my sense of security during the treatment. Of course, you want to let your massage therapist know if the room is too hot or too cold, whether the music suits you, and so forth.

But beyond those comforts, you also have a right to ask questions related to the work at hand -- for instance, the therapist's training in a particular technique or any risks involved. Also, don't be embarrassed to ask for a clearer explanation of anything the massage therapist says that is too technical or in jargon you don't understand.

Don't be embarrassed by "betrayals of the body."
Your massage therapist knows that, as people relax, they can have responses not considered "acceptable" in polite society. People can pass gas or, when on their stomach, drool on the sheet. Your massage therapist will generally ignore such unintentional occurrences.

Go regularly.
Though treating yourself to a massage every now and then is a valuable boost to your self-care, you're likely to see even more benefits with regular treatment. Try getting massage at least twice a month for a while to see the power of the cumulative effects.

Enhance the benefits both before and after the massage.
Most clients know they will get more out of their massage if they try to wind down before it starts and give full attention to it once it's begun -- turning off cell phones while also clicking off the mental switch on the day's concerns and problems. It's also helpful if you know to schedule your massage at the end of your workday and bring along your casual clothes to wear when you leave. Struggling into panty hose or retying a tie can be a nuisance after a relaxing hour.

Keep appointments, and pay at the time of the appointment.
As with other professionals, massage therapists expect you to keep your appointments and pay for them at the time of the service, unless you make other arrangements ahead of time.

If you show up late, understand that your session will likely be shortened to be able to keep the therapist on schedule. Even if your therapist has no other appointments that day, she has a right to keep to her schedule.

Similarly, if you show up early, your massage therapist probably won't be able to begin your appointment until the arranged time. Even if your therapist isn't with a client when you arrive, she may need the time to return phone calls or just gather herself so she can be at her best for you.

If you must break an appointment, know your therapist's policies. Most ask for at least a 24-hour notice. Because they need that time to fill the slot with another client, many therapists will ask you to pay if you cancel without enough notice. Of course, if you have an emergency, you usually won't be charged.

If you miss an appointment altogether without notifying your therapist, don't be surprised if she crosses you off her client list. If you are able to make another appointment, expect to pay for the missed hour.

Be ready for home sessions.
If you receive massages in your home, be ready for the session to start at the appointed hour. You'll enjoy it more if you turn off the phone and don't have children running about or a baby to attend to. Try to give yourself uninterrupted time for the session.

When in doubt, shower beforehand.
Most people perspire as they go about their normal day, especially in warm weather. A slightly moist client isn't a problem for most massage therapists. However, if you've been working in the yard, jogging, playing tennis, or the like, jump in the shower or take a relaxing bath before you go to your appointment. If you're slippery with perspiration, the therapist will find it difficult to work on you, to say nothing of not wanting to push grime into your body. And it will only help you relax that much more in preparation for your appointment.

Mums the word.
If you have a friend or family member who also sees your massage therapist, don't try to engage your therapist in conversation about them. While it's fine for you to talk about these folks, know that it will be a one-sided conversation. Your therapist is bound by confidentiality and can't answer questions or gossip about clients.

Let your massage therapist know ahead of time about illnesses or contagious conditions.
Your massage therapist probably asked your about your history of physical conditions when you had your first appointment. However, keep your therapist current on any physical problems that come up, even if they seem to be temporary.

If you have a cold or flu, talk with your therapist before you go for your session. Your therapist may decide that a massage that day isn't a good idea, either because you may be contagious
or because you might feel worse afterward.

If you have any contagious skin conditions, such as athlete's foot or poison ivy, be sure to let your massage therapist know.


While it's your massage therapist's job to make sure you are pampered and taken care of, being "in the know" can make your massage sessions feel even more relaxing and worthwhile.

Nina McIntosh has more than 20 years experience as a bodyworker. She's the author of The Educated Heart: Professional Guidelines for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers and Movement Teachers, and Massage & Bodywork magazine's Heart of Bodywork column. Contact her through


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