Before I go headlong into this post about why I believe massage is essential to the human race on so many levels, I’d like to tell you a little about how I got here, pen to paper (I always hand write, there is something soothing about words filling blank sheets). Approximately sixteen years ago I completely closed the door on my massage and therapy career and didn’t look back, I decided it wasn’t for me, we didn’t sit well together and it didn’t give me the freedom I craved to be an independent massage therapist.
Fast forward to now, after several unfulfilling attempts at other careers within the beauty industry, feel I am back more or less where it started with a re-ignited passion for touch therapies and a long awaited feeling of coming home. I was always on the right path, albeit a twisty turny one! But I got here in the end, to the right course at the right time and I’m happy to be sharing the journey with you all.
In a technological world where it is possible to interact with others so easily at the touch of a screen, I feel the human touch is needed now more than ever if authentic feelings and connections are to be made with people
“Where touching begins, then love and humanity also begin”
We are consumed by apps, status updates, instant snapshots of strangers lives, filtered images that portray false perfection making us feel inadequate in our own skin. We continually compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. So not only do we have less human contact than ever before, we have millions of people from across the globe to compare ourselves and our lives to, at the touch of a button. Our inner critic becomes louder and anxiety and depression are prevalent in our time it is no coincidence! Kids no longer play out after school until tea time or spend their holidays in fields or by the river, riding their bikes until it gets dark. They sit alone in darkened rooms on consoles with their virtual ‘friends’ playing games, exploring virtual worlds. Indeed, things move on, change is not a bad thing – technology is a brilliant tool! But over the years where we have been focused on advancing technologically we seem to have forgotten the simple yet powerful meaning of touch. The oldest of our senses has been neglected and diminished for far too long, hence why in our westernised culture massage is often seen as a luxury, an extravagance which most normal folk cannot afford, but at the same time buying into the (expensive) wine-o-clock culture as a necessary means of relaxing after a hard day – when in the long run this can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. But, I wonder as human beings can we afford NOT to have regular massage?
Other cultures celebrate and encourage touch daily and massage is ingrained into their cultural beliefs (there must be some link between this and less anxiety and depression in other countries). For example in Thailand children are taught massage from a young age as it is common to give each other massage in the home. Traditionally in Thai massage the recipient remains fully clothed, often on mats on the floor at the roadside, or in a room with a dozen or so other people, making it more of a social event and much more relaxed.
On a physiological level there are so many positive therapeutic effects of massage, which then, in turn, help to ease our emotional stresses and anxieties. A relaxing massage can decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity (fight or flight) and kick start the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which affects most systems of the body positively for the person being massaged. When the body is in a state of heightened awareness “fight or flight” this is the bodies automatic survival mechanism. When the body is in this state, for whatever reason it affects each system of the body, muscles tense, thoughts race, we sweat and our heart races, butterflies and nausea occur in the stomach. By activating the PNS ‘rest & digest’ the body is returned to its normal functioning state, the nervous system decreases anxiety and perceived pain. It also improves sleep and mood.
This is why therapeutic intervention is being used more widely in the NHS, specifically, but not exclusively on mental health wards. Holistic therapies are now commonly being used first before medication to reduce anxieties in certain patients and improve mood. Treatments like Indian Head Massage, simple hand massage and reflexology are all being used to calm, comfort and reassure patients whilst lifting their mood.
For me, I believe it is of utmost importance to realise the many benefits of massage for the body and mind as other countries and cultures do, if we are to address the increasing pandemic of mental illness in our time. Regular massage has been proven to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve sleep. All these benefits and more, combine to improve a persons overall sense of well-being. I don’t think we can afford NOT to have regular massage.
References Touching; the human significance of the skin Ashley Montagu