How can massage nourish you?
Massage is an age-old practice of rubbing and applying pressure to soft tissues and joints of the body for the purposes of wellness or relaxation. Many different cultures have developed characteristic forms of massage therapy, and among the oldest records of this modality are ancient Egyptian paintings that may date back to about 2500BCE.
Massage therapists most often use their hands to rub, knead, compress or stretch a client’s muscles and joints. Depending on the type of massage, practitioners may also use their elbows and forearms, fingertips, and sometimes their feet. With other varieties of massage, warm stones or other objects may be placed on your body or actively used as part of the treatment.
Supporting a holistic approach to physical, emotional and psychological wellness massage is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, alongside therapies such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. Massage is also closely associated with Western modalities such as physiotherapy, and is frequently offered in hospitals.
Benefits of massage
The many varieties of massage can be broadly grouped into two areas: those that are aimed at helping to repair the physical body, and those that are intended to promote relaxation and energetic balance. The ‘medicinal’ category, which encompasses modalities such as lymphatic drainage and trigger point therapy, is intended to promote specific physiological responses to aid recovery from injury or reduce swelling. Balancing-type massage, on the other hand, may include Ayurvedic massage and shiatsu. This category may also support psychological and emotional wellness, and is intended to improve the flow of your life energy, but does not usually have significant effects on your joints and soft tissue.
In general, massage helps to reduce stress by stimulating the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) while decreasing the levels of stress hormones. Even an informal back massage can trigger a ‘relaxation response’ of slowing your breathing and heart rate, as well as lowering blood pressure. Massage also has direct physical benefits for your body, improving the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid. The reduction in muscle tension associated with massage can also decrease pressure on nerves, with the possible effect of improved organ function.
Research has been done into the benefits of massage for various health conditions, with published studies suggesting it may be an effective way to relieve pain and psychological problems related to fibromyalgia. There is evidence to suggest that abdominal massage may improve peristalsis (the movement of food through the intestines during digestion) and reduce constipation pain. Studies have also been done into the effectiveness of massage for relieving anxiety and pain in people suffering from cancer, as well as its possible benefits for back pain, headache and osteoarthritis of the knee.
What to expect from a massage session
Considering the many different types of massage available, there can be a great deal of variation in what to expect. Some types of massage are done while you are fully clothed, but others usually involve removing at least some of your clothing. If you do need to disrobe, you will be provided with towels or a sarong so you don’t feel exposed, and massage therapists will never pressure you to undress more than you are comfortable with.
Many massages include the use of oil, sometimes scented with essential oil for aromatherapy. If you have any allergies, let your massage therapist know so that they can avoid using any ingredients that might trigger an allergic reaction.
The duration of a massage session also depends on what type of treatment you are receiving, and might last from about 30 minutes for reflexology to 90 minutes for full-body session. The intensity of a massage can vary greatly, too: modalities such as Swedish massage, for example, tend to be gentle and soothing. Thai massage tends to be firmer and more active, while deep-tissue and remedial massage can be vigorous enough to leave you feeling slightly sore afterwards.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before getting a massage. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your massage therapist, who will be happy to adjust the treatment to suit your requirements and ensure you receive the best massage possible.
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