Archive for September, 2010

STRESS – the 5-Lettered 4-Letter Word

STRESS – it should be a four letter word. Massage is often mentioned as a means to reduce stress, but what exactly does stress do to the body and how does massage combat it? Every one of us has had periods of stress, whether short or long-term, and during those periods, the body undergoes specific changes. Massage’s ability to treat the system as a whole and to reduce the physiological and mental effects of stress makes it a promising means to address stress.

How stress affects the body
You’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response. Stress engages the fight or flight response on the body. This is the body’s way of preparing to protect itself or run away from the stressor – a physiological response passed down through evolution. In preparing for these two possibilities, the body increases heart rate, breathing, production of adrenaline, and production of glucose to increase energy. In addition, blood is diverted from non-essential functions (like the digestion system) to other systems in the body like the respiratory and circulatory system.

While both short-term and chronic stress can occur, chronic stress has a more negative effect on the body. Chronic stress may last for days, weeks or months, and it keeps the body from achieving a healthy equilibrium. Some studies have shown that 90 percent of all disease and illness are stress-related. Some of the following have been directly linked to stress: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, ulcers, allergies, asthma, and migraine headaches (see Given these observations, stress is a serious health issue for our culture.

How massage counteracts the effects of stress
Most of us have specific places in our bodies that react to long periods of stress. Certain muscles tighten and cause dense, knotted muscles to become sore or achy from constant contraction. Massage’s work on the muscles loosens those tense and sore areas relieving tension and counteracting the way the body’s muscular system reacts to stress. In addition, the slow, calming music played during sessions often slows breathing and aims to induce an alpha state. By slowing the mind and the breath, the music assists in pulling the mind into a more relaxed state – keeping the mind from a continued focus on the stress. As massage increases circulation to the whole body, it brings the circulatory response to stress back into balance and moves toxin from the overused muscles out of the body. Another way it counteracts stress is the nature of the interaction in a session. It’s quiet, only two people in a room without much verbal interaction, and allows clients to focus on relaxa tion rather than their stressors. It’s time that is centered on the clients, their needs, and time where outside distractions are reduced to a minimum.

Frequency of massage for stress is something that differs for each individual. In general, I advise clients come in every two to four weeks if they are using massage for it’s stress-relief benefits. Most clients notice the returning physical reaction to stress as the effects of the previous massage wears off (This can be noticing an increase in muscle tension in certain places, the frequency of headaches, etc.). Work with your massage therapist to find the optimal frequency of massage. Aim to schedule your next massage about the time you start to notice your body’s reaction to stress returning.

For some good articles on stress, see:

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How to Get the Most from your Massage

You head into a massage session looking forward to the sensation of working out those tensions and muscle aches. You step off the massage table feeling relaxed, calm and whole again. So how do you keep that feeling? Massage takes a time and financial commitment, and these simple tips will help you get the most from the massage. Here’s what you can do:

Before the massage:

  1. Think about how your body’s been feeling the last few days or weeks. Communicate this information and your goals for the session to your massage therapist. The session is all about you – what you need and what you want. Letting your therapist know insures a good session.
  2. If you’ve got the flu or a fever, call ahead to cancel your appointment. Massage is contraindicated if you’re running a fever.
  3. Avoid eating a meal right before your appointment. Getting a massage on a full stomach can be uncomfortable – especially while face down.
  4. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need during the massage to be more comfortable. This can be anything from a blanket, to an extra pillow, the volume of the music or the depth of the pressure. Massage therapists truly appreciate this information!
  5. Before and during the session, breathe deep even breaths. Deep breathing relaxes the body and helps in releasing stress from the body.

After the massage:

  1. Just before you get off the table, take a moment to sink into the table and really feel your body in a relaxed state. Close your eyes and remember this sensation in the days and weeks after the session to bring your body into a more relaxed state.
  2. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 8 glasses of water in the 24 hours following your session. Massage works out toxins in the muscles, and drinking water helps those toxins move out of your body as quickly as possible.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep. Rest is required for the body to heal itself, and it allows time for the muscles to get used to a slightly different, looser configuration.
  4. Avoid strenuous exercise for 12-24 hours, especially any that works on muscles you focused on in the session. For example, if you needed a lot of neck work during the session, refrain from going to the gym that night and working the trapezoid!
  5. Let your therapist know if you experience discomfort more than 24 hours after the session. She will want to think about possible causes and changes to your treatment plan in subsequent sessions to provide you with the massage you need.

Massage presents a wonderful means to relax the body and mind, and making sure you do things to extend the health benefits of your massage keeps you in good shape. Remember to do something for yourself on a regular basis. It could be taking time to exercise, spending some time browsing a bookstore or a hot bath. Caring for yourself helps your body maintain its health, and it also contributes to your overall wellness.

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More on Massage: Acupressure

Qi and Eastern Theories of Wellness

Asian theories of health and wellness that form the basis of acupressure, tui na and shiatsu center around the concept of energy that all beings hold. This life energy, known as qi (pronounced “chee”), permeates living beings and the entire universe. Within humans, energy flows in certain pathways and patterns throughout the body – these are called meridians. Think of them as highways of energy that run from our head to our toes. Each meridian contains many points (acupoints) along it that, when stimulated, can effect the energy flow in the entire body. The meridians also intersect and can cause change to the qi flow in other meridians.

Healthy people have a good balance and flow of qi in their bodies. All of the acupoints are open and balanced when a person is in perfect health. Imbalance in qi causes dis-ease. An imbalance could be one meridian being overactive, or another meridian suffering from a lack of adequate energy flow. Energy blockages at the acupoints disrupt the flow of the meridians. On each of these energy highways, the specific points act as exit/entrance ramps to control the flow of energy. Acupressure stimulates the points with direct finger pressure to correct energy flow.

The way acupressure works revolves around a holistic approach to the body-mind-spirit. In a traditional sense, acupressure is more about wellness than controlling symptoms, although it can be used for pain relief, muscle soreness, gastro-intestinal issues or emotional/mental imbalance. Certain points relieve specific symptoms as well as correcting the energy balance. In the east, acupressure is sometimes a treatment given at regular intervals as preventative medicine.

Acupressure can be the only modality used during a massage therapy session, but it is more often combined with other modalities and integrated into a full session. It is also a modality that can be done with the client clothed and lying on the massage table. During a session, the therapist may hold points on the body and remain still for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. At times, she may hold two points together to focus on the energy flow between those points or meridians. It is a very quiet and still modality and can induce deep states of relaxation.

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