You float out onto the street, completely relaxed and charged with vitality and health. You're ready to face the challenges of 21st century living. This is the sensation a massage gives.
This feeling of harmony and balance should come naturally. Unfortunately, in a culture which creates so much stress through lifestyles which emphasize competitiveness, mental achievement and material gain, this natural state is elusive.
However, by stilling the mind and getting in touch with the body through massage a great sense of physical, mental and spiritual well being results.
Massage, with its unique ability to produce this feeling of well being, is one of the oldest forms of healing and pain treatment. It was used by Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Roman healers thousands of years ago. Julius Caesar (55BC) had himself pinched all over to release the pain of neuralgia and headaches. And Galen (130AD), who was physician to the Roman School of Gladiators, prescribed massage and oiling for Gladiators competing in games.
Massage sensations are wonderful
The action of hands stroking, kneading, and gliding over skin stimulates nerve endings, relaxing mind and body. Soft tissue manipulation also releases tension from knotted muscles and increases the blood flow.
Massage can also heal injury, decrease pain, help the body rid itself of toxins, improve the immune system and increase energy levels, with absolutely no side effects. These responses increase the body's ability to heal itself, which is the main function of massage and the benefits continue long after the massage ends.
The Swedish technique
A variety of rhythmic stroking movements calm and relax the body and increase the circulation. Then firmer, pulling and kneading movements stimulate the secondary levels of muscle tissue, promoting the absorption of nutrients and aiding waste elimination through the skin, lungs, kidneys and bowels.
After this penetration to deeper tissues and joints is achieved by using the thumbs, fingertips and heels of the hands to seek out tensions hidden below the surface muscle area. This increased pressure may be uncomfortable at first but the sensation is quickly replaced by a warm, revitalizing feeling as the muscles relax.
Shiatsu, a Japanese therapy now used frequently in the west, emphasizes balance of the body's energy force (chi) through channels, known as meridians, located throughout the body.
It is believed that by applying pressure to acupressure points, blockages are removed and the energy flows freely. Again it is the body's ability to heal and rejuvenate itself which is being encouraged to function.
Reflexology, or zone therapy, is also an ancient art introduced by the Chinese and Egyptians.
Pain and sensitivity in the feet are said to reflect disorders in various parts of the body. By stimulating areas of the feet, relaxation and rejuvenation is believed to occur throughout the body. A foot massage is a blissful experience which leaves a special feeling of "floating on air", perhaps because the feet carry such a load.
The benefits of massage appear endless:
1. It can act as a pep-up when tired or stressed. Long hours sitting hunched over a computer or the wheel of a car can create tight and tense muscles. Even sport and fitness activities may cause muscle overload.
2. The result is often a general feeling of fatigue with low level aches and pains around joints, shoulders, neck, back and arm areas. Massage releases the accumulated tensions giving increased suppleness to muscles and joints, as well as healing the soft tissue and energizing the body.
3. Emotional problems may be dealt with indirectly during massage. Some people enjoy being able to talk about their problems to a caring person.
4. Abdominal massage is particularly helpful as it relaxes the stomach area where we carry most of our tension. Many people feel self conscious about the size or shape of their stomach and feel a little apprehensive about being touched in this area. But the soothing feeling and relief from stomach aches, whether caused by indigestion, menstrual pains, constipation or stress makes it worthwhile.
To introduce yourself to massage you need to find a practitioner you can trust because massage is a very personal experience, and one which is qualified. Practitioners should have at least one year's practical experience and training, and a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology.
People are often reticent to have a massage because they don't know what actually happens.
"Should I take all my clothes off"? is probably the most commonly asked question. If you feel nervous you may prefer to leave your briefs on but certain muscle groups may not receive the full benefit of the massage. However, you should be left to disrobe alone and given fresh sheets or towels to cover the parts of the body not being worked on.
Rooms should be spotlessly clean. The masseur (or masseuse) should have a caring, professional attitude, and a quiet, restful atmosphere should prevail.
When making an appointment it is important to state what sort of therapeutic massage you need, whether for relaxation or healing purposes.