Massage reduces cortisol. This is a much more specific idea than “massage reduces stress.” Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is justifiably perceived as a villain, and reducing it is often touted as a meaningful rescue from being run-down, chronically anxious or depressed, or in pain. Unfortunately, the evidence that massage actually does anything helpful to cortisol production is conflicting and inconclusive at best, and commonly cited research to support it has major flaws.63 Even in the unlikely event that massage actually does reduce cortisol levels, the phsyiology of stress is much too complex to assume cortisol reduction is in itself a meaningful, good thing. Cortisol levels after a massage do not give a meaningful picture of the organism, and there is no direct relationship between a temporary cortisol reduction and any health benefit. What matters is cortisol levels over time, but even that isn’t exactly straightforward: stress and cortisol have a complex and chaotic relationship regulated by many variables out of our control.
Craniosacral therapy is another classic example — popular for decades, it is a touch therapy, not “massage,” and it has never enjoyed any respect from the majority of doctors or scientists. It has even been criticized by many alternative health professionals.36 And yet it is sold with overconfidence by countless manual therapists as though it were proven effective.
Massage gives you an endorphin rush. The word “endorphin” reached buzzword status a few years back and is now often invoked carelessly. Endorphins are a class of neuropeptides that act on the nervous system to reduce pain and increase euphoria. But although massage therapy may reduce pain by a variety of mechanisms, it probably doesn’t do it by putting more endorphins into the bloodstream.62 And, yet again, it wouldn’t be that big a deal even if it were true. Like relaxation, endorphins are good, but they can only do so much — at best, such an effect would mostly just explain the pleasantness of massage itself.
Massage is not a detox treatment. If anything, it’s the opposite! Post-massage soreness and malaise (PMSM) is probably caused by mild rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo”). True rhabdo is a medical emergency caused by muscle crush injuries. But milder stresses cause milder rhabdo — even just intense exercise can do it. And massage! We know this from a good formal case study, several informal ones, common exertional rhabdo, and the similarities between PMSM and ordinary exercise soreness. A rhabdo cocktail of waste metabolites and by-products of tissue damage is probably why we feel cruddy after any intense biological stress or trauma — but they can’t be “flushed” away by massage (or by drinking water). See Poisoned by Massage: Rather than being DE-toxifying, deep tissue massage can probably cause a slightly toxic situation in the body. BACK TO TEXT
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we relax, we "become calm water, and we will reflect reality as it is. If we’re not calm, the image we reflect will be distorted. When the image is distorted by our minds, it’s not the reality, and it causes lots of suffering." Relaxation is essential for accessing the tranquility and joy that lead to increased personal well-being. With sections on healing, relief from nonstop thinking, transforming unpleasant sounds, solitude, being peace, and more, How to Relax includes meditations you can do to help you achieve the benefits of relaxation no matter where you are.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), this includes individuals with bleeding disorders, low blood platelet counts, or those who are taking blood thinning medications. When these types of conditions are present, the NCCIH indicates that a sports massage with deep tissue work is generally not recommended.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that deep-tissue massage is more effective and affordable for relieving chronic pain than conventional medical remedies. Because deep-tissue massage increases the flow of blood through through the body, it helps reduce the inflammation that causes pain. Deep-tissue massage can also help alleviate muscle tension that is often a side effect of chronic pain by loosening the tight tissue clusters.
Thai massage helps to reduce the individual's stress levels and improve their overall circulation. This is accomplished by the gradual movement of the person through different yoga-like positions. This will enhance the persons' flexibility allowing for a greater range of motion. This greater range of motion and flexibility reduces muscle stress and strain, and helps to prevent trip and fall accidents.
Over-analyzing things can quickly lead to mounting stress. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let it go! If you find yourself worrying over things you have no control over, distract yourself. Go outside. Check out the sky. Are the stars out? Is the wind blowing? Will it be warmer as the day progresses? Play your favorite song. Look at pictures or photos that make you smile. List all the little things you can be grateful for and focus on those.
If scientifically unsupportable practices are surprisingly common medical massage therapists, they are close to universal among barely-trained and untrained bodyworkers. Many of them aspire to greater skill, but usually don’t do so by studying orthopedics and physical therapy — a project that could occupy anyone for a lifetime — but instead by increasing their repertoire of certifications in proprietary hands-on techniques, most of which are either silly and/or medically unimportant (i.e. pleasant and harmless, but producing no significant therapeutic effect for any important health problem — hot stone massage would be a good example of this).
All that pretension! All those assumptions and lovely-sounding structural theories. All those expensive technique workshops those therapists went to, and all the extra money they charge real patients for their “expertise” to help pay off their investment in the workshops. It all added up to … nothing. They could have done relaxation massage instead and their patients would have been just as well off.
Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the over-training syndrome. Over-training is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adequately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps you avoid over-training by facilitating recovery through general relaxation, and its other physiological effects.
Remember how you felt when you helped someone? It’s one of the best feelings anyone can feel and could especially benefit those who are dealing with anxiety. Your actions may be very small, but that doesn’t take the satisfaction away. There are so many ways that you can help people and you don’t have to spend money to do so. Many civic and other helping groups need volunteers to operate so find one that works for you and volunteer!
During a hot stone massage the therapist heats stones of varying sizes to 120–140º F, rubs them over your oiled body, and rests them on top of and beneath you—on your stomach, in your palms, on your back. The stones’ warmth enhances the relaxing effects of the pressure. Some people believe the stones have healing, grounding qualities, which makes hot stone massage a more profound experience than your basic massage. The therapist will leave some of the smooth, heated massage stones in contact with your body and use others to massage you.
A skilled therapist will tailor your session exactly as you need it based on your needs. As in all bodywork, the key to a gratifying experience is largely a function of good communication and clarification of objectives. We promise, we WANT you to speak up if there is anything we can do to make your session more comfortable so that you have a positive experience.
It takes just a minute to drip some lavender, tea tree, or another essential oil into your palm and inhale. The soothing scents may help send stress and anxiety packing by stimulating smell receptors in the nose that connect to the part of the brain that regulates emotions Essential oils and anxiolytic aromatherapy. Setzer, W.N. Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. Natural Product Communications 2009;4(9):1305-16..
Massage therapists who have received specialized training and are certified in prenatal massage know how to position and support the woman's body during the massage, modify techniques, and avoid certain areas and techniques during pregnancy. Most will have a special table that allows the woman to rest comfortably and safely during the massage. Ideally, you should seek out a practitioner who is experienced and licensed in prenatal massage.
Jason DeAntonis is an award-winning Bay Area artist, known for his sumi ink illustrations, and his fine carpentry and custom furniture. He has also worked in sculpture, costume design, glass blowing, painting, printmaking, and book illustration. His work has appeared in Mindfulness in the Garden, How to Sit, How to Eat, How to Walk, How to Love, and How to Relax. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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