Massage Therapy has several benefits:
Touch is powerful. Even before I became a massage therapist I was aware of how touch communicates and can connect us when words alone won't do.
There is an immediacy and truthfulness in touch that I believe we instinctively respond to. Often we can sense where the person touching us is coming from without any verbal explanations. We tense up in response to an impatient, insensitive, intrusive or needy quality in the hand on our shoulder. We may not always understand intellectually what is going on, but our bodies know, and hold a lot of wisdom.
Research is now catching up with what humans always have known: massage is very beneficial. Professor Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg has studied the effects of massage on what is commonly called the fight-or-flight syndrome. In physiology books this syndrome is described as a mechanism which increases the heart rate, raises blood-sugar levels, and turns down the activity of the intestinal canals. It also activates the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which, when overly stimulated, makes us aggressive.
But as there is a mechanism that heightens this activity there also seems to be a system that creates peace and calm. The hormone that is associated with this is called oxytocin and is usually connected with child-birth and breast feeding, since that is when the levels of oxytocin increase dramatically in a woman. Now science is finding that other factors can increase levels of oxytocin in both men and women. The flow of this hormone can be stimulated by warmth and "kind" touch. Increased oxytocin levels are associated with a decrease in sensitivity to pain. Blood pressure and heart rate lower. The level of the stress hormone corticol decreases and a sense of peace and calm ensues. People with high levels of oxytocin also become more sociable and seem to bond more easily with others.
In Stockholm, Sweden, there is an ongoing project called "Peaceful Touch" initiated by Axelssons Gymnastiska Institute (the massage school where I received my degree in 1988). The goal is to have "peaceful touch" be a recognized idea by the year 2002. Today over 600 people working in different kindergarten schools have attended a short course in basic massage techniques. the children receive a massage during nap time and the results have been very encouraging. The children become calmer and more relaxed. Children who massage each other don't hit each other.
"Often people who are aggressive are seeking respect and want to know somebody cares about them," says Hans Axelsson, Director of the Institute. The realization inspired him to go further and bring "Massage against Violence" into (the Swedish equivalent of) high school classes. Changes that have been noticed are increased self-confidence, heightened motivation to study/take responsibility for one's own life, and better rapport with parents. Another group targeted by this program are youths who have already been in trouble with the law.
Beyond the work with individual clients I look at what I do as my contribution towards creating a more peaceful world, one person at a time. Well-being spreads like rings on the water.
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