I recently wearily climbed into bed after a particularly long and exhausting day. As I was telling my wife all about it, probably more than half complaining, I told her that it would be really nice for her to give me a massage. She said, “I don’t really feel like rubbing your back right now. Why don’t you set your cell phone to vibrate, put it on your back, and I’ll call you.” Not exactly what I was looking for.
My first real massage was when I was on active duty in the Navy. I was on R & R is Sasebo, Japan. I was at the Officer’s Club and saw a sign advertising massages for $5; I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it try. It was almost a life changing experience. This little old Japanese lady pushed, pulled, drummed, and walked on my back all while she sang to me. It was so relaxing and pleasurable, though I did wake myself up when I started to snore loudly. I felt better, even restored, for several days after.
No question, massage is pleasurable, but it has health benefits that go way beyond just feeling good. And it isn’t just a back rub; there are techniques and methods that are very different and specific in their therapeutic intent. Numerous ancient hieroglyphics and manuscripts depict the practice of massage, though it wasn’t established as a modern therapeutic modality until the 1800’s by a gymnast in Sweden. That was further developed into Swedish Massage, which employs long gentle probing and kneading strokes and is probably still the most popular technique available today.
Though there are literally dozens of other techniques, the major ones are Shiatsu and Thai Massage which are Asian in origin and exert pressure on the same meridians used by traditional acupuncturists; Sports Massage is employed for athletes to avoid or treat soft tissue injury; Deep Tissue Massage, sometimes called Rolfing, is slower, with greater pressure directed at the deeper structures and connective tissues.
There has been a great deal of research concerning the effects of massage, and though there needs to be more, it is hard to argue with thousands of years of worldwide reported results. Here’s a short list of some of the more common and accepted benefits of massage:
Massage relieves stress, and since many experts say that 90% of all health concerns are stress related, it’s easy to see that massage can have a positive impact on things as diverse as heart rate to cortisol and insulin levels.
Massage encourages general relaxation. It feels like a 30–60 minute vacation or spiritual retreat. Relaxes tight muscles and melts away tension, reducing muscle cramps and spasms.
Massage increases joint flexibility and range of motion for comfort and performance, while reducing recovery time from injuries. I heard one patient comment, “My doctor said that he prescribed narcotic painkillers for my back because he thinks that massage is too addictive.”
Massage increases circulation of both blood and lymphatic systems thus enhancing the body’s immunity.
Massage is effective in relieving tension headaches, lessening anxiety and depression, and is overall soothing to body and mind.
Keep in mind that, like they say, you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a massage and that’s kind of the same thing.