There is nothing quite as relaxing and soothing as a massage, right? Whether self-applied, mutually exchanged or even received at a professional service, the act of rubbing, caressing and otherwise manipulating the soft tissues of the body can relieve pain, stimulate healing, and relax the body.
According to statistics posted on the official website of the American Massage Therapy College, 39.1 million Americans each year scheduled a massage in the last year and if the population were fully aware of the many benefits of regular massage therapy, the figures would no doubt be much higher.
One of the most pressing health concerns of these modern times is the rising levels of GAD, generalized anxiety disorders, directly caused by unnatural modern lifestyles. From health issues and health care’s systems to the dysfunctional family unit and work-related anxieties, many of these factors contribute to the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Women are twice as likely to be affected by GAD than men and 16% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 suffer the numerous symptoms, which include irritability, headaches, and shortness of breath.
One of the best treatments for alleviating the debilitating effects of this anxious condition is through massage therapy. Therapeutic massage therapy of only the superficial surface tissue has been found effective in reducing anxiety and restoring mental calm. The capacity to promote relaxation and reduce pain have even been effective in cancer patients.1
Massage therapy has extensive benefits in addressing joints and muscles exhausted from the extended effort and improper posture as well as improving the flow of blood through fatigued muscles as well. But, the benefits of a proper massage go well beyond the body’s mechanics and have benefits to reducing stress, improving sleep, and even balancing the diet.
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Many massage therapists have developed specific therapies that address conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis. The abundant health benefits from massage therapy have preventative benefits as well that can keep the body from injury and even illness.
Best of all, for the first time in history, this non-invasive form of health treatment is available to everyone at spas, yoga studios, hotels, and dedicated massage therapy centers. Here is a closer look at the benefits of massage therapy and how the practice of mindfulness is being used to improve the benefits provided by this age-old practice.
It All Started with Ayurvedic Tradition
No one knows for sure when the first massage services were provided between humans, but it’s quite likely the practice predates human evolution. Looking at the many examples of tactical contact, nuzzling, caressing, necking, and preening common in the animal kingdom, it may be that humans simply have the best tools (hands) for this very sophisticated form of deep social grooming.2,3
Nevertheless, the first established massage practices were recorded as part of the Ayurveda oral tradition which dates back as far as 3000 BCE. The Ayurvedic culture of holistic medicine and natural science is believed to have divine origins and developed through continuous experimentation and careful study.
The treatments provided by Ayurvedic practice include aromatherapy, sound therapy, color therapy, and touch or massage therapy. The first texts that recorded the specifics of this very extensive practice were first collected between 1500 and 500 BCE and many of these traditional practices are still in use throughout South East Asia.
Practitioners in Ayurvedic medicine understand that the body cannot be “healed”, but it can be encouraged to heal itself. To treat a condition, mental and physical balance must be restored, when this is accomplished the body will simply return to its natural state of good health.
Ayurvedic medicine will examine the imbalances in the body and consult the time of year when producing a holistic solution. This typically involves sensory induction that promotes better balance. For example, imbalances may be treated by encouraging the circulation of blood and oxygen through the brain, muscles, and organs. The therapeutic benefits of aromatic essential oils combined with the direct physical stimulation of muscle tissues would be part of a much larger and more specific plan for encouraging this balance.
Mindfulness, yoga, breathing exercises, tongue scraping, eating the big meals at lunch and many other Ayurvedic practices contribute to the “Whole Body” approach to better health through better balance.4,5
Mindfulness and Massage Therapy
A key component of Ayurvedic Medicine that is not seen in Western Medicine is the intentionality, or mindfulness, that comes to play in seeking better balance or treating a condition. Mindfulness is simply the full awareness of what is happening at the moment, which could be anything; eating, breathing, walking, etc. One of the problems with modern society is the fast-paced lifestyles that encourage a high functioning mind with zero downtime.
In the Ayurvedic perspective, we live in a society with a strong “vata” influence. This means people are constantly casting their awareness to their future as they are “mindlessly” driven from one effort to the next. Because the environment is perceived by the mind and the mind links to the body, this furious lifestyle can have serious effects on human health.
However, by the same measure, turning the mind inward and building awareness of nothing more than the present moment can greatly improve therapeutic efforts, which are all aligned to balancing the body and thus bringing about better health. In Ayurvedic therapy, this mindfulness is essential for initiating changes in lifestyles that will bring better balance.
One of the primary advantages of aroma-massage therapy is an almost “out of body” experience caused by complete isolation in a moment of relaxation. The therapeutic benefits of the massage can be greatly enhanced through immersion in the moment through well-rehearsed mindfulness practice.
While this may sound obvious, there is a good reason to underscore the importance of total mental relaxation in even the most enjoyable healthy treatments.6
How Mindfulness Enhances Massage Therapy
It seems just about everyone and their brother is now practicing meditation to enhance their cognitive function, mental balance, and a path to awakening. This implies the practices of mindfulness are well-understood throughout modern culture. Yet, not everyone is fully aware of the practical importance of mindfulness in all activities and pursuits.
It seems only natural that the mind will relax into a soothing blank during a massage session, yet sometimes the pressing cares and important exterior motivators are nagging at the mind here too. This can thwart the efficacy of the treatment.
The idea of introducing meditation or mindfulness into the treatment simply refers to keeping the mind focused on the sensations at play and the effects of the treatment. This is what is referred to as a “mindful massage” and has some important benefits to the massage therapy.
When the mind is at rest and focused on the sensations and details of the moment, such as the aromatic oils in the air, the soothing motions of the masseur, and even the rise and fall of air entering and exiting the lungs, the body easily enters a deeper state of calm that can bring about relaxed physiological functions.
This is especially beneficial if the mind is in a constant state of stress and anxiety symptomatic of modern lifestyles. Taking the time to rest the mind will at the very least improve relaxation in muscle systems.7
Tolerance to Pain
During the initial sessions of your massage treatment, it may seem that the kneading and tissue manipulations are more painful than relaxing. Those undergoing deep tissue massages for addressing deeper muscle tissues can attest to the painful aspects of this treatment method.
Mediation and mindfulness have important implications in controlling pain and managing responses. Taking the time to breathe in with the strokes and motions of the therapist will also improve blood flow to the muscles systems.
Mindfulness Can Improve Muscle Relaxation
Mindfulness allows the body’s rates and rhythms to relax better. In tired and fatigued muscles, there are some leftover chemicals and byproducts of the energy exchange process applied in exhaustive efforts, like lactic acid for example. To properly relax these muscles, massage therapy helps to improve the circulation of blood through the muscle systems carrying away these compounds.
Relaxed breathing and mindful states can improve the oxygen saturation of the blood. This allows these natural substances to be better eliminated from the body. Some suggest performing a yoga routine before a massage session, but meditation may work just as well.8
Better Detection for Problem Areas
After hours of intense efforts either at a desk, workstation, or academic setting, there are some muscles and joints that will feel the strain worse than others. To mindlessly bulldoze through a massage treatment, assumes that all muscles get the same attention
But standing produces strains on the upper body and lower body that are different from the seated position. People with different body types take the strain on muscles in different locations. A proper massage addresses these needs exactly and produces the best results for your conditions. By being mindful of the treatment, the individual is more sensitive to those small indications that a joint or muscles system needs special attention.
Practicing mindfulness can bring a sense of peace when applied to any relaxing activities. Putting yourself in a state of mindfulness can be beneficial in numerous situations in your life, so if you find yourself seeking the health benefits of a massage, think about putting yourself in this state to fully reap all of the rewards. You can try out our Zen essential oil bottled blend to keep in the room as you receive a massage to further help you achieve mindfulness.