Massage is perhaps the oldest and simplest of all medical treatments. In traditional cultures, especially in the East, it is accepted as natural that people of all ages can benefit from regular massage. But here in the West, though its value has always been recognised in the world of sports, its use has only quite recently spread to other fields.
All too often, we tend to be afraid to touch one another. Yet increasingly, research is proving the extraordinary effectiveness of touch – and touch is the core of massage. In a recent survey, the simple act of massage was shown to have improved patients’ morale, and hastened their rate of recovery.
For massage, as one discovers during its practise, is not only physical. It contains much of psychology. Understanding of the person under your hands develops through empathy.
One unique advantage is that massage is as pleasant to give as it is to receive. It has been scientifically established that stroking a household pet has a relaxing effect and lowers one’s blood pressure. Stroking people does the same.
Massage can be stimulating or soothing, depending upon the speed and depth of your strokes. This is why it can make a person feel alert and ready to run in a marathon – or, conversely, relaxed and sleepy. It can relieve tension, soothe away headaches, relax taut and aching muscles and banish insomnia. Above all, it can provide a context for recovery by inducing a sense of wellbeing. Many of my clients are sure that the pleasure it gives is therapeutic in itself.
Yet with all these benefits, massage is easy to learn. It is a skill that everyone can acquire because it is, fundamentally, an extension of something we all do instinctively. We stroke our foreheads when tired or headaches, we pat children on the head or face to reassure them, we hold a friend’s hand in comfort and we rub a painful area as inevitably as we stroke our pets.
Massage may be defined as any systematic form of touch which has been found to give comfort or to promote good health. Everyone needs to relax, to escape the tyranny of time. Listening to music, watching the movements of clouds, combing the beach for pebbles or shells – these are all ways we use to still the mind, to regain a sense of our own wholeness in the innocence of the moment. As children we climb trees and run around barefoot. We are at home with ourselves and in touch with our basic nature, but as we grow older we spend more and more time living purely in our hands.
Now is the time to redress the balance and get back into your body by rediscovering the gentle art of touch. It is a common language, one that we can use to heal or reassure, to relieve pain or to soothe away tension – above all, to convey the fact that we care. Like a clearing in the forest, it gives us a breathing space in which to relax.
Massage can provide us with a means to counteract the relentless surge of work and domestic pressures. For all too many of us, stiffness and pain are a way of life to which we have become habituated, and it is often not until we give or receive massage that we realize that our muscles are tight, or come to see how much of our energy is consumed by tension. Massage can be a voyage of self-discovery, revealing how it feels to be more relaxed and in tune with ourselves, to experience the pleasure of a body that can breathe, stand and move freely.
Remember, life may take it out of you, but massage can put it back.