The Healing Powers
Of Massage

by Rachel Sokol

When you hear the word ‘massage,’ visions of running water, soothing music and gentle hands slowly caressing your back may come to mind. For those of you who truly enjoy a massage, the experience can be refreshing and invigorating. For thousands of years, humans have relied on touch to sooth mental and physical ailments.

Massage is one of the oldest healing arts. Chinese records dating back 3,000 years document its power; the ancient Hindus, Persians and Egyptians engaged in massage; and the philosopher Hippocrates documented the importance of body friction for joint and circulation problems.

Massage therapy has also proven beneficial for many chronic conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation and depression. As fans of massage will admit, massage relieves the daily stresses of everyday life that can trigger disease and illness.

“There are 250 different kinds of massages, ranging from Swedish to Asian bodywork. A stone massage is a good example of something that has come on the scene within the past five years,” says Bob Benson, president of Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). The top two modalities—types of massage—are Swedish Massage and Integrative Massage, both of which account for two-thirds of all massage sessions. New massage modalities or techniques seem to be emerging every year—a mixture of truly original approaches and close cousins of established techniques.

“Massage is a growing trend for recipients because of the proliferation of new massage techniques and modalities catering to more segments of the population,” says Scott Belkin, a Beverly Hills, CA-based massage therapist. “For example, there is pregnancy massage, hot stone massage, massage pamper parties, TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) massage, watsu (massage in the water), cellulite massage, equine massage, cat/dog massage, lymphatic massage, massage for cancer/HIV/AIDS patients, geriatric massage, and medical/clinical/orthopedic massage.” In other words, there is a type of massage for almost everyone.

What Kind Of Massage Is Good For Me?
before you jump into a massage bed, you may want to do a little research on the various types of massages out there. According to Belkin, There are three basic types of massage: Swedish, Deep Tissue and Acupressure. “Ninety five percent of all massage performed is Swedish (effleurage or ‘gliding,’ petrissage or ‘kneading,’ tapotement or ‘percussion,’ friction and vibration). It is a circulatory form of massage which is primarily effective for pleasure, relaxation, stress reduction, reducing muscle tension and soreness, and circulation problems,”says Belkin.

DEEP TISSUE (also called ‘myofascial’) massage is perfomed at a slower pace than Swedish so that the fascia (connective tissue) has time to melt and reorganize scar tissue and collagen fibers allowing for more dramatic and longer lasting results than Swedish massage. “Deep Tissue is not necessarily ‘deep’ pressure—the therapist works to the client's comfortable level of tolerance, whether light, medium or deep. Deep Tissue work is ideal for treating pain, injuries, medical conditions, tight and sore muscles, but is also highly effective for pleasure, relaxation, stress reduction and removing tissue toxicity,” says Belkin.

ACUPRESSURE is holding static pressure points to release blocked energy along meridian pathways. "It is effective for pleasure, relaxation, reducing muscle tension and soreness, treating some forms of pain, stress reduction, and removal of tissue toxicity. It can be used to treat injuries and medical conditions from a Chinese Medicine perspective, the theory being that by opening the blocked energy (‘chi’ or ‘prana’), any disease within the body will be resolved through the body's innate healing power through the uninhibited flow of chi or prana,” says Belkin.

THAI MASSAGE incorporates yoga positioning and active client participation. It is more physically interactive.

CHAIR MASSAGE is very popular with corporations and offices and typically done ‘on site.’ “Sessions are understandably brief—5-10 minutes—designed to fit into the work day and improve mental alertness,” says Boston-based massage therapist Robert Frye.

REFLEXOLOGY for hands or feet is an ‘eastern’ technique that divides the hands and feet into meridians which correspond to other areas/organs throughout the body, says Frye. “Specific pressure is applied to points along the meridians to stimulate or ‘unblock’ the related areas. It’s similar to acupressure.”

REIKI i is one of many forms of energy work. “Simplistically put, its intention is to revitalize your life force and balance your bodies energies through the channeling of the universal life energy Regular massage can improve all of the following: posture, gait, circulation, muscle tone, sense of well being, mental alertness and the appearance of the skin,” says Frye.

Do I Need A Massage? Can’t I Just Soak In The Bathtub?
Some indications that you may need a massage: stretching your back, calves, hands, restless sleep, sluggish, anxious, noticing your performance is off.

“Many people have adapted to aches that they don't even realize how much pain they have,” says Manhattan-based massage therapist Gail Balas.

“How a person knows if he or she ‘needs’ a massage or not would depend on their treatment goal,” says Belkin. “When most people think of massage, they think of either relieving sore, aching muscles on the one hand or relaxing, feel good, luxurious pampering on the other hand. The first category represents healing, and the second category represents nurturing. On the healing side, massage can also increase range of motion, reduce or eliminate pain, improve certain neuromusculoskeletal injuries and medical conditions, and improve alignment, posture and gait,” says Belkin.

“Massage therapy can encompass a wide range of techniques with different goals which can generally be broken down into two categories: physical/manual manipulation of soft tissue/muscle and/or ‘energy’ work, which is metaphysical and spiritual based,” say Frye. “Massage therapy is comparatively cheaper than traditional (in the Western sense) medical applications for minor ailments. It is important for a potential massage client to be seen by a medical doctor if they feel there is something wrong which may need diagnosis and or medical treatment - massage is not meant to replace a doctor’s care,” says Frye.

Is There A Difference Between A Spa Massage And A Private Massage?
At most health and wellness spas, various types of yummy massages are offered as part of a treatment package. While these massages can be beneficial, some massage therapists question the affects of spa massages over a medical massage or a private-practice massage. “To me, a spa may be a ‘fluff' massage,’ says Long Island, NY-based massage therapist Paulette Bouche. “You're getting a facial and a manicure and a massage in one package—the massuse may not be focusing on one area. It's not a bad thing, but I feel like I'll have a different kind of clientele.” So you may want to ask yourself, do you want the whole beauty package with the massage or do you want just a massage?

“Spa massages—aka ‘signature’ massages—includes a created treatment which may include various accoutrements such as warming blankets, spa showers--or products that have a cosmetic effect (tighten skin, reduce appearance of cellulite) and utilizes a basic set of strokes that feel good (they're usually warm-up strokes from Swedish, Ayurvedic, etc…with the use of their retail product,” says Balas. “This is a spa massage since you don't really go beyond warm-up techniques.” For some people, this is all they need and want. “But then, there are clients who've had these treatments and say, ‘I had a spa massage and it felt great but it really didn't do anything’,” says Balas. “It is developed for that pampered feeling.”

There is nothing wrong with a pampered feeling. According to Balas, the spa treatment is designed for consistency in the treatment they are selling as well as incorporating the product line. “It is usually sold as a tension relief. Not as therapeutic.”

The best advice is, if you have a condition that warrants massage than schedule a massage so the therapist has adequate time to address the condition and make positive change. “The MT will review your history and purpose of massage,” says Balas. “Personally, combining spa massage treatments and a therapeutic massage is heaven.”

The Power of Touch
also provides another therapeutic component largely absent in today's world: tactile stimulation or, more simply, touch. In 1986 the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami published groundbreaking research on the effects of massage on premature babies.

The preterm babies who received massage therapy showed 47% greater weight gain and six-day shorter hospital stays than the infants who were not receiving massage. But is this study evidence of what loving touch can do spiritually, or rather what massage can do on a physiological level?

Regardless, babies are not the only benefactors. In a world filled with sadness, chaos and stress, it is easy to find yourself tense, terse and impatient. Sometimes even knowing that you need to unwind but just don’t have the time can add more stress to your body. Because you continue to walk around wound-up tighter than a pretzel, consider working with a massage therapist. The feeling of being touched in a safe, caring, compassionate manner can be a very powerful experience, reminding the client that she or he is not alone in the world. According to the AMBP, one needs only experience a good massage to know it's beneficial to both your body and soul. Studies have shown that children who are born sick come through from being held and touched.

Balas says it is so professionally satisfying to hear so many people comment, “I feel incredibly rejuvenated” or “I had no idea how pain relieving a massage can be.”

How Can I Find A Massage Therapist That Is Right For Me?
a referral to a therapist rather than walking into a spa and taking your chances or looking a therapist up in the yellow pages. Personal referrals are the best source,” says Belkin. “Otherwise, go to the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) website—www.amta.org—and use their Massage Therapist locator service. The AMTA is the leading professional organization in the field.”

In truth, a massage therapist cannot ‘fix’ a person who fails or refuses to not take care of himself or herself. A massage therapist can facilitate healing a person who takes positive steps towards his or her own healing.

If you have any questions about massage, you may want to see a physician first or do some of your own research. Also—don’t be afraid to communicate with your massage therapist. “Before the massage, and preferably on the telephone ahead of time, explain your concerns to the therapist and see if she puts you at ease and reassures you as to the particular reason why you are hesitant to get a massage,” says Belkin. “For example, is it because you do not know the procedure that will be used in terms of what clothes you take off or what draping is used? Or is it because you are feeling emotionally vulnerable and are afraid that the massage will bring up tears? Or is it because you do not want to be touched in a certain area and are afraid that the therapist will not respect your boundaries? If the hesitant person is not put at ease after interviewing the therapist with questions and expressing her concerns, then the hesitant person should keep looking until she finds the right therapist, which alleviates his or her hesitancy.”

“A typical therapist knows how to use different techniques and how to work with the client on areas that are sore. From there, they use techniques that would fit best,” says Benson. “They will take a look at their health history…they may have a medical condition where a massage is not appropriate.” Because of its many health benefits massage has become an accepted part of many physical rehabilitation programs. Unfortunately, not all health insurances recognize medical massage as a form of medicine, but with its increased popularity, this could change. More and more people are curious about massage and engaging in massage therapy. “I’m glad to say that massage therapy is being recognized for its benefits so much so that many are realizing there is more to massage than strong, deep or light,” says Balas.

Massage is a healing touch that relaxes the body and releases the pain and tension we hold inside. “Massage therapy can help create a safe, sense of well being in a world that has become an increasingly more stressful, scary and unsure place,” says Frye. Recognize your body’s release and accept it as your body’s way of finding balance. This important balance will lead you to a higher state of emotional and physical health.

So, relax, enjoy and let go! •

from the November-December 2007 issue

95% of all massage performed is Swedish
Although there are 250 different kinds of massages, there are three basic types: Swedish, deep tissue and acupressure.
IntegraLife Spa’s
Pontai Luar Massage

This hour-long treatment is a combination of massage, relaxation and body treatment for soft and silky skin. It's roots are in Thailand, where the combination of natural aromatic spices and herbal extracts are blended from an ancient Thai medicine recipe. They are then mixed with fresh limes and pure, raw untreated coconut and tied into a special linen wrap to create a natural organic botanical pillow with a handle, called the ‘poultice.’ Two poultices are then boiled in hot fruit oils to release their harmonious ingredients when applied to the skin. The heady aroma of the fruit oils, limes, coconut and spices blend to create a warm, delicious scent that penetrates the senses for incredible stress reduction.

The treatment starts with a foot bath using herbs and flower petals. The client is then placed on a draped table with warming blankets. A gentle warm herbal sachet cleanses the body. A very warm poultice is then lightly flicked on the back and neck to stimulate the limbic system, then is placed on a continuous circuit around the body from the soles of the feet, legs, arms, across the back and repeated. This is a two-handed movement that massages, creates a lymphatic stimulation and relaxes tissue. While the treatment is being performed, the lime juice mixes with the fruit oil and, through the linen, causes a body exfoliation. The fruit oils permeate the skin, polishing, softening and smoothing it as the body relaxes.

The Pontai Luaur massages is offered exclusively by IntegraLife Spa, a Cindy Rager Company. Call 437-8386 for information.