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Benefits of Massage Therapy: Relaxation of Mind and Body

January 10, 2012

In my last post I talked about how massage therapy can alleviate stress and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and other harmful side effects related to stress. This week, I would like to talk about the benefits of massage therapy in helping us relax our mind and body.

In normal situations, the cells in our body obtain energy from metabolic reactions in order to carry out their vital processes such as growth, renewal or reparation. However, in situations of stress or anxiety, for example, a traffic jam, an important presentation at work, unforeseen circumstances, etc., our body produces a hormone called cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, an excess of which causes headaches, dizziness, anxiety, digestion problems, and a number of other health related problems. As per my last post, massage therapy reduces the level of cortisol and hence its negative effects in our body, thereby allowing us to effectively deal with situations of anxiety.  This encourages our body to enter into a more relaxed state and therefore allowing us to be more calm and rejuvenated, an effect that lingers long after the massage is over, reducing tension and uplifting our mood.

Spas offer a variety of massage techniques designed for relaxation. These include, for example, the Swedish massage, a massage that eases tired and aching muscles and encourages blood and lymphatic circulation. The Swedish massage can help with specific physical problems such as muscle tension and is a great mental and emotional stress reliever, leaving you relaxed and renewed. The hot stone massage is another massage that encourages relaxation drawing upon the healing power of nature through river and basalt stones that retain heat to warm and relax the muscles. Another well-known therapy that is incorporated into massage therapy is “aromatherapy” that uses essential oils to enhance psychological and physical well-being, and depending on the essential oil, induces relaxation.

Over a year ago, a team of researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles studied a sample fifty-three healthy people; twenty-nine of them received Swedish massages and twenty four received gentler, light touch therapies.  Studies showed that the group who had received Swedish massages had experienced a significant decrease in cortisol levels in both their blood and saliva after their first massage, and the group who had received the lighter massages experienced increases in the level of oxytocin, the “love hormone”, and larger decreases in ACTH (the Adrenocorticotropic hormone), which stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands.

In 2010, a study conducted by the University of Miami School of Medicine measured cortisol levels in massage therapy patients. After several weeks of receiving massage sessions, patients’ cortisol levels decreased by an average of about one-third. In addition to keeping cortisol levels under control, it was noticed that multiple massage sessions also helped reduce stress through the increase in production of Dopamine and Serotonin, the same “feel good and happy” hormones released when we socialise or participate in an activity we enjoy.

As can be seen, these investigations show that massage therapy, through activating blood and lymphatic circulation and stimulating internal tissues, promotes relaxation by reducing stress levels and stimulating the body’s natural ability to heal and relax. Once we feel relaxed, we automatically develop a positive attitude towards certain challenging situations and gain better control of day-to-day pressures. Regular massage therapy also creates awareness of our mind-body connection, enhances a sense of harmony and increases energy flow at all levels. On top of that, we will also experience a noticeable difference in our skin’s texture and tone.

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