By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Although people have practiced massage in various ways for centuries, it’s increasingly popular in today’s hectic environment due to its ability to stimulate relaxation. Before you visit a massage therapist yourself, it’s wise to understand why a session can be so physically, mentally and emotionally calming.
Massage’s Physical Effects
When people are stressed out or have physical issues such as poor posture, it often translates into muscle tension and “knots”, or trigger points. When a sports massage or other professional massage therapist presses on or strokes these tense areas, they stimulate mechanical and chemical responses that cause the contracted, tense muscle fibers to release. With the tension gone, inflammation decreases, as does pressure on nerves that can cause pain or other symptoms. The massage also stimulates blood and lymph circulation, which removes waste from the tissues while bringing in oxygen and other healing nutrients.
Research is ongoing as to the precise mechanisms involved, but studies also suggest that massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, boosting the production of important hormones, such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. All of these chemicals are associated with feelings of pleasure, affection and peacefulness. At the same time, massage appears to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone connected to sleep disruption, metabolic problems, high blood pressure/cardiovascular disease and more.
The Mind-Body Connection
Medical doctors, mental health professionals and massage therapists in Minneapolis, MN all long have supported the idea that the mind and body are connected–that is, problems with the body can affect you emotionally and cognitively, and conversely, emotional or cognitive difficulties can influence you physically. With this in mind, massage can be relaxing to the body because of psychological elements. For example, your muscles might relax because you perceive yourself as being in a safe place with the therapist, or because you enjoy the emotional feeling of being connected to another person. This isn’t to say that the skill of the therapist is irrelevant, but rather to point out that you might get more out of your massage sessions if you are more self-aware and make a conscious effort to let go of preconceptions, worries, negative self-talk and fears. The more positive you are, the more relaxing your massage might feel.
Massage is relaxing in part because the physical manipulation triggers mechanical and chemical responses that affect not only your muscles, nerves and related tissues, but also your hormones, circulatory system and lymphatic system. Even if these stimulations are minimal, the mind-body connection means that your perception of the session matters. Viewing the massage positively, however subconsciously, can translate into the physical release of tension and feelings of calm.