Derived from the Arabic word "mass" meaning "to touch," or the Greek "massein," to knead, the therapeutic touch of massage...
Introducing Massage & Bodywork
by Cathleen McCauley
Quite possibly the oldest form of healing, the act of stroking, pressing, rubbing and kneading to relieve pain, relax, and stimulate the body traces back thousands of years. Derived from the Arabic word “mass” meaning “to touch,” or the Greek “massein,” to knead, the therapeutic touch of massage has been received and enjoyed by people of all cultures found in every corner of the earth for ages and ages.
Born from such diversity, it's no surprise that healing massage practices span a wide variety of approaches. Described as hands-on manipulation of muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and in some cases organs and body systems, more than 150 different modalities or types of massage exist, each focused on enhancing health or overall well being.
Healing massages call upon a practitioner or massage therapist to use unique movements and strokes to work into your body’s tissues to produce a desired effect. A Swedish massage is typically given using lighter strokes to energize and relax the body, while deep tissue work first softens the top layer of muscles so the deeper areas can be accessed to release muscular pain. Based on the theory that your body is made up on energy lines, Thai massage helps to realign your energy through stretching and pressure, while energy flow balancing gently focuses on the chakra system leaving you feel peaceful and at home in your body. These are just a handful of some of the healing massage modalities offered.
The benefits of healing massages are nearly as plentiful as the types of massages you can receive. Healing through massage therapy has been proven to help manage pain, increase flexibility and mobility, improve circulation, increase lymphatic flow, stimulate immune system activity, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote an overall sense of relaxation. Healing massages can also be used to treat injuries, help people deal with chronic pain, find relief from menstrual cramps, correct bad posture, and live more fully with certain diseases.
Physical relief is not the only benefit of healing through massage. Because we are so much more than just our physical bodies, it is only natural that massage can also have a profound mental, emotional and spiritual effect. Depending on the type of massage as well as each person’s intention during the session, the act of touch can be a deeply powerful and healing exchange. A healing massage provides the recipient with a safe place to call forth and let go of deeply-seated feelings, memories or thoughts. It’s not uncommon for people to laugh, cry or feel other emotions when receiving a massage.
People from all walks of life and in every age group find that receiving healing massages can help them feel better and continue to live their lives in fulfilling, productive ways. A busy executive wants a relaxing respite from her stressful job so she visits a spa once a month to receive a massage. A full-time father injured himself in a car accident and now has a difficult time throwing a ball to his son. He visits a massage therapist on a weekly basis to help him regain range of motion in his shoulder. An all-star athlete energizes her muscles and mentally prepares for her upcoming competition by receiving a massage the day of the event. An elderly woman spends her final days in hospice with a massage therapist gently touching her head, feet and hands. The needs of each individual are honored in a massage session so that each time you receive work it’s uniquely tailored to you.
While no two massages are ever the same, receiving a healing massage usually follows a certain flow from the time you walk into the session until the end. First the therapist usually asks you questions about why you are getting a massage. He or she may ask you about your current physical condition, medical history, lifestyle and stress level, and experiences with specific areas of pain. Sometimes you may leave your clothes on for a session. If undressing is necessary, you will be given a private place to disrobe. You only have to undress to your level of comfort; a sheet, towel or gown is used for draping. The therapist undrapes only the part of the body being massaged so that modesty is respected at all times. You are asked to focus on your breath and let yourself sink into giver’s hands.
Both a healing art and science, massage truly provides an occasion to improve mind, body and spiritual health. By letting go and giving another person permission to touch your body in a healing and respectful manner, you may find it easier, once you are off the massage table, to fully be attuned to life around you. You do not fight your body’s pain. Your mind is relaxed and your body is at ease; you achieve healing through massage. You are in the healthful flow of life.
About the Author
Cathleen McCauley is completing her studies in clinical massage therapy at the Soma Institute in Chicago. Through her work, she intends to help people become more aware of how to integrate mind, body and spirit.