Measuring the benefits of massage can be difficult.
There are the obvious benefits, which have been documented in scientific studies and demonstrate that massage can be great for reducing stress, boosting immunity, combating stress, mitigating depression and lowering blood pressure.
But, then there are the less obvious but equally important ways massage benefits us: it stimulates the central nervous system and improves the mind-body connection.
As we continue to learn more and more about massage and its effect on humans, we will undoubtedly see more and more research and studies and we’ll likely learn more about the great things massage does for our bodies.
But do we really need research studies that corroborate what the ancient Egyptians and Chinese already knew, as well as Native Americans and Indians from the Asian subcontinent and other classic civilizations?
Don’t we intuitively know all these benefits? Do we really need a lab researcher doing a study proving that sitting in close contact with a partner for 10 minutes lowers blood pressure, as recent article in Oprah Magazine mentioned?
Massage Benefit Bonus: Mind-Body Connection
One major massage benefit the article did not mention is the stimulation of mind-body unity. Perhaps it’s difficult to scientifically measure what the gerontologist and author Ken Dychtwald called “the miraculous play of psyche and spirit within the totality we are,” in the foreword of the seminal bodyworker’s bible, "Job’s Body" by Deane Juhan, a book that Utne Reader said should be “required reading for every bodyworker.”
Dychtwald summarizes the themes of Juhan’s opus, divulging in the very beginning of the book quite eloquently what is perhaps one of massage’s greatest benefits.
“Without adequate tactile input touch, the human organism will die. Touch is one of the principal elements necessary for the successful development and functional organization of the central nervous system, and is as vital to our existence as food, water and breath.”
Different Types of Massage for Different Benefits
Good bodyworkers ask their clients before a session what outcomes or benefits the client would like to experience as a result of the session.
Perhaps one client is a cyclist and most often enjoys deep tissue massage for the benefit of muscle tension relief, but this week is majorly stressed out. The in-laws are in town.
The bodyworker would be wise to at least ask if the client would want to receive a more gentle form of bodywork to relieve stress and quiet the mind.
If the intake form (which every bodyworker should have a client fill out before the first session) lists anti-depressant medication, the bodyworker would likewise want to provide a less-rigorous, deep-tissue massage, unless specifically asked for.
If your bodyworker doesn’t ask you about your desired outcome (more relaxed, less tense, etc.), tell the bodyworker before the session starts how you would like to feel after the massage.
Intrinsic Benefits of Massage too Complex for Scientific Measurement?
Science can measure some of the physiological processes that occur after getting a massage such as increased serotonin, one of the brain’s all-natural depression fighters.
But what it has yet to measure is the mental development that may occur as a result of massage and how massage affects, once again quoting Dychtwald, the “intellectual and emotional contents of the body’s organs.”
What Dychtwald means is that one major massage benefit is that bodywork may fundamentally change who we are as human beings.
Judd Handler is a lifestyle coach and certified massage therapist in Encinitas, CA, specializing in Thai Massage Therapy, a combo of assisted-yoga stretching and bodywork. He can be reached at CoachJudd@gmail.com.