As I step into the dimly lit room, my mind and body respond almost immediately to the smell of coconut oil and soft music. The carefully selected décor, meant to invoke relaxation, pleases my eyes. I make a shift whenever I walk into this healing space, and all my cares and worries are paused while I focus on my client and their body. As I apply oil and deliver my first massage strokes, I take some deep breathes and encourage my new client to do the same. I begin to warm up the tissues, and move the skin and fascia in a way that will help change the form of the muscle from a cold, stiff, gel like consistency, to one that is more warm and liquid. I am tuning into this new client’s body, noticing any areas that are especially resistant and making mental notes of where to come back and do specialized work.
I notice that her muscles are brick like and her shoulders hunched up, nearly reaching her ears. My initial lighter strokes are met with resistance in the tissues. I encourage her to breathe deeply and she asks “Can you go deeper?” I sense impatience from her. I explain to her that when she starts to relax, her muscles will soften and I will go deeper. I tell her that the muscles and fascia are thixotropic in nature, and that going in too deep before they are ready can cause injury and will not help her relax any quicker. In fact, going in too deep before the muscles are ready actually causes the body to tense up. I can feel that she is disappointed and does not believe me. However, I can do no more than ask her to take a few deep breathes and continue to coax her body into a relaxed state. She does eventually relax, 45 minutes or so into the session. The tissues soften and I am able to go deeper, really starting to address her problem areas, however I am left with little time to get the best results. The shift that occurs is one that starts in her brain and cannot be produced by my hands alone.
This is a common scenario. We live in a world where most things we want are attainable with a swipe or click. Relaxation is not likely to ever be something that can be attained in this manner. Yes… there are an abundance of medications used to induce a state of relaxation quickly. However, many of us would rather do without the many negative side effects of those medications and learn to relax naturally. To relax is an art and science that needs to be practiced and developed. It should be an important part of our regular wellness/self-care routine.
Science is making more and more discoveries about how important relaxation is to our overall health and wellness. Research is showing that as our bodies spend more time with an activated sympathetic nervous system (also known as fight or flight), the stress hormones that are flooded into the body are damaging our bodies. Regular activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest, balances out the negative effects.
When your Sympathetic Nervous (fight or flight) system is activated your body responds as follows:
Your heart rate increases
The bronchial tubes in your lungs dilate
Your pupils dilate
Your muscles contract
Your saliva production is reduced
Your stomach stops many of the functions of digestion
More glycogen is converted to glucose
When your Parasympathetic System (rest and digest) is activated your body responds as follows:
Your saliva is increased
Digestive enzymes are released
Your heart rate drops
The bronchial tubes in your lungs constrict
Your muscles relax
The pupils in your eyes constrict
Your urinary output increases
Regular massage is great way to exercise and activate your parasympathetic system. While it would be wonderful to receive a massage daily, that is just not a practical option for most of us. I encourage my clients to explore activities that will help them relax daily. Adding a relaxation practice to your daily routine will help you to get the most benefits from your massage session. Some of my favorite practices are:
Mindful Meditation, Guided Meditations, Yoga Nidra
Listening to soothing music
Yin Yoga Class
Self-Massage with warm oil
Walking in nature
As you are setting your 2017 health goals, I encourage you to prioritize relaxation right up there with exercising and eating more nutritiously. Make a goal of carving out at least 15 to 30 minutes per day for one of these activities. Explore different activities that activate your parasympathetic nervous system. When you do come in for your regular massage session you will notice a heightened state of relaxation and better results loosening up those tight muscles. I promise the benefits to your body, mind, and spirit will make it worth it!
In Peace & Health,
Nikki Terry, LMBT