In my practice as a massage therapist I often hear my clients say: “It’s so nice to treat myself to a massage.”, “Massage is a nice treat for me.” and “I’ve been so busy, I decided to reward myself.” This can be somehow frustrating. As although massage is of itself an amazing experience and certainly feels like a treat or a reward, for most of us massage is not something we need to earn or deserve, it is absolute necessity for maintaining health and well being.
Many people still perceive massage as something that rich housewives do to pass the time or last ditch effort to get rid off the growing pain in the …(you fill in the blank). The rich housewives might be onto something though, because once you start feeling the pain, you have already let it go too far. Let me explain.
Human bodies have not evolved yet to cope with the changes that occurred in the last 100 years in our lifestyles and environment. Our bodies are not meant to sit at a desk 8 hours straight without moving with a short break half way through, if we are lucky. Our bodies are not meant to then be squeezed on the public transport or drive in traffic for hours. They are not meant to follow it up with heavy dinner (nor alcohol) and sit some more on the sofa before going to lie on a soft bed often without appropriate support for their backs and necks. Neither did they evolve to cope with the amount of information, stress and pollution we are exposed to nowadays.
Diet heavy in sugars, wheat, animal products and additives, lacking fresh fruit and vegetables and adding something deep fried for good measure is negatively affecting our metabolism, our digestive, circulatory and immune systems, putting lots of pressure on our bodies.
Lack of exercise (walking is exercise too), especially stretching exercises like yoga, cause weakening of our core muscles (those that supposed to hold us up without causing back ache), poor circulation and slow lymphatic movement. You can easily google the benefits of exercise and healthy diet or even better try it out yourself, don’t just take my word for it. Even small adjustments to diet (more greens) and light exercise (gentle stretching and walking) can make a lot of difference to your health and general well being. Our bodies are meant to move and run on the right fuel. Even your car’s battery will be flat if you don’t drive it for long enough and you will not get far if you fill the petrol tank with milk. You might need to take time to figure out if your body is running on ‘petrol’ or ‘diesel’ so to speak. Everybody is different.
Diet and exercise is something we have an influence on to lesser or greater degree. We can make choices about what to have for lunch and to take the stairs instead of the lift. Stress, however, is mostly out of our control.
Stress, is now often described as the number one killer in modern society. This can be misleading. Stress itself doesn’t usually cause direct death, unless it comes in a form of major shock and you already have a weakened body. It’s what it does to the body’s systems long term when not managed that is the problem. How can we manage stress? Well, you can either remove yourself from the stressful situation/environment (impossible these days, unless you move into a temple in deep Himalayas) or you can counteract the effects stress has on your body (now, here I can help). So what are these effects that stress has on your bodies? There are many, but I will name only the most important ones (it’s an article, not a book).
When you are in a stressful situation, that you cannot fight or run away from, like a looming deadline at work, you feel an emotion and think a thought of fear (Oh no, I am not going to make it on time!), the brain registers the emotion first and responds to it immediately as it would if you were scared of a tiger. The brain gives an order to release the stress hormones. These are messengers that tell the body to prepare for fight or flight situation by directing the blood flow away from your head into the limbs and to shut down your digestive and reproductive systems, which you certainly don’t need when running away from a tiger (or fighting it, if you are brave enough). Then the brain assess the thought, reaches into its memory and finds that last time you missed the deadline your boss shouted at you and threatened to take your bonuses away. You perceived that as an existential threat and the brain put a “danger” sticker on that memory. Now when you are approaching another deadline, the danger sticker is flagged up and flashing red. Your brain puts your body into an emergency mode until the situation is resolved (the deadline reached). This could be days, even weeks. All this time your digestive system is running on minimum power and therefore not absorbing many of the nutrients that you do manage to get in; while your blood is racing around your body like a Formula 1, not really reaching your head though as the flow is still focused on the limbs. Lack of oxygen makes it hard to focus and your sleep is likely disturbed. Your legs are probably feeling pretty blocked and heavy by now. Your muscles are tense, especially the shoulders and neck, as the body, when under stress, puts itself automatically in a defensive position to protect its vitals from attack. As soon as you start moving – running away or towards the threat, the tension slowly releases and finishes in complete relaxation after a shock shake off, which happens when you get to safety. As you sit at your desk, not moving for hours on end beyond tapping onto the keyboard or drinking a coffee, your muscles lock into position, which can be a pretty uncomfortable one if you are not watching your posture. The constant tension in your muscles prevents effective blood circulation and so all the minerals that are sent to your muscles to help them fight or run, don’t get used and get stuck instead. There is not enough blood flow to flush them away, so crystal deposits build up in the fibres irritating the fibres around them, causing inflammations. The constant tension also causes loss of elasticity in the muscle and tendons, making them more prone to injuries. Poor circulation can also be behind painful cramps. If you do not address these tensions ( by exercising, massage or both), they can eventually build up to such an extent that you might end up with chronic inflammatory conditions (frozen shoulder, RSI, tennis elbow etc), uncomfortable nodules in the muscles, trapped nerves (sciatica etc), spinal misalignment, to name just a few. The longer you are building up these tensions, the longer they take to break down.
We are very good at ignoring our bodies’ signals to tell us something is not right. It starts by gentle whispers – little niggling irritations. We ignore it. So it gets louder – a bit of pain or ache. We still ignore it or take a painkiller. Now it screams – shooting sharp pain that takes our breath away. We get a little worried, but most of us just take stronger pain killer and hope that’s the end of it. Our bodies have no choice now, they stop us in our tracks – you are not going anywhere, you are not moving until you pay attention and resolve the problem.
Now, what if I told you there is an effective way of maintaining your body in such condition that you rarely get even that whisper and definitely no pain unless you overdo it with the exercise part. You probably guessed it already. Yep. Exercise, diet and massage. That’s the best prevention of stress related tensions that most of us carry around due to our busy lifestyles.
How often you need a massage and what length should your treatment be depends on many variables and so it is best to speak to a therapist, who can assess your individual situation and recommend a tailored treatment plan just for you.
So when you think you cannot afford to get a massage, think again. You cannot afford not to.
Please note that this article is based on my understanding of what I had learned about the body, it’s physiology and anatomy, my own experience as well as observation of the hundreds of clients I had the honour to work with. Do not accept anything in this article as the holy truth, test it and question it. Find out for yourself how effective massage, exercise and reasonable diet can be in combating stress and its effects on our well being.
If you’d like to learn how to deal with the stress itself more effectively, I recommend you have a look at mindfulness approach to life and perhaps meditation. But more about that next time.
Article written by Kristina Mendez Matejova - London
KMM Serenity Therapies founded by Kristina Mendez Matejova and based in Highgate Holistic clinic, 253 Archway Road, Highgate, London, UK brings together Holistic Massage, Deep tissue, Hot stones and Aromatherapy into a synergy of a treatment to suit client's indivual needs, which aims to fight the negative effects of stress by... [read more]