I grew up thinking that people who enjoyed massage were wealthy, had a lot of spare time on their hands and generally liked to pamper themselves. Obviously, this was a completely wrong assumption and why we are taught at an early age not to judge people! As I trained as a massage therapist, I soon discovered the many wellbeing benefits offered by holistic treatments.
One of the benefits of massage that excites me the most is the effect on the body’s nervous system. Now I know this will not sound very exciting to most people, but as I’m really passionate about promoting physical and mental wellbeing, this is something that I can easily do when massaging someone using the appropriate techniques in relation to their current health and needs.
Here is a brief overview of how the simple power of touch can help someone de-stress, feel calm and quite often, fall asleep on the massage couch!
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system is the communication and control hub of the body. It is made of nerve cells that send messages and instructions from the brain to all parts of the body, and vice versa. It comprises of the following:
The PNS features two systems of its own but I’ll only touch on the most important one – the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls involuntary bodily functions that occur without us having to think about them – the beating of your heart, breathing, digestion, etc. It also has its own sub-divisions that generate opposite outcomes.
Now, in case this has all been a bit biology-heavy so far, I’ll introduce a term that most people are familiar with – the fight or flight response. No doubt you’ll have heard of it before but if you haven’t, you have certainly experienced it many times over. Here is an overview of how the two sub-divisions of the ANS work in relation to this physiological response.
1. Sympathetic system – get ready to rumble or do a runner.
This system takes over when the body prepares for a threatening or stressful situation, whether it’s a physical outburst (fight) or retreat (flight). By doing so the body produces stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which cause the following:
2. Parasympathetic system – rest and digest.
The parasympathetic system does the complete opposite, balancing the nervous system by relaxing the body and maintaining bodily functions while it is at rest. When the
parasympathetic system is in control it’s responsible for:
Where does massage fit into all of this?
If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what all these systems have to do with massage. Well, we would like our parasympathetic system to be functioning the majority of the time, but due to the increasing number of stresses in day-to-day life (work, family, financial, etc.), sometimes our sympathetic system kicks in and remains ‘switched on’ for longer than we’d like. We can’t simply tell ourselves to calm down, but we can incorporate lifestyle choices to help restore balance to our nervous system.
In addition to giving you the opportunity to have peaceful and quiet time to yourself, massage stimulates the parasympathetic system, therefore bringing the above benefits to the client during their treatment. It is recommended that anyone booking a massage chooses a treatment that lasts one hour or longer, in order to really benefit from the relaxing effects. It is also beneficial to have an evening massage, as once the parasympathetic system has been engaged, it will promote a better night’s sleep – the most common feedback I receive from clients.
I find it extremely rewarding to be able to help a client’s body completely relax using simple yet effective massage techniques. I even take it as a compliment when a client falls asleep during a treatment, as it signals that their body is responding to the massage and they feel safe and calm enough to do so with me as their therapist.
This is my first ever blog post and I have rewritten it more times than I care to remember, as I’m somewhat of a perfectionist* and can overanalyse things. These characteristics aren’t necessarily a bad thing but they’re not always very helpful. What I was trying to put into words was the reason behind this blog and why I became a massage therapist. In a nutshell, it was to manage my anxiety.
I feel like I have been on a bizarre journey since I came home in 2012 after a year of travelling and it’s led to me finding my own calm sanctuary in massage. Through this blog, I not only want to highlight the benefits of massage but I also want to explore and discover other ways of living a healthy and positive life. I will share more of my own experiences and topics that will be of benefit to other people, who also seek to live a more holistic lifestyle.
A few years ago I became ill and spent a week in hospital. It was quite a distressing experience due to a variety of reasons, all of which could have been avoided. Consequently, I had quite severe anxiety for some time after. When I first started having symptoms of anxiety I didn’t even realise what it was. I thought I was just ‘weird’ and couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did. A month after being discharged from hospital I returned to work but I didn’t feel like me anymore – I was constantly on edge. I could feel my heart pumping in my chest and would regularly check my pulse (which annoyingly I still do to this day), which unsurprisingly would be beating at a fast rate. This in turn made me more anxious and made my heart beat faster. This was the start of a vicious cycle that continued for a long time. I was also overcome with fatigue. I would sit at my desk in the morning and dread the seven-hour wait for 5pm to come round. I felt like I couldn’t inhale enough air and generally felt rather shit. I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and the weeks and months of feeling like this felt like years. I watched the lives of my friends roll on but I felt like my life was on pause.
It took a year for me to regain my strength and energy levels. After feeling the way I did for such a long time I wanted to do something positive, which would not only help other people who had been through a similar experience, but also to help me focus my mind on something else. I’ve learnt that distraction is the key to managing anxious thoughts.
I threw myself into studying massage and qualified as a body and sports massage therapist. The courses were a lot more intense than I had imagined but as I’ve always had an interest in the human body, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about anatomy and physiology. It also helped me to understand better how the body reacts to stress and the physical consequences that can be experienced.
It might sound odd to say, but massaging other people helps me to relax and it’s why I love doing it. The only time I really relax is when I’m focused on helping someone else to unwind and switch off. The smell of essential oils, soft lighting, calming music and the slow, sweeping movements of massage almost send me into a trance-like state.
What started primarily as an activity to help me relax soon turned into a service needed by many people also seeking support with their overall wellbeing. As I started to massage more clients, I was taken aback by the number of people in need of support with their mental wellbeing. I thought my experience following illness was unique and isolating, but in fact stress and anxiety are widespread concerns. I think this is a sad reflection on the world we’re living in, but I do believe that through certain lifestyle choices we can all find ways to manage our challenges.
I’m thankful that I discovered a skill that I enjoy just as much as my clients. I believe I have started an ongoing journey in the discovery and understanding of wellness. There are endless methods and techniques that can help us all look after our physical and emotional wellbeing. I look forward to expanding my knowledge in the years to come and sharing all that I learn through Inner Wellness Massage.
*Perfection doesn’t exist. Having finally realised this, life has been much more enjoyable.
Inner Wellness Massage Blog
Welcome to my wellness blog! This is where I will share all things health and wellbeing. I hope to encourage others to prioritise their own health while I continuously work to better my own.
Disclaimer: the views and experiences shared are my own and information based on health-related topics has been researched. While this blog promotes and encourages a healthy lifestyle, I am not a doctor and the content is not intended as medical advice. Always seek help from a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.