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.
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.