Column: It's My Health!
Massage for Health and Bliss
by Gerald Lopez, LLB; Dip.Ayurvedic Medicine
Massage is a form of touch. Caring touch is one of the most basic and profound forms of healing. It reaches into, and fills, all the levels of a person – physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual.
Massage has been used throughout the history of humankind, and is even more relevant today as touch has become increasingly riddled with conflicting moral and emotional messages.
In traditional communities, babies are massaged from birth. This is a vital part of their nourishment and development. When children get older, they in turn massage their parents.
What does massage do?
Medical research is now beginning to show more clearly what massage does. On a physical level, it helps clear the muscles of metabolic wastes, easing pains and aiding recovery. It stimulates blood circulation, bringing nourishment to all parts of the body. Massage stimulates the lymph and immune system.
Massage calms the nervous system, reducing the damaging physical effects of stress, such as impaired digestion, excess blood sugar, impaired immunity, and impaired sexual activity.
Massage normalises heart activity and blood pressure. Massage can play a major part in the prevention and treatment of major stress-related diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and even cancer.
The body is closely interlinked with the mind. As the heart and nervous system are soothed during massage, the brain activity also changes to a relaxed awareness state. This calms down moods like anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief and anger. As we release our attachment to the unhelpful moods and emotions, our mind is released for its helpful functions – clear and holistic thinking, memory, creativity, positive communication, and appreciation of life.
The sense of touch during massage also triggers feelings of self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-love. These are some of the greatest gifts of massage.
How is ayurvedic massage different?
Every tradition has its own form of massage, but I will talk a little more about ayurvedic massage, which has been used for millenia - for maintaining health as well as treating all sorts of disease conditions.
Massage is one of the main treatment tools of ayurveda – in fact, treatment of almost any illness can involve massage.
Ayurvedic massage uses base oils like sesame oil, coconut oil or mustard oil. The oils have different properties for different purposes – for example heating, cooling, nourishing, calming, or stimulating. These natural oils are readily absorbed into the skin. Thus they are often used as vehicles to bring therapeutic herbs into the body, bypassing the digestive system. There are herbal oils for joint pains, for nervous conditions, for skin problems, and much more.
In ayurvedic massage, the type of oil used, and the style of massage, depend not only on the condition of the person, but also on that person's unique constitution, as defined by the doshas - physiological humours - of vata, pitta or kapha (see "The Language of Nature" article on the 3 body types). Thus, every person is massaged in a different way.
Ayurvedic massage is very useful for active people, such as yoga practitioners, dancers and sportspersons. Indian wrestlers and martial artists were regularly massaged; to increase muscle strength and resilience, increase flexibility, and help recovery from fatigue and injuries.
Ayurvedic massage is also used for those who are unable to be active, to offer them some of the benefits derived from physical activity.
The oils used in ayurvedic massage are nourishing for the skin. Quite often, when we have dry skin we are told to use moisturisers. What dry skin needs is not only adequate moisture from drinking good water, but also essential fatty acids for proper formation of skin cells. Oils like sesame contain these essential fatty acids which soak directly into the skin – in fact daily self-massage with sesame or other appropriate oil are part of any ayurvedic health maintenance programme. Regular massage results in glowing, shiny, beautiful skin.
Make massage part of your health programme
The over-stimulating environment of today keeps most of us in constant states of stress. Ayurveda recognises the importance of relaxation, which is the body's way to recover from stress. In ayurvedic massage, the combination of warm oils and soothing strokes bring a person to very deep levels of relaxation. Regular massage helps people to sleep better, work better and stay healthier.
Most importantly, ayurvedic massage is used to pacify the mind and emotions. Ayurveda regards the mind as the source of all physical disease. Thus, ultimately, ayurveda seeks to treat disease by treating the source of the disease at the deepest level. Massage is seen as one of the most effective means to heal a person at the deepest levels of their being.
This, my hand, is blissful,
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