“The nervous system holds the key to the body’s incredible potential to heal itself” - Hippocrates
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ and we’re all aware of our nervous system, although in the modern world, the latter is mainly true when we experience excess: those sweaty minutes of burpees, tens of thousands of steps tracked on a Fitbit, those Zumba classes that made you sweat more than burpees ever could or whatever gets your heart racing.
But how often do we practice prevention? Yes, fitness it important and I am by no means suggesting massage is a substitute. As Hippocrates says, your body will heal itself, but you are not invincible (if you don’t believe me, wait until you’re over 35). Our bodies need balance and we can achieve it by taking care of ourselves. Expensive clothes last longer not just because they’re made with high quality fabrics and excellent craftmanship but because we want to preserve their preciousness; extending the time we can enjoy wearing them. So, let’s apply some of that discipline to our bodies. We only get one, after all.
Massage has a relaxing effect on the body as touch actives the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system responsible for peace and tranquillity of the mind. Modern life is great at stimulating the sympathetic nervous, keeping us pumped and poised for action - reminding us that at our core we are still animals - and to a certain extent this can feel motivating and fulfilling. However, it can so easily tip out of balance into burnout. Leaving us, at its worst, without any energy for work, household chores or simple daily tasks, let alone self-care. Hippocrates didn’t live in a time with the science and technology of today but he understood the importance of massage, without conducting double blind randomised control trials.
I’ve always thought of massage, specifically holistic massage, as a meditation. I’ve never been able to sit quietly for an hour and I doff my hat to those who can (what is your secret?). I don’t advertise massage as meditative and in the early stages of designing my website, I considered offering “mindful massage” but I get put off by the alliteration, amongst other things. I’m also not one for gimmicks, especially when it comes to health and well-being. However, I do believe there are many ways to view something, and massage could be an opportunity to tune out whatever thoughts are charging through your brain, and breathe: allow your parasympathetic nervous system some room to help your body heal itself. You deserve it. Focus your attention on the sensations of the skin, and breathe. The red tape that grinds your gears will always be there; be thankful for all the bonkers ideas from confident colleagues with no discipline that never materialised because the red tape is there. There’s always a different way to see something.
I always begin and end massaging the back by standing at the side of the table with my palms on the receivers’ back and take a couple of deep breaths. Sometimes our breaths synchronise which is a pleasant connectedness, a unique non-verbal communication I’ve yet to experience elsewhere in my life. During the massage, I can often lose myself in the flow, which feels to me, as the therapist, like a meditation. This doesn’t mean I lose track of time; it means my awareness has shifted to the present moment and I’ve remained there and it’s quite the pleasant place to be! I hope that through the massage therapy you are able to sense this or have already reached that place in your own mind. There is a mind-body connection, any massage therapist would tell you that, so let’s use this to our advantage and show some kindness to ourselves. Prevention and massage have both stood the test of time because their value is based on intrinsic goodness and doesn’t depend on people thinking it’s good in order to be good. Will we still be doing burpees, using Fitbits or going to Zumba classes in 100 years’ time?