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Massage is More Than a Great Back Rub

By Charles Hopkins Published 09/20/2007 | Health
Of course it feels great to have your back rubbed, but the art and science of massage is much more than that. Massage is a health care modality that may be relatively new in the western world, but it has been part of the healing and wellness tradition of many eastern cultures for hundreds of years.

Even the names of common massage styles reflect that their heritage is not based in North America but in much older civilizations, such as Sweden, India, China, Thailand, Japan and Hawaii. Of course there are also more modern modes of bodywork that were developed more recently, based on the self-actualization movement with roots in California in the early 1960s.

Regardless of the style of massage being practiced, the benefits derived from the bodywork are quite similar. One of the primary benefits of massage is relaxation and the reduction of the harmful effects of stress on the body. Today's stressful world causes harm both emotionally and physically. Our hectic pace and the problems of dealing with both career and family take an emotional toll. But environmental pollution also puts physical toxins into the body. Fortunately, massage works to help in both of these areas.

The entire massage process relaxes the body, mind and spirit. Not only are sore muscles soothed and aching joints relieved, but also the entire atmosphere of a good massage session is geared toward relaxation. The lights are dimmed. There may be candles burning softly. Often there is relaxing music, sometimes accompanied by nature sounds such as distant birdcalls or the gentle flow of water. All of these elements assist in creating a totally relaxing environment.

On a physical level, massage therapy increases circulation of blood through the muscles, assisting in removing accumulated toxins. One study found that massage could lower the risk of breast cancer in women. It revealed that women who wear tight-fitting underwear are more at risk for cancer because the circulation in their breasts is restricted. But when they massage their breasts on a regular basis, circulation improves and environmental carcinogens can better be removed.

A lesser-known benefit of massage, not necessarily supported by western science, is that it improves the flow of energy throughout the body. It is believed, particularly in the traditional medicines of China and India that energy flows through meridian lines all across the human body. Factors such as stress can restrict the energy flow, but massage helps clear the blockages and allow the energy to move freely again.

For whatever the reason, massage has grown to be a much more important element of modern culture within the past several decades. It should be remembered, however, that not everyone who calls him or her a massage practitioner is licensed or certified as such. Therefore, especially if a prospective massage client is seeking a true healing therapy, it is advisable to find out beforehand what massage training and certification they actually have.