Once thought to be an indulgence only reserved for the privileged, massage has become more common for the average person thanks to research showing its many health benefits. Now treated as a part of a comprehensive integrated medicine plan, massage is commonly used to help treat a variety of issues, including:
- Muscle pain and tension
- Poor circulation
- High blood pressure and elevated heart rate
- Poor immune function
- Digestive issues
- Sports issues
Because massage has become so linked to stress reduction (don’t we all crave a massage when we’re overwhelmed?) this post will be focused on how massage actually helps to reduce stress beyond the physical act of slowing down and relaxing.
During a massage, your heart rate naturally slows down. You breathe, you rest, and you enter into a slightly meditative state that allows you to simply focus on your body and your breath. As your heart rate slows, your body temperature rises, which helps the muscles relax. These physical responses to massage provide the initial sense of relaxation.
As you physically relax, the friction against your skin stimulates circulation, which delivers more blood to your muscles. This circulation boost helps remove waste from the muscles, which relieves tension and gives you the “melting” feeling that massage is most known for.
Now that your heart rate has slowed, your muscles are being relieved of excess waste, and your physical tension is dissolving, your brain releases endorphins that calm the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is your body’s communication relay between the brain and the rest of your body.
The endorphins released during massage essentially mean that your peripheral nervous system sends actual messages of calmness, peace, and relaxation to the rest of your body. Simultaneously, stress hormones are decreased, and you’re left with the lovely sense of peace that you’re looking for.
Massage is so much more than an indulgence; it’s an excellent way to reset your body and mind on a physical and emotional level. Whether you visit a spa for a professional massage, or a loved one welcomes you home with a 20-minute massage oil neck rub, the stress-reducing benefits of massage should be an important part of your self-care routine.