The Human Touch
The Human Touch
The development of massage
History shows that although the early Egyptians made references to the benefits of massage, the Chinese were among the first to recognise its healing value at around 3000 BC. Roman and Greek philosophers and physicians prescribed it both for its restorative powers after battle and for general preservation of the body and mind. Although the Romans believed in its curative powers, the art of massage also became part of a daily ritual for relaxation. After bathing, oils would be used to anoint the body from head to toe, followed by a luxurious massage.
Herbalists throughout history have used massage to heal body and soul, both by applying balms and by laying their own hands on the afflicted to expel evil spirits and clear the mind. It wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries though, that massage became popular throughout Europe, thanks to the work of Per Henrik Ling (1776 1839). Ling was a Swede who travelled to China and returned with a detailed insight into their massage techniques. From this he developed his own system of massage based on a variety of movements involving pressure, friction, vibration and rotation.
This wealth of practical knowledge soon spread and medical and non-medical professions worldwide began exploring the benefits of massage. This eventually established the basis of massage today, which in many ways remains much the same now as those early Swedish techniques.
Effects of massage
Massage can stimulate and relax the body and the mind. The skin, blood and lymphatic systems are stimulated, which boosts circulation, aids cellular renewal and removes toxic wastes. As tense muscles relax, stiff joints loosen and nerves are soothed and all-over feeling of relaxation and well-being comes about.
The nervous system
The nervous system is a highly complex network which relays messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The part of the nervous system which regulates many physiological functions leaves the brain at the base of the skull and runs down the spinal cord, protected by the spine’s bony vertebrae. Millions of nerve endings run throughout the body, controlling much of the way it functions. Depending on the depth of the massage movements used, the nerve endings can be stimulated or soothed.
With massage comes an increase in blood circulation. This helps the exfoliation of superficial dead skin cells, tones the skin and encourages its renewal process. Massage helps maintain the collagen fibres, which give skin its elasticity and strength and keep wrinkles at bay. The activity of the sweat and sebaceous glands, which lubricate and moisturise the skin, is regulated.
With the increase in blood flow, the blood’s vital nutrients circulate more efficiently. Massage is popular with sportsmen and women because it can improve muscle tone, restore mobility and ensure the elimination of waste products after exercise. With regular massage, strains and sprains heal more rapidly, while calf cramps and stiff muscles can become a thing of the past. Massage before an exercise session will help loosen and warm up the muscles and afterwards it will ease sore, aching limbs.
Circulation and lymphatic systems
By dilating the blood vessels, massage increases the blood circulation. A good circulatory system means that an efficient supply of the blood’s constituents, including oxygen and nutrients, reaches the billions of individual cells. This is vital for the healthy functioning of the whole body, from the muscles to internal organs such as the kidneys and liver.
At the same time, the increase in blood circulation helps accelerate the lymphatic system, which absorbs and eliminates waste substances. Unlike the blood circulation, which has the heart to pump it round, the lymphatic system has no pump of its own and is dependent on muscular action for its efficiency. Massage is an important means of speeding up the flow of the lymph, encouraging a more effective filtering and elimination of waste throughout the body. An efficient lymphatic system provides the body with a strong immune system to fight infections and disease.
Massage mobilises the digestive system so that the processes of assimilation and elimination are improved, helping problems like constipation and flatulence. The digestive system is quick to respond to stress, and the reduction in anxiety and tension which comes with regular massage has a regulating effect on the digestion.
Along with basic massage we are now experiencing a revival of interest in many of the ancient arts which place such great importance on touch. These include aromatherapy, reflexology, shiatsu, Traditional Thai and Indian Head massage to name a few - all distinctive natural therapies which have a specific role to play in ‘alternative’ health care.