It’s all in your head - seriously
Ever try to walk, drive, or multitask right after having a great massage? Most people find tasks that require body/mind coordination difficult in the period that follows a massage. In addition to being relaxed, most people report feeling a “high” or slight euphoric feeling. A massage high.– an extreme sense of well being, relaxation, and pleasure is very often the result of having a good or great massage experience.
So why does massage feel so darn good? What is it about the physical action of touch in massage that triggers these feel good messages in the brain ? The secret lies in the brain.
Douglas Nelson, a neuromuscular therapist and founder of Precision Neuromuscular Therapy Seminars says this about the science behind the mind/massage/body connection:
“For many decades, the prevailing wisdom was that emotions are experienced in the mind and, as a result, those powerful emotions then affect our body. For example, when someone offends us, we have the emotional experience of anger. Shortly thereafter, we experience physical symptoms of anger, such as increased muscle tension, constricted breathing, and an increased heart rate. On the other hand, powerful positive emotions like joy and happiness also have corresponding physical effects. Our emotions and thoughts have physical consequences. As it turns out, however, the new scientific understanding reveals that these mind-body experiences are at least bi-directional, if not completely the other way around. The emerging science is providing some really good evidence that the physical sensation can lead to the emotion, instead of only the emotion manifesting as a physical experience. Your mind is always trying to make sense of what the body experiences. The brain needs a reason for what it experiences; we interpret meaning so we know how to respond appropriately. As an example, let’s imagine you have an increased respiration and pulse rate. Are you excited or are you fearful? When you think about it, the physical experiences of excitement and fear are almost identical. The mind must decide which emotion it is based on the context of the experience. The experience of physical ease is then interpreted by the brain as being a sign of emotional ease. Relaxation of the body is also relaxation of the mind, as evidenced by the fact that the same class of drugs (benzodiazepines) given as muscle relaxants is also used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Furthermore, when you return to work with that emotional framework, it changes what you notice around you as well. Little annoyances don’t seem as disturbing. Since attention is selective, your peaceful and positive emotional state predisposes you to notice lots of little blessings that you previously might have overlooked. This process becomes very self-reinforcing.”
The brain/body connection
In addition to the brain synthesizing experience into physical reactions (and visa-versa), the brain also releases hormones that create physical responses to both stress and relaxation. According to the MAYO clinic, “When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.”
Conversely, studies have shown that relaxing situations and activities such as massage stimulate the “feel good” hormones of Oxytocin, while reducing the “stress enhancing” hormone adrenocorticotropin, promoting a feeling of well being, relaxation and pleasure.
Why Interrupting stress hormone cycles is important
According to MAYO clinic, interrupting the body’s stress responses could save your life.
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.
But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. And everyday stressors include commute driving, work related stress, bad diet and lack of exercise.
It is a paradox of modern living that the "fight or flight" stresses of daily life like being eaten by a tiger are gone, yet we are living more stressed than ever due to the abundance of modern replacements of stress triggers, mail, bills, cell phones, email, over scheduling, etc.
Not only are there more stressors, but they are now more often "always on" and were not designed to be!
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
You feel great leaving your massage therapists studio. You want to keep this feeling for as long as possible, realizing the stresses of life will creep back in soon. How can you reap the most benefit from your massage sessions? Practice these “self care” and the benefits of your last massage will last a little longer:
Don't get right back on your phone
Some of my first time clients, after having the most wonderful massage experience jump off the table and get right back on their phones. I try, nicely, to discourage that activity because it starts to immediately undo the positive effects of the massage. Take time to absorb the experience, notice how you feel, turn on some music, let it soak in....then gradually return to your routine.
Mindfulness - be in the present moment
Many of these suggestions are another way of talking about mindfulness, and being in the present moment. Use the time both on the massage and immediately thereafter to simply "be" Don't be thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, or in an hour, or what you did yesterday. Just be.....listen to your own body, appreciate the moment you are in.
Continue to relax your mind and body
If at all possible, don’t jump right into your routine. If you have to drive, maybe pu on some relaxing or feel good music. Or, if you can, read a book, take a hot bath, or do something that promotes and extends the body’s relaxation responses and doesn’t trigger counterproductive stress responses.
Book another appointment before you leave
Making massage a routine part of your wellness regimen is one of the best things you can do. One of the easiest ways to do that is to re-book before you leave. And often there is a financial benefit, as many massage therapists offer a discount for clients who re-book before they leave, I do and clients appreciate it.
In summary, the massage high is a real phenomenon. It is a natural biological function. Enjoy it for as long as you can. And to take a line from shampoo bottles "wash, rinse, repeat", I would say "massage, savor, repeat".
I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.