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(Part 1 of 1 l 2 l 3 )
Massage Therapy: More than a Feeling

by Michael Braunstein


Even if you don't "believe" in such things as chi or life force, you probably believe in blood. If that is the limit of your awareness, then at least realize that blood is a form of energy in that it carries energy through the body as oxygen and nutrients. Rubbing the body increases blood flow. Got it?

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You bump your head. What's the first thing you do? Immediately, your hand goes to it and you rub it. You massage it. It's a natural response to the pain. And say your friend or your child is upset. Isn't it typical to stroke and caress them with your hand? The natural connection we make through touch seems as deep as biological memory. Somehow, we have always relied on touch to soothe and heal. More than that, touch seems to connect us with the energy that is life. As described for thousands of years, there is an energy that flows through the body. When we touch the body, it stimulates the flow of that energy.

Even if you don't "believe" in such things as chi or life force, you probably believe in blood. If that is the limit of your awareness, then at least realize that blood is a form of energy in that it carries energy through the body as oxygen and nutrients. Rubbing the body increases blood flow. Got it? That's the only accommodation we'll give this time around. So you can call it "chi" or you can call it "circulation," depending on whether your mind is capable of subtle levels of awareness or only gross aspects of physiology. Regardless, therapeutic application of touch seems to be involved with stimulating or clearing the pathways for that flow of energy.

Millions of Americans each year go to a massage therapist and never give all of that a thought. All they know is that they feel better afterwards. Good. Thinking isn't all it's cracked up to be, anyway. Feeling better after a massage is good enough reason. And a massage feels good.

Massage as therapy has been written about since at least 2500 B.C. All of the famous physicians from the ancient Chinese and Indian to the classic Hippocrates and Galen have noted and described massage and its healing uses. Wall carvings in Egyptian temples show doctors healing with massage.

In Western culture, what we know as massage is a form of Swedish massage. It began as the skills taught by Per Hendrik Ling known in the 19th century. Swedish massage is mostly long, stroking movements that manipulate the soft tissue and muscles. Up until the late 1970s, it was by far the most common. Its therapeutic values are understood and include improved circulation, both vascular and lymphatic, relief of pain and the reduction of stress. Many people feel that massage therapy can help strengthen the immune system, promote emotional well-being and normalize the entire physiology.

By the 1980s, specialized forms of massage typical of Eastern cultures began to show up in the West. Eastern systems utilize an advanced understanding of the holistic nature of the body. Specialized applications became part of the massage therapist's repertoire. As Western therapists learned more about acupressure, reiki and chakras, their clients benefited from that knowledge.

"There are so many specific (therapies,) it's now more sensible to describe massage therapy as bodywork," said Sandy Aquila, a Licensed Massage Therapist since 1981.

"When the American Massage Therapy Association began in 1979, there were only a couple thousand therapists. Now there are 25,000 or so. If there is something specific you have in mind, you can ask your therapist about it," Aquila said.

Most of us understand what a "back rub" is and that is what we have become accustomed to as massage therapy. Massage still feels great. But now it can be much more. Here are some of the specialties you may find at your massage therapist. After each is a brief description and explanation of what the proponents believe about them.

  • Acupressure - This is a form of pressure point massage that utilizes the same notion as acupuncture, though, of course, without needles. By working on specifically identified points along the body's meridians, acupressure improves the flow of healthy energy or chi. It recognizes the holistic nature of the body and uses the connection that the energy points have with the organs to influence them positively. It dates to thousands of years B.C.

  • Alexander Technique - A specific technique taught by some therapists that emphasizes proper posture and movement. Over several classes, the body is retrained to move with ease and less accumulated stress. It is often applied by athletes and actors who require efficient and stress-less action. People who deal with repetitive actions like typing or cashiering, are said to benefit. Many famous actors have studied the technique. It was developed by an Australian named Frederick Alexander. He taught it until his death in 1955.

  • Aston-Patterning - It is a movement therapy that includes massage as well. It was developed by dancer Judith Aston while searching for an alternative to spinal fusion surgery. She traveled to Esalen in Big Sur, Calif. and worked with Dr. Ida Rolf. Her back improved immediately using the non-invasive Rolfing bodywork. Aston then went on to develop an adjunct to rolfing that utilizes the release of historical patterns in the body that affect the body/mind well-being.

  • Benjamin System of Muscular Therapy - This system involves treatment, exercise and education drawing on the work of many different therapists. Benjamin developed it to address the accumulation of stress from two main sources: emotional and mechanical. The system uses deep massage and re-education of movement.

  • Breema Bodywork - Based on techniques common to the Kurdish culture of Turkey, the concept relies on physical movement, body manipulation and the respect of the connection with nature common to the Kurdish people.

  • CranioSacral Therapy - Developed by a doctor, this uses the gentle manipulation of the body to balance the circulatory system few people think about, the cranio-sacral. The brain and spinal cord are encased in a closed membrane system that contains fluid. It has a "pulse" and a circulation that is vital to health. Part of C-S seeks to improve that circulation. It is sometimes used to address such problems as learning disabilities, ear and nose problems and the relief of back and neck pain.

  • Hakomi Technique - Ms. Aquila describes this as a form of body-centered psychotherapy. Hakomi is a Hopi word from the Native Americans of the Southwestern United States. It means "How do you stand in relation to the different realms?" The Lakota have a word also that says much the same. Developed by Ron Kurtz, Hakomi method utilizes massage and touch to help the client reach a state of connection with the subconscious. This state then allows contact with beliefs, often from childhood, that may be limiting the healthy life the adult wishes to now experience. A quote about Hakomi is that the practitioners work "through the body, not on it." Many bodywork therapies could use that same quote.

  • Hellerwork - This is a specific program of bodywork that consists of 11 sessions of 90 minutes each. Combining deep tissue massage, movement and verbal dialogue, it is a body/mind integration developed by Joseph Heller. Heller studied with Ida Rolf, the developer of rolfing (c.f.) Like all deep tissue massage, it realigns the body and releases tension. Hellerwork adds the retraining of the body so that everyday movements no longer contribute to the accumulation of stress after the sessions are over.

  • Infant Massage - Becoming increasingly popular as we become aware of the "person-ness" of infants, it is usually taught to new mothers as a way of connecting with their newborn. A study at the University of Miami showed that infants receiving 15 minutes of massage a day gained weight 47% faster. Other benefits, both physical and neurological were also demonstrated.

  • Jin Shin - This is a Japanese adaptation of ancient Tibetan techniques of bodywork that combine respect for the meridians of the body and the awareness of emotional energy as well. Culled by Japanese philosopher Jiro Murai in the early 1900s, it found its way here in the late '40s. It is less like massage and more like acupressure but the touch is usually very gentle. The practitioner often uses two hands to provide an "energy conduit" to assist the flow within the recipient. There are sub-schools like jin shin acupressure, jin shin do, and jin shin jyutsu.

  • Neuro Muscular - A number of different sub-categories exist under this heading. A common element in all forms is the focus on facilitating nerve/muscle interaction and the relief of pain. It is a massage and pressure-point technique of various intensities, ranging from gentle to strong.

Be well.

Bodywork Article 1 of: 1 l 2 l 3

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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.

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