I don’t often talk about the energetic component of massage and bodywork. Not because I don’t believe it’s there but because I prefer to focus on the components that have some evidence of verification (even if it’s merely empirical observation, and not a completely scientific study). Then, even if I can’t educate a client on what IS happening, I can at least share the widely shared hypothesis of the physiological effects of the technique, though in some cases there are multiple widely shared hypotheses.
I recently had an experience with a client that made me think about the energetic aspect of massage and bodywork. It is a widely accepted fact that emotional memories can be bound up in muscles. Here I can point to the physiology of neuropeptides, which are the amino acids that the brain creates and processes as a portion of building and recalling memories. Since neuropeptides are biochemicals, they are just as prone to get caught up in tight muscles that aren’t allowing adequate flow of insterstitial fluid. When the muscle is released, and the fluids can flush old waste from the tissue, the neuropeptide is reintroduced to the system and the brain may again process that emotional memory. But sometimes the emotions that clients process on the table aren’t old memories bound up in the muscles. Sometimes they are emotions in the present.
Call it what you want – personality, vibe, energy, chi, prana, yin and yang, emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, or nonsense – there is an indescribable, intangible power within our individual presences. Sometimes people receive a massage for the nurturance provided by the therapist, and sometimes even for the “energy” of that person.
I was reminded of this while working with a client who is dealing with some highly emotional challenges and changes in her life. She is pursuing massage as a way to relieve stress and to help her unwind enough to tackle life with more mental focus. In our consultation, it became clear that stress was the primary issue to be addressed and we agreed to focus on relaxation. I guided her through a breathing exercise along with a meditation using visualization to relax her muscles, one area at a time. In my experience this can often help my clients achieve a fair amount of muscular release all on its own. Then I invited her to feel free to verbally express whatever she needed to, giving her another tool for releasing her stress.
As we got through the session, she was noticeably more relaxed in her breathing pattern, tone of voice and muscle tone. She seemed energized and ready to tackle life head-on as she stepped out of the room. I facilitated her process of rebalancing her own energy. I offered nurturing and understanding and then gave her permission to be herself. I don’t take too much credit for the relief she experienced. At least, not in terms of my hands-on work. It was a relaxation massage – nothing too technical or deep. It was partly my “energy” that allowed her to relax, which allowed her to balance her own “energy.”
The meditation and visualization technique was a bridge between the “energetic” and the physical components of the massage and that’s something she can do on her own at any time. And it’s something you can do, too. So sometimes take the time to breathe and visualize your muscles getting the opportunity to relax. Do this on a regular basis to lower your stress. And when your stress levels are lower, your health will benefit since anywhere from 75%-95% of illness are stress related.
Whether you prefer to call it an energy balancing technique, a visualization, a meditation, or just a relaxation technique, the benefits will remain, so take the time to breathe, calm and relax.