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Many of us think of massage as something pampering, an occasional treat or something we book if and when we ever have time to go to a spa. We might understand the physical benefits of manipulating muscles – that it increases blood supply, helps to relieve tightness or soreness, and generally makes us feel relaxed. There is also plenty of scientific evidence that massage has deeper benefits, by changing the body’s immune and endocrine response, and for example, reducing levels of the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol.
Yet not many of us would think to include regular massage in our routines as a way to improve our emotional as well as physical wellbeing. Me neither, until I met Horst Rechelbacher, founder of the natural beauty brand Aveda. It was the mid 90s and at that time, I was living the glossy magazine life, travelling the world on photo shoots and going to fashion shows in New York and Paris. One of those trips was to the Aveda HQ spa to photograph beauty stories and interview Rechelbacher. For some reason, while I was there, he offered me a massage treatment – which turned out to be a profound healing experience.
Rather than obvious pummeling, this was more subtle but no less powerful (in fact more so). First, he used lots of essential oil. He’d asked me smell a selection and pick two – my choices were jasmine and ginger – both things I thought I didn’t like at all. He applied the oils generously to my hair, scalp, face, neck, shoulders, arms and started to gently massage. Although he was just working on those areas, my whole body began to melt and I could feel jump-start like connections, like little electrical charges sparking to my inner organs as if I were being completely re-charged. It was an emotional release too – tears were rolling down my face, but it felt good. I was completely transported and I now realise I had gone into a deep, meditative state. The treatment lasted for nearly three hours, although it seemed like 10-15 minutes to me. Afterwards, I felt like I had been re-calibrated on a cellular level.
The experience was so profound, I went on to change my life, swapping late nights for early morning yoga and meditation sessions, becoming more conscious of what I was eating (Rechelbacher was championing organic food way before it hit the High Street) as well as researching the mind/body connection. This has led to me study Reiki and energy healing practices, as well as training to teach yoga. Along the way, I’ve met some incredible body therapists and have experienced many other amazing treatments since that initial transformational one. Each time I discover more about myself, noticing where I hold tension, and what emotions come up.
Now that I’ve had these experiences, I totally understand what’s truly meant by the ‘mind/body’ connection, but I think the late US Neuropharmacologist, Candace Pert puts it brilliantly in her best selling book, Molecules of Emotion when she writes ‘A feeling sparked in our mind or body will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. This means emotional memory is stored in the body not just or even primarily in the brain………..Your body is your subconscious mind. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in your body.’
It certainly makes sense of why we can have such shifts from a massage. Many forward thinking practitioners I meet now are incorporating mind techniques into their treatments, for example Katie Light whose Light Technique thelighttechnique.com uses visualisation and NLP alongside traditional massage moves to help her clients deal with emotional problems such as grief and anxiety as well as physical symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping and hormonal imbalance. It seems we’re looking for deeper treatments to help us cope with life’s ups and downs as well as our speeded up 24/7 culture.
And while this is all incentive to book regular massage treatments, it’s also good to know that it doesn’t always have to be anything fancy or too technical either. In fact, in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system, it’s recommended that we practice Abhyanga, daily self-massage with oil. It’s believed to calm the nerves, oil the joints, tone the muscles, increase energy in the day and encourage better sleep at night, as well as making the skin look, feel and smell great. Although it may seem a faff, it just takes 10 minutes before you shower or bath (see instructions below). It’s a great ritual to get into, before bed is ideal so you can leave the remnants of oil in your hair. Don’t forget to choose a great quality oil; something you’re drawn to and need. Because of the association with that mega massage, my go-to favourites still include ginger (for its warming qualities) and jasmine (said to have anti-anxiety, anti-depressant properties).
Quick & Easy Self-Massage:
- Pre-heat the oil by standing the bottle in a bowl of hot water, or simply warm in your hands.
- Before showering or bathing, take a generous amount of oil in your palms, gently rub into your hands, and begin. Start at your feet and use fingers to manipulate the toe joints and work your way around the soles with your thumbs in circular movements.
- Use longer strokes to work your way up your legs, gently kneading the buttocks and moving around your belly in a clockwise, circular motion.
- Massage fingers and hands, again working into the joints, then stroke up along the arms towards the chest and heart.
- Finish by working oil into your scalp, hair and face (check that the oil’s suitable – most purer oils will be fine on the face, if you’re unsure, use a specific facial oil). Step into the shower and rinse off excess.