Massage Therapy is effective because touch itself can be therapeutic. The literature from studies on touch repeatedly shows how important it is for us all to receive careful touch.
A most useful tool in the pursuit of healing touch is the ability for the therapist to be fully focused on the receiver; this is known as being present. The healing touch can be therapeutic because it gives the body a chance to heal itself.
The clinical results have shown that people experience less pain, reduced stress, and better quality sleep with routine therapeutic massage. Other massage therapists working with young and old, terminal and non-terminally ill patients also see the same findings I have. So with a variety of massage techniques and therapists, how can massage therapy be so effective for such a broad range of the population?
The simple answer is that all humans have a basic requirement for caring touch. The studies indicate that in touch-deprived infants, stress and wellness are directly correlated to careful and informed touch. Studies on older people yield similar results; caring quality touch is as basic as clean air, good food, and clean water. Without them life withers. Healing touch is a critical tool for the therapeutic massage specialist to master, as it is the basis for manual therapy.
Therapeutic massage is based on the idea that the therapist can remain “present,” or focused only on the person receiving treatment. This focus, or presence, brings concentration and clarity to the quality of touch. My theory is that the action of therapeutic massage is not itself healing but rather that the response the body has to the therapeutic massage helps the body to heal itself.
The largest part of being present is the realization that there are no expectations or projected outcomes for the treatment; it is simply giving the body a chance to reset itself. Being present enhances the quality of touch and is a large part of therapeutic massage because the body has a desire to return to health by recognizing and resetting to how it was originally organized.
By resetting the body to its original organization it is reminded of how it functioned at a time in life when all functions where optimal, for example, in the womb.
I often ask people how they feel after a session and sometimes they report “feeling like a kid again” or “that reminded me of how my dad used to hold me when I was a baby.” It is unusual for these types of images to be brought into conscientiousness, but the body recognizes the sensation and wants to keep it. As a result the body makes adjustments to the system in an attempt to keep the body in a state of optimum health. This is the key to therapeutic massage. It is the adjustment mechanism produced by the body in response to informed touch and presence, which allows the body a chance to heal itself.
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Editor’s note: Gregory Barthell graduated from The New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts with diplomas in both therapeutic massage and polarity therapy. After passing the National Board examination for bodywork, Barthell received his Massage Therapy License from the state of New Mexico. His practice, SunriseTherapeutics, is in downtown Los Alamos. Call 505.661.4835 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.