Published in Vol 4 Issue 25 The Art of Healing p24-25 

What if you could carve out some time for yourself? Perhaps an hour that allowed you to unwind and relax. Time that found you solace and harmony. A moment to listen to your body's needs and allow you to nurture yourself. Then maybe a relaxation massage is for you...

The modern world seems to speed onwards, ever faster. Our modern life overflows with schedules and work and chores. We push our bodies to work a little harder, aim a little higher. Few of us truly listen to our bodies anymore. Many of us forget that our bodies live and breathe; surely my body's just here to let me get the job done, the deadline met, the plan organized I can hear you ask? 

And although we might not listen to our bodies, our bodies listen to the world they live in. Your body knows, even if you don't, when it's time to take a break. When you've sat at the desk too long, worried too much or pushed yourself beyond exhaustion. Our body speaks to us in often the only language that we appreciate: Pain. The regular headaches, sore back, tight neck, hot feet, achy arms or tired legs are your body's way of telling you that you need to slow down, to rest and to find some balance in your busy life.

Thankfully many people are returning to the ancient art of massage therapy to deal with the rigours of our modern lives. Massage therapy has been employed since ancient times and continues today as a viable treatment option for stress, soft tissue injuries, muscle spasm, pain management, and rehabilitation. Most people benefit from having one massage about every four weeks. However, what more commonly occurs is that people start having massage treatments, particularly remedial tretaments, when they have a problem such as regular headches, or back pain, or they've sufferd an injury. 

The frequency of massage treatments varies between individuals and is dependent on the lifestyle of the individual, their stress levels and coping mechanisms, and the type of work that they do. We also all go through periods which are more hectic and stressful than other times, and treatments may need to be increased during these periods. General stressors that may have an affect include excessive gardening, moving house, working overtime, long hours of travel, or the loss of a loved one.

Although many people have experienced the benefits of remedial massage when dealing with pain and injury, relaxation massage has its own role to play in the well-being of a client. A relaxation massage is aimed at giving both you and your body a time out. A relaxation massage is not only about the massage techniques employed, but also about the atmosphere of the treatment room. A combination of soft lighting and soothing music helps to induce a feeling of peace and calm. The massage sequence itself is designed to be smooth and flowing. Oil is applied to the skin with long, light pressured strokes before the pattern and flow of the treatment unfolds.

The massage sequence is designed to be smooth and flowing. Oil is applied to the skin with long, lightly pressured strokes. The therapist then combines the five basic techniques or movements of Swedish massage to form the massage sequence given during a relaxation massage. Per Henrik Ling is credited with the development of Swedish massage during the 19th century. Ling developed a system of massage based on the positions and movements from Swedish gymnastics. The five basic Swedish massage techniques are - effleurage, kneading, frictions, petrissage and tapotements.

Effleurage are the long, flowing strokes that are generally used to begin and end a treatment and are incorporated throughtout the massage, partciularly when moving from one body part to another, or when changing techniques. Kneading is the rhythmic squeezing that is used to penetrate more deeply into the soft tissue layer and allows the soft tissue to be warmed and softened.

Frictions can be applied in a variety of directions (circular, longitundinally, cross fibre) and the pressure here can cross the gambit from light to firm. Frictions are generally used on areas where the client will carry more tension, or where the client complains of pain or muscle tightness.

Petrissage is best described as a pecking motion that is most often used on the looser soft tissue such as that found on the upper arms and legs, while tapotements are the rhythmic hitting or slapping that the therapist utilises with varying degrees of fervour. Depending on how the hand is held there are four types of tapotements: cupping (hands are cupped), hacking (the side of the hand is used with the fingers held tightly together), flicking (again the side of the hand is used but the fingers are held loosely) and pummeling (the side of the hand is used with the hand held in a closed fist position).

The massage sequence is not just about the physical movement of these basic techniques but also encompasses the speed they are applied with and the amount of pressure used by the therapist. It is from the combination of speed, pressure and technique that the pattern, rhythm and flow of a relaxation massage develops. Just like the individuality of a massage client, no two therapists will give exactly the same style of relaxation massage. Furthermore, a good therapist will adjust the treatment to the individual on the day. The therapist will choose the technique, speed and pressure that they believe best meets the needs of their client. So the same client may experience a number of different relaxation massages from the one therapist.

To demonstrate this we may have a client present with emotional stress for a relaxation massage. They may have recently lost a loved one and just need some peace and solitude. The massage sequence for this person would be slow and rhythmic with a light amount of pressure. Comparatively, an athlete who requires a relaxation massage prior to a sporting event needs the massage to calm their mind and aid their focus, but also needs the massage to stimulate their muscles to perform. So the massage sequence for the athlete would use the same techniques as for the grieving client, but the techniques would be appled with a firmer pressure and with more speed and a faster rhythm. This is how a good therapist tailors their skill set to meet the needs of the client.

Ultimately however, relaxation massage is best known for its ability to give the client time out and improve their psychological well-being by connecting mind and body. The client may experience changes to their mood and excitement levels, a feeling of wellbeing, and an improved awareness of the total being. The psychological benefits of a relaxation massage are subjective and can vary greatly between clients.

Physiological changes occur in the body due to the improvement of the circulation and the release of neurotransmitters and hormones into the blood stream. Studies have shown that massage reduces the levels of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These stress hormones can cause disease and impair the immune system when they are present in high levels. Further, physiological benefits of massage include the breaking down of scar tissue; improved recovery time for sportspeople; tendons are lengthened and stretched; pain is decreased; tight muscles relax; muscle activity becomes more balanced; and circulation is increased which aids the movement of blood and nutrients through the body. Massage warms the skin, removes waste produtcs, promotes healing, and reduces swelling.

Relaxation massage can assist people dealing with grief, emotional stress and often forms a cornerstone of an athlete's training program. Relaxation massage can also be an excellent introduction into the healing arts of massage therapy for anyone who hasn't experienced a massage ttreatment previously. Relaxation massage is an excellent opportunity for you to take some time out to unwind.

Once you have experienced regular massage treatments you will find that you gain a better understanding of your body, its needs, and how it works. By bringing the body and mind back into balance you will be better able to cope with what life brings your way on a day-to-day basis. The  world would be a less stressed place if we all enjoyed te benefits of massage on a regular basis and once a person as experienced the benefits of massage therapy they will normally continue to be a devotee for life.

About the Author: 

Lisa Allmey-laMaitre has been a massage therapist in Canberra for over 11 years. Lisa specialises in remedial and sports massage and owns Therapy Masters a professional massage clinic in Canberra City.