This year’s tax return was kind to me (or my CPA was especially creative), and I received a bit more back from Uncle Sam than usual. So, I decided to splurge. I went out and bought a package deal of six-for-the-price-of-five, hour-long massages from the genial and talented masseur just down the street (gotta be able to get home fast and keep the Zen buzz going after a good rub-down).
My roommate tells me this is no splurge—I need a massage now and then. What are you saying? Do I seem tense?!
For me, this was huge decision. You see, I have issues with spending money on myself. Like most tendencies we carry into adult life, it comes from my mother. But she is in recovery, while I still hunt bargain bins, wait for sales, and just plain do not buy things I don’t really need (except to feed my addiction to film, to which my movie-lined shelves bear witness). Even when I do need something, I stress about it. If you keep reading, you’ll see why this is humorously ironic.
Anyway, to make myself feel better about the frivolous expense of massages, I patted myself on the back for the bargain pricing (six for the price of five) and rationalized about all the ways I save money. But that wasn’t enough. I needed to know that massage is not just a temporary feel-good proposition. You know, like renting a drink. A bit of research revealed some interesting tidbits about the benefits of massage (beyond “it feels good”) which I thought I would share.
Rub Out Stress
Many ailments today are stress-related (yes, like my stressing over spending money). Even when we think we’re handling our hectic schedules and multiple demands, stress does have actual physical ramifications (that subject is fodder for a whole other discussion; for now, trust me). Massage relieves the accumulated tension that we carry.
Several studies have shown that massage can decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. This is the culprit that increases your blood pressure, increases blood sugar, and depresses immune responses when you wig. Basically, massage calms us down and, more importantly, keeps those stress responses from breaching our natural defenses.
Crush Those Germs
Speaking of the immune system, studies confirm that massage can boost the immune response by increasing the body’s production of natural killer cells. These are the cells that fight disease and eat the bad stuff that gets into our systems.
In one study conducted by Doctors Ironson and Field, HIV-positive men received 45-minute massages five times each week for a month. This resulted in significant increases in natural killer cells and cytotoxic T-cells and significant decreases in cortisol and states of anxiety. If massage can work this kind of magic with one of the most aggressive conditions known, just think what it can do to help you fight the common cold.
The Right Kind of Pressure
Many studies show that massage reduces hypertension (high blood pressure). Massage therapies that use slow stroking movements have been found to activate of the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulate the vagus nerve. This is quite the nerve: it starts in the brainstem and conveys information about the state of the body’s organs to the central nervous system, regulating—among other things—blood pressure. The vagus nerve extends via motor fibers to all organs except the adrenal gland and also controls a few skeletal muscles. It’s a busy little nerve…and some studies suggest massage can help keep it at a steady hum.
In 2005, a study at the University of South Florida showed that subjects with high blood pressure who received just 10 massages of 10 minutes each over three weeks showed significant improvements in blood pressure over a control group who simply rested, without massage, during the same periods. The thought of it does a heart good.
Lie Down and Relax
Let’s face it: many of us live in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight with all the demands coming at us, without the recourse to brawl or run—at least not in polite society. We might as well face that our modern world may just require some ancient remedies.
I think I have successfully justified my recent splurge. Now I can enjoy my massages, guilt-free and happy in the knowledge that I’m helping my bod cope with the world.