The massage principle is simple: touch means stimulation. This means that wherever touch is used, the body reacts.
In order for our bodies to work efficiently, the many complex systems that exist under our skin have to work together in a coordinated way. Bones, muscles and soft tissues help us to move. A circulatory system consisting of heart, lungs arteries and blood allows oxygen to be transported around the body to keep cells alive. The nervous system keeps the brain informed of what’s going on and allows us to think, act and feel. Our digestive system helps us absorb energy from food and keeps us hydrated with water. An immune system prevents attack from viruses, bacteria and other micro-organisms that could cause us harm or spread disease.
Massage can help each of these systems work optimally, boosting general health and well-being and encouraging healing and growth, right down to a microscopic level.
Bones, muscles and soft tissues
Thanks to our skeletal system, the network of bones and of soft tissues that surround them, our bodies are capable of an amazing range of movements. The effects of massage on the skeletal system are long term – they continue to work long after the actual massage ends, stimulating healing and repair of soft tissue adhesions for up to a month afterwards.
Muscles are made up of bundles of fibres that glide over each other and contract to generate movement. Muscles are attached to bones by tendons and bones are attached to each other by ligaments. Muscle fibres only work in one direction – that is, they contract to shorten themselves but cannot extend. This is why, all around the body, muscles are arranged in opposing pairs so that as one contracts the other expands to allow movement in all directions. Muscles, tendons and ligaments can all be affected by adhesions and small scars or tears that create sore spots. These can stop the tissues from working properly, and can also become severe if left untreated. Massage helps to break down these adhesions.
Massage not only stimulates the general circulation system of the body, but it also boosts circulation at a very localized level.
Our bodies are made up of thousands of cells and every one of them needs a regular supply of blood. Blood brings all the ingredients the cells need for growth, nutrition and repair; it also takes away waste products and toxins.’ Massage stimulates the flow of blood and boosts the supply of nutrients – such as minerals and vitamins for health and sugar for energy – and the removal of toxins.
The body has another, separate, circulatory system that transports a fluid called lymph around the body via a series of glands and vessels. Impurities and toxins are filtered through the glands (called lymph nodes) and the clean fluid drains back into the bloodstream. This helps the immune system by removing bacteria, viruses and other foreign matter, thus fighting infection and draining away excess fluid. Damaged or stiff tissues can become thick and fibrous, causing blockage of the pores and affecting lymph drainage. Massage helps fluids to travel towards the heart and also stimulates muscle contractions that remove fluid blockages. Lymphatic drainage is one of the reasons that all the techniques in this book – and all good massage therapists – work from the outside of the body in towards the heart.
There are two nervous systems that run throughout the body. The first, the sympathetic nervous system, responds to pressure, touch, temperature and so on, passing messages to the brain and responding to sensory stimulation. The second, the parasympathetic nervous system, is the unconscious system that controls body functions, such as heart rate, function, digestion and metabolism – the ‘behind the scenes’ mechanisms that work constantly to keep you alive. Massage stimulates both of the nervous systems, working on the sympathetic system’s nerve ending and receptors in the skin and muscles to reduce tension and over-activity and also the parasympathetic nervous system, having a positive effect on conditions such as abnormal blood pressure, digestive disorder, migraine and insomnia.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, providing a flexible protective covering to all body parts, living us shape and holding us together, containing body fluids and acting as the first tine of defence against injury and invasion by bacteria, viruses and microbes. There are three main layers – the upper, epidermis; the middle, dermis; and the lower, subcutaneous.
The epidermis, which is the visible, outer Layer of skin, is constantly regenerating itself, producing new cells in the lower layers that rise to the surface and are eventually shed. The dermis lies directly underneath the epidermis and is filled with a rich supply of blood vessels, lymph, nerve endings, sweat and oil glands and hair follicles. The subcutaneous layer lies beneath the dermis and provides a storage facility for fat, which acts as a heat insulator and also provides a protective layer. Massage boosts circulation in all three layers of skin, encouraging renewal, growth and repair, preventing buildup of dead skin cells and stimulating sweat glands to remove waste products and clear out the pores. It gives the skin a healthy glow and promotes cellular healing at every level.