I was recently given a gift certificate for a massage, which I redeemed almost immediately! I find few things more relaxing than letting go and allowing someone else to pamper me by gently but firmly rubbing and kneading my shoulders and back. Delicious! While it is a wonderful, affordable luxury to have a professional massage, you can reap the benefits of this healing touch at home. There are many books, tapes and websites with information on self-massage. Or you can schedule a guided massage session, like my husband and I did a couple of months ago at my favorite spa, in which you can learn basic massage techniques that you can use at home.
Ongoing research by Tiffany Field, PhD, of the University of Miami School of Medicine, has shown that massage is effective in reducing stress, depression, anxiety, pain and in boosting the immune system. Field believes that massage accomplishes these various healthful effects by prompting the body to release serotonin and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol decreases, stress is reduced and immune cells are stimulated. And a 2004 study by Christopher Moyer, James Rounds, and James Hannum at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign found that having a massage is highly effective in reducing anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate. The study was a meta-analysis, one in which they examined the results of 37 different research studies on the effects of therapeutic massage. The most interesting finding occurred when the authors took into account studies that involved multiple massage treatments over time – it was found that depression and anxiety were reduced in the participants at rates equivalent to those produced by traditional psychotherapy.
Moyer and his colleagues did not come to any conclusions as to why massage is so effective in treating depression and anxiety, yet it appears to be highly therapeutic for the body and mind – a testament to the healing power of touch. For more information on massage, or to find a massage therapist near you, you can visit the American Massage Therapy Association's website and just enter your zip code.