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The Power of Touch Through Massage

How Massage Therapy Can Relieve Stress and Provide Peace

Garrett Sampson, of New Ulm, Minn., visits a massage therapist monthly as part of his healing program for sore muscles and tension. "I get pretty tight in the neck and shoulder muscles, as well as my lower back, especially if I've been either working on the computer a lot or playing golf," he says.

As Sampson and many others have found, massage therapy is a popular means of relieving sore muscles, loosening tight muscles and enhancing flexibility. Yet the healing benefits of massage therapy go well beyond the physical aspect. Many find the serenity and relaxation of a massage to provide emotional relief as well. "It's partly the mental therapy of having a relaxing half-hour, as well as the physical relief from working out the knots and soreness in my back," says Sampson.

Ancient Techniques

The key to finding this tranquility and physical relief is to select the massage type appropriate for your needs. One type, Shiatsu, pronounced "shee-aht-sue," is a form of acupressure, a healing art developed in Asia more than 5,000 years ago. Shiatsu focuses on pressure points throughout the body to relieve stress and ease tired muscles.

During a Shiatsu massage, firm pressure is applied to a muscle for three to five seconds, which draws tension from the muscle. In addition, Shiatsu massage causes the body to release hormones and body chemicals necessary to heal, promoting blood circulation throughout the body and leading to better health.

Those individuals seeking wellness without medication may find Shiatsu massage an ideal alternative. "The purpose of a Shiatsu massage is to restore balance through the manipulation of the body's energetic pathways, called meridians," says Gretchen Reed, licensed massage therapist at Pacific Waters Spa at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, Calif. "Just as we have pathways for our circulatory system and nerves, it is believed that we have pathways for our energy or 'chi.' There are 12 major meridians corresponding to 12 body organs. This is what is being manipulated during the Shiatsu massage."

Healing Benefits

The specific healing benefits of massage therapy vary depending on the type you choose, yet all offer overall healing for the mind and body. "Some of the benefits associated with therapeutic massage are a heightened sense of well-being due to the increase in circulation, the elimination of toxins through the lymphatic system and, of course, the added element of the human touch," says Reed.

Shiatsu therapy is rooted in the power of skin-to-skin contact and uses the healing power of touch to relax the nervous system and stimulate the body's own response to self-recuperation. In doing so, Shiatsu can be effective in relieving many ailments, including back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, whiplash, headaches and insomnia. By relieving stress, Shiatsu also can increase your resistance to disease, promoting wellness.

To find a certified massage therapist in your area or to learn more about massage safety, visit the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork's Web site at www.ncbtmb.com.

Healing Hands at Home

Melina Macall, founder and president of Muti Oils in Montclair, N.J., offers these steps for a perfect couples massage:

1. Set the mood. Diffuse essential oils, choosing the aroma that suits your desire: lavender to relax; jasmine, rose or ylang ylang for sensuality; citrus for fun.

2. Choose a relaxing environment where you won¹t be disturbed. Turn off the phone and TV, and reduce the lighting.

3. Get into comfortable, easy-to-remove clothes. Have a surface you don¹t mind getting massage oil on.

4. Add some soft music.

5. Listen to each other. Be prepared to tell your partner what you want. If the pressure is too strong or too light, say something. If there is somewhere you want to be touched, let the masseur/masseuse know.

6. Work on one part of the body at a time. A head and face massage using light circular strokes with the tips of the fingers is very relaxing. Deeper movements with the whole hand on the shoulders can remove a month's worth of stress in minutes.

7. Most importantly, enjoy yourselves! Take pleasure in learning what pleases your partner. And take pleasure in receiving.

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