What makes a massage great? Moreover what are we really looking to get out of a massage treatment? Most everybody who receives massage has heard of the main types of treatment: deep tissue, Swedish-style and sports/rehab. While these are the most requested; the various styles of massage, not unlike shoes, aren’t one size fits all. As we walk, talk and race through life we hold tension, often unaware of where this tension resides in our bodies and also how this affects us over time. Massage among other things should be an opportunity to surrender our necessity to be completely involved in every waking moment, allowing relaxation to be a catalyst for our innate healing response to become activated.
An effective massage is a careful balance of what is needed and what is desired, for and by the client. Many ask for a stronger treatment, aligning with a commonly held belief that stronger=better or faster recovery time with traumas. A great massage should give the client a sense of accomplishment while offering the body a chance to realign itself and initiate a process of healing that will extend beyond the session.
Regardless the modality of massage, the act of touch is an essential element in the body releasing neurotransmitters that allow it to relax. Touch fosters the body-mind connection, employing the mind to release its conscious duty of keeping energy flowing outward to our sensory input channels. In relaxation our energy becomes more centered and less involved in the world of sensations; our brain waves change their frequency from a faster Beta to a slower Alpha, even Theta states. Relaxation creates space between our body and our mind naturally where, as in sleep, healing energy is present and can help to change subconscious patterns resetting the body and the mind back to their innate frequencies.
Different massage treatments promote different achieved results. Deep tissue utilizes direct pressure at certain muscle junctions that respond to release and is usually focused on an affected region; Swedish style utilizes circulatory moving to the effect of treating the whole body to attain a supreme state of relaxation; sports/rehab uses a combination of techniques from deep tissue including: friction, relaxation and stretching to achieve recovery from injury while promoting proper muscle and joint function. An outlier to these more common modalities is a treatment known as Abhyanga Ayurvedic massage. The key ingredient in Abhyanga is medicated herbal oil which is lightly massaged into the body by way of repetitive strokes. In this treatment it is not important or even intended that the muscles be stretched or that specific pressure be used on certain areas, rather that the oil be spread consciously and consistently onto the body so that it can be absorbed and permeate the cells for a lasting healing result.
I have been trained in several massage modalities that approach the same end goal much differently. While it is reassuring that all roads are leading to the same place, the exclusive path of which roads to be taken should be a mutually agreed upon endeavor on the behalf of the giver and the receiver. Although decisions on how the treatment should be given are often best left in the hands of the person who has studied these modalities, consciousness on the part of the patient offers a more well-rounded experience and can greatly expedite an individual’s recovery and healing.