Massage: Its Healing & Unparalleled Health Benefits
by Tal Ofek
Massage is known to be one of the most important healing methods, that allows the body to de-stress and strengthens the immune system. Think about your body as a symphony. Each instrument has an assigned role and must enter and exit at precise times! Every motion, even though it looks like a simple one, is actually very complex. For example, there are multiple muscles around the hips and for the motion to occur, each muscle must “let go” in a very precise order, for each has an assigned role and must work synergistically with the others…or else this Symphony goes from sublime to chaotic!
Stress and disease
For thousands of years, people believed that stress made you sick. Up until the nineteenth century, the idea that passion and emotions were intimately linked to disease held sway, and people were told by their doctors to go to spas or seaside resorts when they were ill. Gradually these ideas lost favor as more concrete causes and cures were found for illness after illness. But in the last decade, scientists like Dr.Esther Sternberg , director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), have been rediscovering the links between the brain and the immune system.
The immune System and the Brain
When you have an infection or something else that causes inflammation such as a burn or injury, many different kinds of cells from the immune system travel to the site. Assigned soldiers moving into battle, each kind with its own specialized function. Some are like garbage collectors, ingesting invaders. Some make antibodies, the “bullets” to fight the infectious agents; others kill invaders directly. All these types of immune cells must coordinate their actions, and the way they do that is by sending each other signals in the form of molecules that they make in factories inside the cell. It turns out that these molecules have many more effects than just being the walkie-talkie communicators between different kinds of immune cells. They can also go through the bloodstream to signal the brain or activate nerves nearby that signal the brain. These immune molecules, cause the brain to change its functions. They can induce a whole set of behaviors that we call sickness behavior. You lose the desire or the ability to move, you lose your appetite, you lose interest in sex. Scientists can only speculate about the purpose of these sick behaviors, might help us conserve energy when we’re sick so we can better use our energy to fight disease. These signaling molecules from the immune system can also activate the part of the brain that controls the stress response , the hypothalamus. Through a cascade of hormones released from the pituitary and adrenal glands, the hypothalamus causes blood levels of the hormone cortisol to rise. Cortisol is the major steroid hormone produced by our bodies to help us get through stressful situations. The related compound known as cortisone is widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug in creams to treat rashes and in nasal sprays to treat sinusitis and asthma. But it wasn’t until very recently that scientists realized the brain also uses cortisol to suppress the immune system and tone down inflammation within the body. If you’re chronically stressed, the part of the brain that controls the stress response is going to be constantly pumping out a lot of stress hormones. The immune cells are being bathed in molecules which are essentially telling them to stop fighting. And so in situations of chronic stress your immune cells are less able to respond to an invader like a bacteria or a virus. If your brain can’t make enough of these hormones to turn the immune system off when it doesn’t have to be active anymore, then it could go on unchecked and result in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or other autoimmune diseases that people recognize as inflammation . The objective should not be to get rid of stress completely simply because stress is a necessary component in life- stress is life, life is stress. Rather, you need to be able to use your stress response optimally. In our lives, we experience inflammation, stress, illness and disease. It’s critical that we seek effective ways to proactively protect ourselves from the damage that can come from not managing these threats. Massage and touch has proven to support the body and mind in many ways. Our body is an incredible machine. Wise, kind, powerful and like a treasure chest holds within so many gifts that allow us to express ourselves in so many ways. The way we will take care of our special “home” is the way we will live our lives. Eat to nourish your body and soul, exercise to keep it flexible and strong, receive bodywork to de-stress , tune and align your wonderful instrument.
To experience a healing massage with Tal, please call 617-424-1500 or email Tal@bostonbalans.com