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Touch That Heals
B the days before aspirin, heating pads and whirlpools, humans treated their sore bodies the old-fashioned way: with massage I caveman twisted one of his Neanderthal knees, he rubbed it. When a Greek princess developed pain in her temples, she rubbed them. And when they did what the Romans did: They rubbed their aching bellies. In many ways, massage is the most natural of natural remedies. Touching your body where it hurts seems to be a basic instinct, like running from danger or eating when you’re hungry. And experts say that massage, no matter how humble or low-tech it may seem, can be a powerful healer. “It really makes you feel great, and it can be a great aid to healing, cent Iuppo, N.D., a naturopathic physician, a massage therapist and director of the Morris Institute of Natural Therapeutics, a holistic health education center in Denville, New Jersey. Circulation, sore joints, headaches and lots of other problems. Massage has come a long way over the centuries. People around the world have developed special techniques, from the famous Swedish massage to the k, Trager and craniosacral therapy. Many of these require years of training to master and can’t be done on yourself. But experts say there are self-massage techniques that you can use to help with many common health concerns. You can rub away stress, headaches, restless legs, muscle cramps and more-all with techniques that require only practice, a warm, quiet spot and a little massage oil, which Vou can make from ingredients in Your kitchen.
How Swede It Is
Massage has been around for at least 5,000 Years, pr. Iuppo says. Show that the Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and just about every other culture practiced some form of body manipulation to ease pain and prevent or cure illness. In different languages, massage has been referred to as toogi-toogi, cmmo and nuad bo-rarn.
In the nineteenth century, a Swede named peter Hendrik Ling began to develop what is now the most widely known and studied form of massage in the Western world: Swedish massage. Ling, a fencing master, incorporated gymnasties, movement and massage in a health care regimen that he called the Swedish Movement Cure. He was the first westerner in modern times to sys> tematize massage, and he set up an academy in Sweden to teach his techniques. Lings followers have refined his techniques into a series of maneuvers. If you’ve ever been treated to a full Swedish massage, Vou know how relaxing it can be. But many massage experts believe that it offers other benefits as well, including:
• Reduced muscle tension .
Stimulated or soothed nervous system
• Enhanced skin condition
Improved blood circulation
Better digestion and intestinal function ‘
Increased mobility in Joints
Relief of chronic pain
Reduced swelling and inflammation
A therapist trained in Swedish massage uses soothing, tapping and kneading strokes to work the entire body, relieving muscle tension and loosening sore joints. Swedish massage therapists use five basic strokes, which anyone can learn and use on themselves and others. They are:
Effluerage – a French word that means “stroking.” It’s a warm-up technique
that lets a person get used to the feel of the therapist’s hands. The gliding stroke primarily improves circulation, says Elliot Greene, past president of the American Massage Therapy Association, the largest and oldest national professional association for massage therapists.
Petrissage. A technique in which you lightly grab and lift muscles, pulling them away from the bones. You can then “knead” the muscles, squeezing them. Massage therapists believe this stroke helps relieve sore muscles by clearing away lactic acid, a by-product created by Your muscles when they work extra hard, petrissage may also increase circulation to muscle tissue.
Friction, which involves using thumbs and fingertips to work deep circles into the thickest parts of muscles as well as around the joints. These circular motions may help break adhesions, knots of tissue that form when muscle fibers bind together. Greene says friction may also make soft tissue and joints more flexible.
• Tapotement, which includes all of the chopping, beating and tapping strokes in Swedish massage. These can be used for two purposes. A fewmassage can push waste products out of the body and improve recovery. Sports massage can help athletes prevent or work through minor aches and pains accumulated during training and can allow them to train more effectively. Massage also helps athletes recover from injuries and aids in rehabilitation. The massage is faster-paced than Swedish or deep tissue massage, Greene says.
Neuromuscular massage is a form of deep tissue massage that is applied to individual muscles. It is used to increase blood flow, reduce pain and release pressure on nerves caused by injuries to muscles and other soft tissue. Neimr muscular massage helps release trigger points, intense knots of tense muscle that can also “refer” pain to other parts of the body. Relieving a tense trigger point in your back, for example, could help ease pain in your shoulder or reduce headaches.
There are many other, lesser-known techniques that differ from the Swedish massage tradition.
“There really is a whole world of techniques out there, feld, a certified Hellerwork practitioner, a massage therapist and director of th^ Los Angeles Healing Arts Center, a holistic healing practice that offers massage and other natural health alternatives. Gentle touching to pressure points to pretty vigorous stuff. Each offers you something different, a different way to heal.”
Self-massage isn’t always the perfect answer to your health concerns. Tough to give yourself a decent back rub, after all-and you can’t get perfect relaxation in one part of your body when you re flexing muscles in another to do the massage. But if you’re in a hurry, can’ partner to massage you, there are techniques that you can try on yourself. Of them are Swedish massage methods that you adjust for self-care. You can easily massage cramped muscles in your legs or rub Your shoulders for a little stress relief. For hard-to-reach places such as your back, you may be able to use tennis balls, rolling pins or other objects to help massage your muscles. ^hen you use self-massage, be sure to find a warm, quiet place, free of drafts and distractions. Take along a pillow and a blanket, so you can stay warm and comfortable. Many techniques call for using a lubricant, so your hands can 0^-de over muscles smoothly and gently. You can buy massage creams, oils scented lotions in many health food stores or other shops that sell beauty aids. If you want something handy, you can just use vegetable oil from your kitchen. Dr. Luppo says the fatty acids in the oil will work into your skin, leaving it soft as a baby’s bottom. ”But if you’re going to use vegetable oil, be sure to use a sheet that you don’t mind getting rid of, thing it touches. If you’re looking for a general massage to get you started, try a ten-minute foot massage from Elaine Stillerman, L.M.T., a massage therapist in New York City. “It can be stimulating or incredibly relaxing, a beating, no doubt about it. A general foot massage is powerful, soothing and relaxing.