Touch therapies such as Reflexology or massage go perfectly with relaxation, but why? What is it about Reflexology or massage — even one focused on pain relief — that creates such a sense of wellbeing, calm, and energy?
Touch is hugely important to us, even from a very early age. When a child is hurt playing, we hug and kiss them, and the first thing you do when you bang your head or knee is to give it a rub. We calm our pets by stroking them, and we greet each other with a hug or a handshake - no other connection is as powerful or universal as touch. Touch is the bodies natural comforting mechanism; it relaxes us and makes us feel secure.
The science of touch
Our skin is the largest organ, it covers an area of approximately 18 square feet, and every inch has thousands of touch-sensitive nerve endings, sending signals to the brain about our surroundings - the coldness of an ice cube, the warmth of the sun, a cool breeze or a drop of rain.
Our skin feels pressure, pain, pleasure, heat, cold and has a great impact on the body. When we greet each other with a touch, a signal is sent to our brain, which triggers the release of the happy hormone known as oxytocin. When we experience the intentional touch of therapy, as well as boosting the happy hormones, we lower the cortisol hormone, which controls our stress response.
Traditionally, massage has been viewed as a luxury activity; something to treat ourselves when we feel like a pamper session, but research is telling us that massage is a valuable element in maintaining our health and wellbeing. Both massage and Reflexology have been shown to decrease pain as well as relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and sleeping disorders.
Bringing more connection into our lives
In the UK, touch is usually reserved for those closest to us, and even then, for some people, it may be a regular part of our lives. Perhaps it's time we stopped thinking of therapy as an indulgence, but another equally useful therapeutic tool in our self-care regime. In general, an hour's treatment every 4-6 weeks is adequate for maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing, but unlike exercise, there is no limit to the amount of Reflexology or massage you can receive, so if you can fit in treatments more regularly, there's no reason why not to.
Finding the right therapist for you
I would recommend doing some research to find the right therapist for you. First, find out their qualifications or experience, but also be sure to read their bios or any 'About Me' pages, which will give you a better idea of their interests, passions and expertise. For example, someone who specialises in sports massage and works solely with sports teams may not appear to be someone who works with the mental side of massage, but reading where their interests lie may indicate otherwise.
Finally, remember to savour the touch next time you are lying on a massage table. Your therapist is not only working on your pain, tight muscles or knots, but she's also communicating with your entire nervous system, calming you through pathways that have been used for centuries and nourishing your wellbeing.
Physical touch makes you healthier: Hugs, massages and holding hands reduces stress while boosting your immune system.