My up. About eight months ago my chiropractor,concerned
My discovery of massage therapy’s healing powers resulted directly from tryingto break a friend’s ribs. I was taking my first kickboxing class, and Hugh, atwo-year veteran of the sport, encouraged me to try my roundhouse kick on him”a bit faster and harder.” Who could pass up such an invitation?Crouched down, I swivelled my body and, with venom, kicked the punching bag hewas holding. It felt good. Next I went for the kill, and connected so high andfast that I ripped my hip muscles. That was sixteen months ago, and while themuscle tears quickly healed, every time I worked out hard or got stressed out,my thigh and back muscles seized up.
About eight months ago my chiropractor,concerned at how often my hip was being pulled out of alignment with my spine,suggested massage therapy for giving the muscles a much needed vacation. Thehealing effects of touch have been celebrated since they were first documentedsome 2,000 years ago in the ancient Chinese text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic ofInternal Medicine. Today massage therapy is one of the most popular forms ofunconventional medicine in the United States and massage therapists are licensedin roughly half the states. Specific injuries aside, the greatest cause ofmuscle aches is everyday emotional stress. “What we don’t realize is thatour tissues have a memory,” says Thomas Claire, a trained shiatsu therapistand the author of the massage-therapy book, Bodywork. “Our feelings getlodged in our muscles and tissues, and in turn, pain and discomfort result indisharmony in the body and the mind.” This conflict can be seen in both theway muscle pain in one part of the body can aggravate surrounding areas and theeffects physical imbalance can have on mind and spirit.
Massage therapy aims toreturn the body to balance and promote health and relaxation. There are morethan a hundred varieties of massage practiced in the United States, but they canbe divided into roughly two main areas. The first is Western, or Swedish,massage, and it targets the body’s muscle and tissue structure. The second,Eastern massage, of which shiatsu and reflexology are the best-known branches,focuses on leveling the body’s natural energy.. The Swedish School is named forits nineteenth-century Swedish innovator, Per Heinrik Ling, who sought torelieve the pain he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.
Swedish, or traditional,massage works the muscles to promote relaxation through the release ofendorphins and enkephalins. Endorphins and enkephalins are the body’s naturalpainkillers, which are released during strenuous exercise and cause”runner’s high”. The recipient lay naked on a padded table and a towelor a sheet covers the person. Only the part of the body being worked on isexposed. The practitioner uses a series of five basic strokes, administered bythe fingers, hands, forearms and elbows, with the help of massage oils orcreams. Muscles are freed up throughout the body, increasing blood flow andhelping the body purge toxins and deliver nutrients to cells and tissues. Todaymany structural-massage therapists have customized the Swedish method with theirown techniques.
I visited a massage therapist named Arthur Tobias, whospecializes in deep-tissue therapeutic massage. The session began with Tobiaswarming up my back and leg muscles with light hand massage through a towel. Thenhe focused on the major muscles in my back and shoulders with long, deep strokesof his forearm. The harder he worked my back muscles, the more I whimpered tomyself in pain. I then melted into the table, as tension tingled out of mymuscles.
Aware of the discomfort in my hip, Tobias worked my lower back, buttand upper right leg, pinpointing the muscles that were contorted rock solid.After a one-hour session, my body felt completely relaxed and rubbery. UnlikeSwedish massage, shiatsu focuses on not only the physical makeup of the musclesand tissues but also the body’s energy system. Yes, energy system. As bizarre asthat sounds to those of us firmly rooted in a Western way of thinking about thebody, Asian medicine maintains that a life-force energy governs our health (chiin Chinese, ki in Japanese) that regulates the organs and protects the body fromdisease.
According to shiatsu, ki exists in two opposite yet complementaryforms, female and male, or yin and yang. Ki runs through twelve lines, ormeridians, from head to toe. Each meridian shares the traits and supports thefunction of the major organ of the body after which it is named. Along thesemeridians lie energy access points, called tsubos, that shiatsu practitionersmanipulate.
The first tsubo on the kidney meridian is on the sole of the footand is called “gushing spring.” By applying pressure to these spots,the shiatsu practitioner can address pains and ailments while working toward thegreater goal of restoring balance to the flow of the body’s ki. For my firstshiatsu experience, I visited Thomas Claire.
Wearing baggy clothing (there isgenerally no disrobing in shiatsu), I lay on a large white floor mat with apillow propped under my knees. Using his fingers to apply short, directpressure, followed by holding, Claire worked on my solar plexus, known as thehara in shiatsu, through which all twelve meridians run. Starting here, theshiatsu “giver,” as practitioners are called, can determine thestrength and balance of a person’s ki and what work needs to be done. As I layon the floor, Claire crawled around me, working pressure points all over my bodyand stretching my joints (especially my difficult hip) until my body abandonedits normal resistance and hugged the floor. After an hour on the floor, my facewas flushed, as if I had done a full aerobic workout, but I felt a peace of mindthat stayed with me for days afterward. Reflexology draws on theories of thebody’s energy flow similar to those that shiatsu does.
In this mode of massagetherapy, the feet are a map of the body as a whole, connected through the body’ski meridians. Just as shiatsu reaches specific spots on the body, reflexologypromotes relaxation and energy balance through stimulation of pressure points onthe feet. Thus the toes link to the head and neck, and the heel to the pelvicarea and the sciatic nerve. Laura Norman is the founder of the ReflexologyCenter, in New York City, a preeminent teaching school of reflexology. A friendof mine named Amy Jamieson lives there and had Laura work on her. Norman had herlie face up on a reclined massage table. She washed her feet and then started towarm them for the session with long strokes of her hand.
As Amy drifted off intoa quiet reverie, Norman encouraged her to relax and clear her mind of the day’sstress. Not only did Amy physically relax during the session but her mind dug upand rid itself of problems she wasn’t even aware she was worrying about. Indeference an old back injury that had bothered Amy for a while, Norman took timeto put pressure on the tissue below her right ankle.
Amy winced in pain asNorman put pressure on Amy’s foot, and only a quick bout of deep breathingprevented Amy from squealing in pain. However, by the end of the session, Amywas so mellow, she could hardly talk. The next day, Amy retained a deep sense ofrelaxation, even though her back and muscles felt as if they’d gone through afull workout.
In my search for immediate relief from hip muscle pain, the deepstructural and localized Western massage had the most immediate effect. Mymuscles stopped having spasms and stayed loose for days after I went home.Massage therapy should not be judged as a quick fix. All disciplines are gearedto helping the body over the long term. Unless someone is suffering from anillness or an infection that working the muscles can aggravate, such as cancer,massage therapy should bring relief.