Why I became a Bodyworker and Massage Therapist – Adam Divine
I became a massage therapist because I genuinely wanted to help people either biomechanically or emotionally; chronic pain, stress and tension are commonplace and massage seemed like an area I could really delve into and quite literally get hands-on.
Some of us have a natural caring touch and are naturally present when we treat people. You may not think it or even realize, but in receiving a session the body listens, senses, and processes the quality of the touch. Benefits of massage are multi-fold from reducing cortisol (stress hormone) to increasing oxytocin (love hormone), reducing tension and pain and even strengthening the immune system. If your touch is mindful then it also lights up an interesting part of the brain – a deeper hidden lobe that governs homeostasis (balance) and harmony, the insula cortex. This center in the brain is also responsible for our sense of self and where consciousness lies.
With regards to being present as a therapist and massaging with awareness, interesting research from Chieti in Italy shows results of mindful verses non-mindful touch using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to show brain areas affected during a session.
One control group received non-mindful touch, where therapists were told to focus on an auditory stimulant whilst treating by counting beeping sounds played through headphones; the other control group were told to focus on the quality of the tissues, density, tension, motility and responsiveness throughout the session. Results showed a significant difference in the brain areas affected; changes were noticed in the connectivity of the insula, and cingulate cortex of the brain. This is interesting because it shows touch can actually effect the functional connectivity of the brain; these effected brain regions are now known to be associated with touch and also consciousness, self-awareness, calmness and harmony. It’s great to know those things we feel intuitively when treating can now be backed up scientifically.
In this day and age it seems the neuroscientists are on our side! Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am’; now many neuroscientists are saying Descartes made an error – it should be ‘I feel therefore I am’ – as this is a more holistic statement uniting the entire body rather than separating it.
I am starting to warm to the statement ‘I touch therefore I am’; as when we touch we really feel a world of information in no time at all – an instant connection between us and another. We meet in a world of sensation. Steve Haines, pain researcher and trauma release therapist, says it was interesting after a session that one student could not stop hugging themselves as if the TRE (trauma release exercises) awakened a state of self and feeling, “when we touch ourselves there are dual signals, a signal going from the hand to the brain and a signal going from inside me to the brain this gives us a bigger picture of who we are, not getting lost in a morass of signals from inside”.
I propose massage has the same power; to inform us of our shape, weight, size, tension in our muscles – giving us a physical sense of who we are which is also very nourishing and even grounding, We are highly attuned to touch, but through dissociation, stress and trauma we can often end up numbing out and leaving our bodies behind. Massage can be the powerful tool that wakes us up to our emotions and tensions – generating space to feel and heal. Feeling is healing.
Studies from Dr Dacher Keltner have shown that in receiving touch for just one second we can
accurately judge the intention behind it; interestingly he did this in blindfolded tests with participants that received 6 different emotions through touch, the results showed the participants managed to judge the emotion of the touch with more than 60 per cent accuracy.
There is a primate called a Slow Loris that has a finger specifically for touching other slow lorises! As humans we may not have this special characteristic, but we do have many interesting sensory receptors within our skin, our fascia and even our viscera. These sensory receptors detect vibrations, pressure, angle change, and deformation in the tissues, one of the most interesting are known as C fibers. On a basic level they are nociceptors (pain detectors) responsible for sensing tissue damage and signaling long term chronic pain amongst other things, but they are also highly attuned to sensing tactile touch; in some areas they are called tactile C fibers. If we get the touch right it can have healing powers activating the parasympathetic nervous system calming us and restoring health.
Research shows that grooming in primates is similar to the touch, caress or caring touch we give as signs of affection. As humans the right kind of touch can be very powerful; in primates research has shown how grooming leads to the release of oxytocin – the bonding or love hormone leading to co-operative relationships, longevity and offspring survival. The same is true with regards to the power of human touch and so naturally massage. Studies show that massage also results in oxytocin release and a reduction in stress hormones, as well as an increase in vagal tonicity – the vagus nerve is responsible for homeostasis, healing and relaxation.
Can it be as simple as just holding? Apparently sustained pressure on the tissues is a powerful healer. Teacher and therapist Cathy Alderson speaks of how touch is related to the immune response in the fascia. “The anti-inflammatory benefits of sustaining pressure at the fascial restriction for 3 minutes is that it starts to stimulate interleukin production, a crystalline communication protein essential for healing,” says Alderson. “At 5 minutes of sustained pressure, interleukin levels double. The result? Free radicals associated with the inflammatory process are neutralized and blood cell production is stimulated”.
The takeaway from this is that just being present with your touch and the client is enough to have
Overall positive healing effects. I believe we were designed for compassion and to hold space for one another. As humans we are a profoundly care-taking species. We have big hearts, but in the motor homunculus, the body map in our brain, the hands look to have more space allocated to it compared to any other body part – I like to see them as the extensions of the heart and as one of the most powerful healers.