Given that I am a massage practitioner who thoroughly enjoys doing therapeutic work with clients—releasing “knotted” muscles, alleviating aches and pains, and so on—it is probably not surprising that a fairly high percentage of my clients come to me exclusively or nearly exclusively for therapeutic work. Some, I would venture to say, feel they can only justify coming in for a massage, in fact, when they are hurting.
There are other reasons, of course, for relegating massage sessions solely to times when pain relief is the goal, but one of those reasons should not be that relaxation (or Swedish) massage is just pampering and, therefore, a luxury expense. Because in its own way, Swedish massage can be just as therapeutic as deep tissue and trigger point massages.
Though definitely more gentle in its application, Swedish massage reduces anxiety levels, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, increases range of motion, and improves mood. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, about which I’ve written previously.
If you are still thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s all nice, but I wouldn’t call any of that essential,” consider for a moment how heart rate affects both your athletic performance and your daily life. A lower resting heart rate keeps stress levels in check, improves heart health, and allows quicker recovery after strenuous exercise. In addition, the reduction in cortisol production is huge. Reduced stress levels have been shown to increase one’s sense of happiness, promote weight loss, protect against cancer, make your sleep sweeter, help you live a longer life, improve your memory, and, gosh darn it, just give you a better outlook on life! Now I’m not saying that if you get a regular relaxation massage, you’re not going to get cancer and you’re going to live to be 120. But anything you can do to reduce your stress level is bound to enhance the quality of your life.
Those of you who are athletes have probably heard that sports performance is 80 percent mental. If, in fact, “a lot of performance is psychological based,” as researcher Michael Tschakovsky and others say, then it stands to reason that “if you feel better, if you feel you’re in a better situation to do something, [massage] probably has the ability to affect performance.” Furthermore, if science is still at a bit of a loss to explain just how massage does work, at the same time, research hasn’t proven that massage in any way hinders performance and recovery. In short, there is no downside to getting a massage that will help you feel rejuvenated both physically and mentally.
Of course, not all relaxation massages are created equal. I have heard complaints about the light touch used some relaxation massages being “too tickly” or so feather light as to leave muscles relatively unchanged. Though even a very light massage, depending on the person’s needs and wants, can be psychologically and physically valuable, it is helpful to know that the basic strokes used in traditional Swedish massage—kneading, gliding, circular pressure, and so on—can be applied more firmly for those wanting something gentler than deep tissue or trigger point massage but also wanting to feel as though they’ve actually been massaged and not just brushed with butterfly wings.
So as they used to say in the sixties, if it feels good, do it. Let your Puritan ethic relax a little, set aside your no-pain, no-gain mentality, and get a massage for the pure enjoyment of it. (But feel free, if you must, to remind yourself of all the suspected and proven therapeutic benefits of a “nontherapeutic” relaxation massage!)