By Clara Rose Thornton
In the contemporary, abstract world of online socialization, financial distresses, and time lost to gadgetry and the work life, we should avoid relegating the body — which the mind occasionally shouts too loud to hear — to the realm of neglect. The human mental state can be a rodeo, and if left unchecked, the body might begin to behave as if it’s simply hanging on for dear life. The disjunction of body and mind reaps vastly negative consequences, yet is easier to eliminate than some might think, believes long-time massage therapist Laurajean Stewart of Barnet.
“When our body perceives something as a challenge to our well-being, a cascade of automatic nervous system responses takes place. In today’s society, there are many stressful events, even those we don’t consciously recognize, thus our bodies are being forced into ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ mode, constantly,” Stewart said.
“We forget that stress is not only in our heads. If there’s a dip in the roof of your house, you might not know about it, but every time it rains or snows, the water collects there until one day you have a leak. Stress is accumulative. And for every emotional or psychological response to an event, there is a physiological component, too,” she said.
Stewart acts as co-vice-president of the Vermont Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), is founder of Barnet’s Thousands Hands Massage Therapy, and has been practicing seven massage disciplines for 35 years. She’s seen the recent rise in popularity of “recreational” massage, that is, treatments for relaxation and stress reduction, in tandem with therapeutic massage – the ancient Eastern traditions used in the United States since the mid-19th century to address muscular pathologies and athletic strain.
“Massage” is an umbrella term, encompassing approximately 50 treatments within various disciplines. Proven are the biological benefits of these healing treatments that manipulate muscle and connective tissue, and well-documented are their mental, spiritual, and energetic benefits, earning them rightful recognition in America’s complementary and alternative healthcare sector. Yet when massage arts are mentioned, laypeople commonly think of the classic, simplified idea of a Swedish massage, regularly downplayed in pop culture as being as accessible and tepidly effective as giving a loved one a shoulder rub.
Treatment from trained therapists such as Stewart have serious immediate and cumulative effects, many of which speak to problems tending to plague advanced years including:
increased range of motion in muscles and joints
release of endorphins that help to break the pain/spasm cycle
warming of muscle tissue to decrease stiffness within the body
promotion of nutrition and tone of tendons, muscles, and ligaments
increased circulation to promote faster healing
stress and tension reduction
Co-Vice-President of the AMTA-Vermont Chapter Jennifer Smith Findley of Lake Elmore, who specializes in geriatric massage, hot stone therapy, and lymphatic drainage among other techniques, agreed. “Massage is tailored specifically to the needs and goals of the individual person, and those needs change over time. There are so many ways massage can help a person reach and maintain his or her goals, whether it be range of motion, flexibility, balance, or even circulation. As therapists, we understand what can happen to bodies as they age, such as the reduction of muscle mass.”
Stewart was optimistic when I asked what she felt about the effects of massage’s ubiquitous commercial presence today, whether she felt it dilutes the level of seriousness or purity of the tradition in the eyes of pop culture, similar to complaints about the Westernizing and bastardization of yoga (pet yoga spas, expensive yoga clothing, etc.).
She replied, “In my opinion, anything done consciously, with presence of mind, knowledge, and respect doesn’t do injustice to ancient ways. If no one brought these and other time-honored traditions into the present, the old ways would die out, unknown.”
Another technique experiencing a rise in popularity, with documented benefit, although struggling to find acceptance in the healthcare community, is Reiki. The Japanese word “Reiki,” itself derived from a Chinese term, is most commonly interpreted in English to mean “universal energy.” Reiki is an energy-shifting modality developed by Mikao Usui on Mount Kurama in Japan in 1922, within and using the structures and principles of Buddhism. The treatment involves a trained Reiki practitioner using palms, placed on or above the client, to open energy channels and serve as a conduit between the client and universal energy streams, called “ki” in Japanese, or the more commonly recognized Chinese “qi.” Reiki is sometimes called palm-healing.
Williston’s Sandy Jefferis, co-president of the Vermont Reiki Association, stressed that, “Reiki is perfectly whole by itself. It is not part of a religion, and does not require any other discipline to be useful.”
“(During a Reiki session) people can notice a variety of sensations. Almost everyone experiences a deep feeling of relaxation. Reiki reduces stress, promotes wellness, brings perspective and wisdom to life’s challenges, complements medical therapies and generally promotes balance and wellbeing,” she said.
Reiki can be useful for clients for whom touch is just not possible.
Findley incorporates Reiki into her practice, and echoed both Stewart and Jefferis when she mentioned a sense of accord as a wellness gauge. “Worthwhile massage therapists and Reiki practitioners speak about connections, whether they be physical or spiritual, the connections between systems inside our bodies, and the connections we have with each other and the world. The more in touch we are with our bodies, the more we get to know them, the better off we are.”
If you are considering massage therapy, www.amta-vermont.org offers a comprehensive roster of therapists in the state, overviews of the treatments they offer, and education on which treatments might benefit you most. For those interested in Reiki, www.vermontreikiassociation.org provides detailed resources for choosing the right practitioner.
Curious-minded individuals who’d like to give alternative medicines and wellness therapies a trial before committing to a private practitioner might look into Essex Resort and Spa, ten minutes from the Burlington airport, which offers a broad range of treatments from Reiki, reflexology, and hot stone therapy to deep tissue and sports massage. Find info at www. essexresortspa.com.