Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Written by Anna Dale
We live in a sea of noise, interruptions, deadlines, worries, responsibilities and destructions.
Massage has been used since ancient times to promote healing and relaxation. The benefits of various types of massages are numerous ranging from helping relive muscle strain and soreness, serious or chronic pain, stress and anxiety, to promoting vitality, strength and flexibility. Massage works on physical and mental levels. Physically, it helps all systems of the body – the immune, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, muscular-skeletal, digestive and lymphatic. Mentally, it helps to relax the mind.
Here are three ways massage can benefit your health
1. Abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil massage) reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure.
Stress cannot be avoided. As such, stress is neither good nor bad. Giving a dinner party or debating can be stressful and yet exhilarating and fun. Stress becomes a problem when we fail to manage it well. The body’s defences break down and we become more susceptible to illness and disease.
A study evaluated the effect of Abhyanga, the classic Ayurvedic oil massage, in terms of its impact on subjective stress experience. Ten healthy women and ten healthy men underwent an hour Abhyanga massage treatment. Findings indicate that Abhyanga massage is promising in reducing subjective stress experience. It may be beneficial in lowering HR (heart rate) in all, and BP (blood pressure) in prehypertensive subjects. (1)
2. Abhyanga promotes relaxation through touch
Touching is an intimate act. Whether it is a hearty handshake or a hug, when we touch another person, something happen between people. We share, we exchange and we are enriched.
Although the physiologic effects of touch are not understood fully, it appears to increase Oxytocin levels. Oxytocin (OT) is a hormone known to facilitate social bonding, reduce anxiety and depression, boost immunity. Some studies have examined the effect of massage on oxytocin and also measured its effect on other physiologic factors, including adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), a hormone that decreases with relaxation and increases with stress. The findings were impressive, the level of Oxytocin in massage group increased by 17% and decreased by 9% in the resting group. Adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) decreased by 20% in the massage group and increased by 30% in the resting group.
3. Massage helps with insomnia through production of serotonin, while head and foot massage improves the quality and quantity of sleep
Restful sleep is an important pillar for good health, yet millions of people around the world suffer with insomnia. Lack of sleep drains your mental abilities and puts your physical health at risk. Insomnia can manifest in various ways including difficulty falling asleep, repeated wakening throughout the night, early morning awakenings and a sense of being tired and not having enough sleep. This often results in various health problems and weakened immune system.
Serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, regulates the body’s need and ability to sleep. Massage can directly influence the body’s production of serotonin. A review by Field et al (2005) suggests that not only is there an increase in serotonin during massage, but also an increase in dopamine, which boosts mood and wellbeing, and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol (3). Overall, there are psychological and physiological benefits from massage therapy, including providing an increase in serotonin production.
Other studies demonstrated that doing head and foot massage as daily routine helped double sleep time and sleep quality, while reducing more than 75% of insomnia symptoms in the course of just 15 days (4).
15–20 minutes of foot massage, two hours before bed, reduced the time to fall asleep by 68% and increased total sleep time by 32% (5) People who practiced for the entire 28-day reported improved sleep quality and fewer awakenings at night.
A daily Abhyanga practice restores the balance of the doshas and enhances well-being and longevity. Regular Abhyanga is especially grounding and relaxing for Vata dosha imbalances, but everyone can benefit from this practice.
Abhyanga introduces the moist, heavy, and lubricating qualities of Kapha to the body, which help to calm the body and relax the mind. The is achieved by delivering herbalised oils to the fibrous tissue in the whole body, allowing it to detoxify and heal, and resulting in lower inflammation and improved anti-oxidant function. The skin’s biology and health is also improved with the use of oils, which provide nutrients, moisture, and healthy flora.
The receptors on the skin, along with blood and lymphatic channels in the dermis, are responsible for sending signals from the skin to the brain when stimuli such as touch, pressure and temperature changes.
During massage, the skin responds to touch and cortical interactions with improved circulation, detoxification processes, increased suppleness that helps prevent infection and keeps the skin microbiome healthy.
These signals are transported via nerve fibres through the spinal cord and are received in various somatosensory areas of the brain’s cortex that result in emotional responses such as pleasure and calm.
Your skin, which is the largest organ of the body, is a particularly vital aspect of well-being and protection in the body. Next time you are relaxed and enjoying a massage, you can appreciate just how much emotional and physical benefit you get out of it.
Article in Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) 17(5):435-40 May 2011. Pilot Study investigating the Effects of Ayurvedic Abhyanga Massage on Subjective Stress Experience.
Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2005). Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(10), 1397-1413.
Misar SD, Kuchewar V. “A Comparative Study of Efficacy of Jatamansi Vati and Abhyanga in Management of Anidra with Special Reference of Insomnia.” IAMJ. 2016;4(7).