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Hands-on Healing

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"A restorative, hands-on massage is a wonderful way to aid relaxation and eliminate or reduce headaches, eyestrain, upper-limb discomforts and low back pain.

Have you ever felt the hands of a friend or loved one on your shoulders and positively melted at the sensation? It feels so nurturing and reassuring, and you can actually feel your muscles releasing all that pent-up stress. If only you could experience that feeling as long as possible, and every day!

Touch is essential to our physical, emotional and psychological well-being. But, all too often in our culture, we suffer from a touch shortage. We get so busy with our daily lives and all the things that need doing that we forget to nurture each other, and ourselves. A restorative, hands-on massage is a wonderful way to aid relaxation and eliminate or reduce headaches, eyestrain, upper limb discomforts and low back pain. Why not exchange the health benefits of simple massage with a friend, or even give one to yourself?

Self-Massage

Sitting upright on a chair, reach across your chest with your left hand to the base of the skull. Work your way down over the right shoulder and towards the wrist, gently squeezing and releasing. Do this three or four times. Repeat on the left side.

With fingertips using moderate pressure, make small circles on either side of spine from base of neck and along base of skull. Repeat this movement along hairline from top of forehead to base of skull.

Gently knead area between neck and shoulder on either side. Shake out hands and drop head forward, chin toward chest. Slowly roll head from side to side, bringing ears parallel with shoulders while keeping shoulders relaxed.

Lift and drop shoulders several times. Make a few circles with shoulders, first forward, then backward.

With left hand, firmly stroke downward from the right side of the neck and off the right shoulder. Repeat on left side using right hand. Shake out hands.

Partner Massage

To enhance relaxation, diffuse a couple of drops of frankincense, lavender or sandalwood essential oil into the air during the massage. Then, with your partner seated on a stool or backless chair, place your hands on her shoulders. Gently knead shoulder area for a couple of minutes, working outward from base of neck at either side of the upper spine.

With fingertips, make small, circular movements from the base of neck to base of skull on either side of vertebrae. Repeat two to four times. Some people also enjoy having their scalps gently massaged.

With heels of palms begin making small, circular movements at the lumbar (lower back) region, spiraling toward hips. Shake out hands.

With thumbs at either side of spine, make small circles, moving upward until reaching shoulders. Move hands off shoulders in a sweeping motion (as if you're brushing off dust).

With thumbs, make small circles moving along underside of each shoulder blade, working toward either side of spine and upwards toward neck.

Finish with two or three long, sweeping strokes from waist up to shoulders, brushing off at shoulders. Shake out hands.

Fancy Footwork

Aromatherapy foot massage is a relaxing way to nurture yourself at the start or end of the day. Have on hand an old pair of cotton socks to wear for 20 minutes after the massage.

With right ankle supported on left knee, apply appropriate oil blend (see box) to the entire foot with long strokes from heel to toes. Grasp each toe and gently pull while "wiggling" toe from base to tip. Massage area between each toe.

Using small circular movements, move thumbs from heel to base of toes, massaging entire bottom of foot. Gently tug toes. With left hand on sole of foot, make circular movements with thumb or fingertips around perimeter of protruding ankle bones.

With your whole hand, gently squeeze and release top of foot, moving from ankle to toes. Put on sock. Repeat for left foot.

Add your own strokes to any of these massage suggestions. Your massage should feel good; if it hurts, stop and try another move.

From a loving mother's caress to a therapeutic massage, the healing power of touch is more than a clich?As massage continues to grow in popularity, more people will benefit from its healing potential, both in the giving and receiving.

Therapeutic Benefits of Massage

Massage relieves back pain: A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (June 27, 2000) showed that 63 per cent of patients with subacute low back pain reported no pain after six treatments in one month of massage therapy. (Subacute is defined as having back pain between one and eight months and an absence of a specific condition such as pregnancy, bone fracture, nerve damage or severe psychiatric condition.)

A survey by Consumer Reports magazine says massage therapy is more effective than drugs when treating back pain. More than 40 percent of patients said deep-tissue massage helped them feel much better, while only 35 percent said that prescription drugs were effective.

Massage enhances immune function, fights infections: The American Massage Therapy Association found that massage therapy boosts the immune system, strengthening resistance to disease. The study, done by the Center for Research in Complementary and Alternative Medicine in New Jersey, found that after one full-body massage treatment, 56 percent of the healthy female subjects experienced a significant increase in white blood cells and natural killer cell activity key elements of disease resistance. Studies also show that massage therapy can relieve stress, which helps boost immunity as well (Psychosomatic Medicine, January/February 2000).

Massage helps moms and babies: Pregnant women who received 20-minute massages every hour for five hours during labour said they felt better and experienced less stress and labour pain than those who did not receive massage, according to a 1997 study by the Touch Research Institute in Florida. Post-birth, many women find massage therapy effective in correcting muscle imbalance and relieving neck and shoulder pain caused by breastfeeding.

Babies also benefit. Premature babies who received daily massages gained 47 percent more weight than babies who did not receive daily massages, according to the Touch Research Institute. The study also found that babies from the massage group left the hospital an average of six days sooner, saving about $3,000 US in medical costs. Preemies massaged three times a day for as few as five days are more alert, and can sleep better and gain weight faster (Time, July 27, 1998).

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