A simple definition of massage would be:
The therapeutic rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints of the body with the hands, especially to relieve tension and reduce pain.
Swedish, Aromatherapy, Thai, deep tissue… There are so many names and definitions around massage these days that can end up confusing the average person seeking an authentic experience of hands on therapy relaxation.
With the commercialisation of wellness as an industry, there is an ever-increasing pressure to produce something new and innovative. We seem to be in a constant search for a silver bullet, the next best thing, a miracle cure. With this in mind, we can sometimes become quite hyperbolic about a therapeutic practice, that for sure has its purpose, but also has its limitations. These days there are so many different disciplines with exotic names and manual tools to assist us, it is easy to get confused and lose sight of what should always be a body therapist’s primary purpose – to nurture and soothe the body and, in so doing, calm the mind.
Here are some common misconceptions and massage myths:
Flushing out toxins
I myself have been guilty of using this phrase. It was what I was taught in the nineties when I first studied massage. The premise was that through improving circulation we, as therapists, can flush out ‘toxins’ from a muscle. This may sound appealing, however, in truth, it is not what we are doing. Our bodies naturally rid themselves of toxins through our liver, kidneys, lungs, digestive system, and skin. Our primary purpose as bodyworkers is actually on the nervous system. Holistically thinking when we encourage a parasympathetic dominance which has a knock-on effect encouraging rest, digestion. Consequently to this all those toxin-ridding organs can perform optimally.
Yes, massage increases blood circulation locally and temporarily (so does walking). A persisting myth that is often driven by bodyworkers (and sadly still published) is that we can manually remove lactic acid. Lactic acid or lactate is not a waste product or a poison. Instead, it is a by-product of anaerobic respiration. It is taken up and used by the body naturally after vigorous exercise. What we can do after exercise fatigue is reduce the pain associated with tightness and inflammation in the muscle. We will ask you to drink water not to ‘flush out the toxins’ but to keep hydrated.
Crystals and knots
Crystals or knots are usually fascia, connective tissue encasing a muscle with high tone or scar tissue. We cannot break down this structure. Rather we can reduce the sensitivity and pain in the muscle. “Knot” is an easy explanation for what can feel – a small tight mass – it makes sense to us visually. However, the pain perceived by the “knot” has more to do with the nervous system and inflammation in and around the muscle. Some structures feel like “knots” but are often tendons with a high tone. Tight postural muscles are not uncommon. There are ways to help by simply starting small and consistent habitual behavioural changes… examine how ergonomic your workspace is. Are you sitting incorrectly for hours on end in front of a laptop? Are you moving enough and stretching throughout your day? These are good places to start in order to get a good idea of the source of muscle tension.
No pain no gain
Pain is a sensation accompanied by the motor intention to withdraw. If you are not trying to get away from it, it is just a sensation. How we perceive pain has a lot to do with our conditioning and stories we believe about what pain is and its purpose. There are different types of pain. Pain coming into the body. Pain stored in the body (which does not always present itself as pain) and there is pain leaving the body in the wake of which remains freedom of function, renewed energy and new awareness in the body. Very often guests will shoot a concerned glance at us doing a quick appraisal of our physical strength. Throwing in comments like “don’t be afraid to hurt me”, “don’t be scared”, “I need the pain”.
We will not hurt you; trust me you do not need the pain!
Our job is to be tentative at the start to map your body and ask questions. Then to listen to the body. Your body speaks for itself and its story is often different from the one you may be telling yourself. ‘The harder the better’ is an outdated way of thinking. This does not mean that our pressure is light. It is all quite relative. What is painful to you may be a very light touch to someone else. The narrative around pain has changed and if we examine our language and the stories we tell ourselves about what we perceive as pain and how best to relieve it, there is a lot to be gained in our collective wellness.
Our personal pain narrative is so important.
If we see ourselves as broken, we often remain that way. If we see our bodies in a process of healing or even capable of healing themselves without intervention, then that healing is much more likely to take place.
A simple truth
The manual treatment of the skin and underlying muscle and connective tissue has a direct effect on the nervous system.
Massage is a wonderful avenue for the nervous system. It stimulates the central nervous system via the peripheral nerves in the skin. This stimulates the autonomic nervous system and encourages a parasympathetic rest and digest response. Homeostasis is the goal of massage therapy. When overstimulation of one particular system occurs, the therapeutic effects of massage help to adjust so that natural balance can be regained. In our guests, this helps to enable their body to rest and for healing to take place.
At Londolozi we allow time for an inward journey. Touch reminds us we are here and always draws us into the present moment. In this wilderness you want to do yourself the favour of practicing presence and absorbing the goodness on offer in every tree, leaf shining in the light, vast landscape, and wild creature. We at the Healing House hope to take you on a journey towards deep rest and rejuvenation and help you see your body as the magical, mystical vessel that it is.