As we round the one year mark of pandemic life, I find myself reflecting on my dedication to promoting relaxation for my clients. For me, relaxation is the key to an effective treatment no matter what the primary goal of the session. In this blog, I'll give a brief overview of how bodywork promotes relaxation through the nervous system and why that is important for your overall health.
During a bodywork session, therapeutic touch directly on your skin or through clothing is used to send signals to your autonomic nervous system through the peripheral nerves. Your autonomic nervous system then communicates with it's two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, to calm the former and activate the latter.
This is important because many of us live in bodies where the sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive. This system is designed to be activated during emergent situations, but not everyday. When it is overactivated, you may find yourself in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. This can lead to increased levels of cortisol and other stress hormones which can cause inflammation and pain. Other symptoms of an overactive sympathetic nervous system may include high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, weight gain and decreased memory and concentration.
By activating the parasympathetic nervous system through touch, these affects of chronic stress are decreased. Your body can focus on conserving and storing resources for everyday processes such as digestion, elimination, restful sleep, and maintaining an even heart and breath rate. Decreased stress hormones such as cortisol can lower inflammation and pain in the body. In this way, bodywork can have a profound effect on your whole body.
Being relaxed during a session also allows for deeper work to be received and assimilated into the body so that you have less pain and feel more energetically balanced. After your bodywork session, the benefits can be perpetuated by giving yourself some time after your appointment to take a walk, do some light stretch and rest before you move back into work or a stressful home environment.
Amy Daws is a trained Therapeutic Massage, Shiatsu, and Chi Nei Tsang therapist. She is interested in the way that these modalities can bring healing and joy to people's lives.