If I were rich, my daily luxury would be a massage. Massage is the oldest form of therapy for dealing with stress, and its value is as relevant today as it has ever been. Daily tensions and stress make us tense, a state many people come to accept as normal. They have forgotten that time as children when they were attuned to how their bodies felt, and are used to the pain and muscle stiffness that result from a hard day’s work.
Hippocrates – the ‘father of medicine’ – wrote that of all his arts, the doctor must be ‘assuredly experienced in rubbing . . . for this can loosen a joint that is too rigid’. It is often not until we have a good massage that we realize just how tense we are, how much nervous energy we are burning and how refreshed and different we feel afterwards. Touch is a powerful tool that not only reduces pain but also makes us feel loved and wanted.
The simplest way to relax is to buy some massage oil and spend a quiet evening with your partner learning how to massage each other. You do not need to have a diploma to work out what to do, but if you want to take it seriously there are many books and courses on this subject. Patients often look at me in surprise when I suggest this treatment to them, but when their neck pains or headaches are cured they are delighted not to have tried the usual path of pills and fortitude that many doctors prescribe. If you do not have a partner, you can practise self-massage. Massage those areas where you feel stiff or uncomfortable. The usual places are:
- Neck and shoulders. Lie on your side and massage the side and back of your neck, using slow, circular movements. Move on to the shoulders and as much of the upper back as you can comfortably reach, then turn over and massage the other side.
- Back. Sit upright and place the fingers of both hands on either side of your spine. Starting at the bottom, move your fingers up your back, pressing lightly. Do not press on the spine. Work up the back as far as you can reach, then work back down again.
- Legs and feet. Do this after you have massaged your back. Sit down and stretch your legs out in front of you. Starting on the right, rub upwards from your toes to your hips in small circles. Repeat with the other leg. (If you find it difficult to reach your toes with your legs outstretched, prop your feet up on a stool.)
- Face. Lie down flat on your back and stroke your forehead with both hands, moving from the middle out to your ears. Move down from there to your chin and rub very gently under your eyes. Finally, give your scalp a brisk rub for five minutes.
A difficulty with self-massage is that you are not able to relax as much as you could if someone else was massaging you, but it is still well worth doing at home, or in a work break. You can even massage your face while sitting in a traffic jam. Listen to what your body tells you and, even if it is only an occasional treat, give it what it needs.
Massage is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress that there is. It works by releasing endorphins – nature’s painkillers. Buy a book on massage or enrol on a course, and practise with your partner or a close friend. Remember how you feel afterwards and try to maintain that sense of relaxation.