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Massage: Connecting the Physical Dots

By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD

Healing means making whole.

--Rudolph Ballentine, MD

As I continue my commentary on healing, I would like to start with the physical because that is very important to so many people in today’s culture.

The most effective way to bring a sense of wholeness into our physical life is through a regular practice of yoga postures. These asanas (postures) need to be actively and consciously joined with our deep diaphragmatic breathing. However, sometime we need a little more help with this connection because in our popular, modern culture yoga is often purely an exercise practice that is intended mainly to build physical strength and flexibility. The traditional yoga focuses on the union of postures, mind and breath (spirit/life force).

However, in a non-yoga life, massage is the ideal way for the body to re-connect with itself. The movement of the therapist’s hands across the skin and into the muscles allows the mind to become aware of the life force (prana) moving through those organs. We don’t even have to be awake during the process for it to have a positive effect. Subtly, at a very deep level, the neuro-transmitters in the skin and the muscles are awakened, allowing those organs to release any congestion or stiffness that might be there.

When those muscles, in particular, release the tensions, they are releasing “life-force-blocking” chemicals, like lactic acid and adrenaline, into the blood stream. The blood carries these chemicals to the kidneys and into the bladder for removal from the body. That’s why it is important for us to drink as much water as we can after a massage in order to help the kidneys and the bladder flush these chemicals out.

Even though this process of releasing and revitalizing the muscles can happen without our awareness, the healing (making whole) of the body is enhanced when two other activities are brought into the massage. When a person brings his/her thinking and breathing into the physical experience, then the massage becomes a holistic-healing event. It makes us whole.

When my massage therapist finds a muscle that is extremely tight and painful to the touch, I breathe deeply, usually an exhale, as I say to myself, “I let go of my need to hold that tension.” Or “I let go of the tightness/tension in my muscle.” As I am saying this to myself and breathing very deeply and consciously, my mind focuses directly on the muscle that is painful. Often, after two or three movements of the therapist’s hands, along with one deep breath and one mental intention of releasing the knot with each movement, I feel the muscle release itself.

This whole process is truly healing because it is making the muscle whole again. The muscle reconnects with the body and the life force that flows through it.

So, if you have never had a massage, I encourage you to help your body to connect the life force (prana) in the rest of your body. If you have had a massage, then I encourage you to make the connection happen consciously by including your breathing and your thinking in the physical massage.

After all, we are one being with a body, mind and spirit (breath)!


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