The Mind-Body Benefits Of A Massage (And How Contrast Therapy Deepens Them)

The Mind-Body Benefits Of A Massage (And How Contrast Therapy Deepens Them)

During the pandemic, stress levels surged at the same time physical touch became fraught. Now that we’re moving into a gentler, safer summer, that makes the benefits of getting a massage today all the more profound. 


Whether your intent in getting an Asheville massage is finding new ways to incorporate healing in your life or you’re seeking a memorable, rejuvenating experience to share with a loved one, we’ll walk through the benefits you can expect to receive from a massage. We’ll also unpack the differences between a couple popular varieties of massage and how contrast therapy can deepen their benefits, as well as share some at-home massage tips — so that you can access this ultra-restorative therapy anytime, anywhere.


What are the benefits of getting a massage? 


Relaxation is, of course, understood to be one of massage therapy’s major benefits. But the full advantages of getting a massage — physically, mentally and emotionally — go far beyond that. 


Benefits for the body:


Getting a massage positively impacts everything from your circulatory system to your musculoskeletal and lymphatic systems. By kneading and manipulating your soft tissues, a massage helps deliver oxygenated blood and nutrients throughout the body, flushing out toxins and metabolic waste in the process. Similarly, fluid and waste are flushed out of your lymphatic system, which reduces inflammation and boosts your immune system. Through sustained pressure, a therapeutic massage will also break up any muscular adhesions — knots or bands of painful, rigid scar tissue — that are causing chronic soreness, pain and discomfort. Massage therapy has also been shown to help with things like: 


  • Repetitive strain injuries, like carpal tunnel
  • Muscular function and recovery from injuries
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Problems with posture and mobility 
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive disorders
  • Upper back, lower back and neck pain

Benefits for the mind: 


Scientific studies have shown time and again the link between mental and emotional stress and how that trauma shows up in the body. (Grab a copy of “The Body Keeps the Score” for a good read on this subject.) Even if it’s only everyday life stressors you’re facing — and there certainly have been a lot of those lately — taking care of your body through a massage can offer a whole host of mental and emotional benefits. 


Thanks to massage therapy’s calming, rhythmic nature, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for your rest-and-digest response, is activated — the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System’s fight-or-flight response. This facilitates the release of your body’s feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin; research shows these hormones increase by as much as 30% after a massage. An overall sense of calm and well-being is promoted, which can spill over into other areas of your life. Massage therapy has also been shown to help with things like: 


  • Chronic stress and irritability 
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Chronic headaches or migraines
  • Unreleased emotional pain
  • Insomnia
  • PTSD and other effects of trauma

What to know about deep tissue and integrative massages 


Deep tissue


At Sauna House in Asheville, your massage therapist will — based on information gleaned from intake forms and from their conversation with you — design a massage experience that fits your unique needs. Deep tissue may be recommended as a therapeutic massage if you have specific body aches and pains to address. While either type of massage, deep tissue or integrative, can be a full-body experience, a deep tissue massage will center more specific areas of focus and can thus get at the root of what’s causing pain and soreness. 


That’s because deep tissue massages work to firmly penetrate and realign deep layers of muscles and fascia, your body’s connective tissue. When muscles and fascia become knotted, it creates “trouble spots.” By breaking up scar tissue, getting rid of muscle tension, and increasing blood flow, a deep tissue massage can reduce inflammation in these areas and may also speed up the time it takes for your body to heal from injuries. (To note, it does usually take multiple therapeutic massage sessions to receive this benefit — which is why you may want to consider making massages one of your regular systems of care!)


Integrative


In an integrative massage, the focus is on your body as a whole, with an understanding that everything in your body is highly interconnected. While a deep tissue massage can certainly also feel like a full-body experience, an integrative massage won’t apply the kind of firm pressure to “trouble spots” that you’ll get in a deep tissue massage. Instead, these massages are meant to be highly customizable and holistic, and they’ll feature a lighter touch than deep tissue. As an Asheville massage experience, it’s meant to feel soothing — and a little less like you’re “having work done.”


If your goal is to promote balance, healing and relaxation throughout your body, and you’re someone who doesn’t suffer from specific areas of pain or soreness, an integrative massage may be what your therapist recommends. They’re a great option for anyone hoping to release tension in both the body and mind.


How contrast therapy can deepen your massage’s benefits 


With two hours of bathhouse access following any massage at Sauna House, our hot/cold/relax blend of therapies will perfectly complement and enhance the massage benefits you just received. During a massage, as your soft tissues and muscles are kneaded and made supple, toxins and metabolic waste buildups are loosened and released into the body. By following your massage with the heat of a sauna, you’ll help your body detoxify by flushing out that waste. (Just be sure to stay hydrated!)


After your massage and sauna time, take a quick plunge in our 53-degree cold water bath to send a rush of mood-boosting endorphins and oxytocin to the brain. It’ll make your mind feel calm and clear — and it’ll also give you a sense of grounded alertness that, in our book, beats any espresso. A cold dip is also excellent for draining out your lymphatic system, a process that your massage and sauna session will have already started. By constricting your blood vessels and further flushing out fluid and waste from your lymph, lymph nodes and lymph vessels, your immune system will benefit.


Finally, some unplugged time in our lounge area will deepen your overall state of relaxation. At a lot of places, you’ll be sent back out blinking into the world immediately on the heels of a massage. That doesn’t allow time for the full benefits of your massage to root in and take hold. So, relax. Take a seat on one of our heated chairs. Drink something hydrating. Enjoy bonding with a loved one, or simply soak up the peace of some rare alone time. At Sauna House, the only “rush” we’re about is the jolt that comes from an ice bath dip.


How to self-massage at home


Can’t make it into see one of our Asheville massage therapists? It’s also possible to enjoy the benefits of massage therapy without leaving your home. Studies done on healthcare workers with high levels of stress, tension and insomnia showed that even a once-weekly, 10-minute chair massage helped with their sleep, pain, fatigue, shoulder tension and headaches. By regularly incorporating some light massage techniques into your at-home care practice, your body and mind will benefit.


Not sure where to start? Try incorporating the five techniques below.


  1. Do a simple head massage.


Place your thumbs on your temples, by your ears. Using your fingertips, gently apply pressure in a circular motion. Keep moving in circles up and along your hairline until your fingers meet, then work your way back down.


  1. Grab a tennis ball for a back massage.


Place a tennis ball between your lower back and a wall and move your body up and down, allowing the ball to dig into any areas of soreness or tension.


#ProTip: You can also, while sitting comfortably in a chair, place the ball underneath your foot and roll it back and forth from heel to toe for a foot massage.


  1. Using a foam roller, do a leg massage.


Lie on your side with the foam roller under your hip. Roll down from your hip to your knee, turning your body toward the ground as you go.


  1. While putting on lotion, massage your hands.


This is great for anyone often on a keyboard. With lotioned-up hands, gently pull each of your fingers one by one. Next, pinch the webbing between them.


  1. Give your shoulder a little love.


If you have shoulder tension, give yourself a hug. With your arms crossed over your chest, hold your shoulders. Squeeze each shoulder a few times before working your way down your arms, squeezing as you go.


Ready to get rested?


If you think now could be the time to try out a deep tissue or integrative massage for yourself, our Asheville massage therapists at Sauna House love to hear from you! 


Book a massage.


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