You probably know that massage therapy can help to relax your muscles, improve your sleep, and even reduce your stress levels, but did you know that it can also help to boost your immune system? It’s true! In fact, stress and the effect it has on your immune system is a big reason why massage therapy can be so beneficial for helping you fight off colds and the flu. But that’s not the only way massage helps boost your immunity; massage will certainly help lower stress-causing hormones like cortisol and increase ‘feel good’ hormones like serotonin, but it does even more than that.
Have you ever wondered why some people get sick more often than others? And then there are those people out there who never get sick! What’s going on with them? Well, it could be that they handle stress better than others, and that may be because genetically their bodies naturally produce more ‘good’ immune system fighters, and have a better ability to decrease the ‘bad’ guys who can cause all that pain and discomfort. Alas, we’re not all built that way: some of us need a little extra help.
Clinical studies have shown that massage therapy on a regular basis can actually affect your levels of naturally occurring antibodies, increasing their levels to help fight off bacteria and viruses (that’s right, get a massage and you can skip your blueberry-banana-wheat-grass-protein-smoothie for once!). Not only that, but regular massage will help reduce your body’s production of cytokines, which encourage inflammation and pain throughout your body.
Furthermore, massage therapy helps to improve your blood’s circulation and lymph drainage, two systems that help to flush out those nasty little invaders that can hamper your immunity. Note, however, that it’s not good to get a massage once the bad guys have gained control and you’re feeling sick! Once their numbers are high enough, increased circulation can help them get around your body faster and wreak more havoc. If you’ve already come down with something, wait at least 3 to 5 days until your symptoms have dissipated before resuming your massage therapy sessions.
If you work really hard you deserve to relax. Even better, taking the time to get regular massage therapy from a registered massage therapist can help keep you from having to take sick days off and miss all that hard work you love to do! It’s hard to lead a stressful life when a weakened immune system gets in the way. So get proactive and get a massage today!
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc
Need something quick and easy to do so that you can just relax a little? And maybe you also need something that you can do in the car or where your computer is not available (or perhaps ‘not wanted’ for that matter!)? Well, here are 3 easy exercises that you can do on your own (or with a friend, if that helps) to enable you the ability to let go of some of the stress weighing you down. Rule #1: these exercises only work if you give them a chance! Rule #2: each of these exercises can be done lying down with your eyes closed in a dark room, or wide awake in your car driving. They’ll have some effect even in the most active of your states.
1. Good Air, Bad Air. One of the harmful effects stress has on us is that it virtually fills us with toxic elements (essentially the residue of our ‘fight or flight’ system going for too long). This exercise will help you rid yourself of that toxicity.
First of all, take in a deep breath, imagining that the air you’re inhaling is clean, pure air – the best you could ever find. Let this pristine air fill your whole body, from your feet to your head, and imagine it cleaning out your body’s cells. Hold it in for a few seconds to let it do it’s cleaning, and then slowly exhale. While you’re exhaling, imagine that the air you’re releasing is all the dirty, toxic air that the ‘good’ air has cleaned out from your cells. Repeat two more times.
2. Squeeze and Release. We hold a lot of tension in our muscles when we’re stressed. Much of this tension we’re not even aware of, which is why this exercise is so good. Think of it almost as a self-massage – something to tide you over until you can get the real thing!
Imagine squeezing all of the muscles in your left foot, and hold this for a few seconds. Then slowly release the squeeze, imagining that all the tension you’ve just created is being released. Do this for your right foot as well, and then slowly work your way up your body, squeezing and releasing your calf muscles, your thighs, glutes, back, abdominal muscles, chest, shoulders, neck and even your scalp. Then, if you’re so inclined, work your way back down to your feet. Be careful not to over-squeeze!
3. Energy Cycling. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that your energy runs down your front and up your back. Of course energy runs to and from your arms and legs aswell, but for the purposes of this exercise let’s just focus on your torso and head.
Do your best to imagine a warm energy traveling from the top of your head, down your face, and then down the midline of the front of your torso. The energy should feel comfortable, possibly warm and gentle, passing through you without effort. Don’t worry if you only feel it in certain parts of your body – this is normal and may change with practice. As the energy reaches your perineum (the space between your genitals and anus), gently give the muscles here a gentle squeeze, and then imagine the energy shooting up your spine to the top of your head. Repeat this cycle ten times if possible, ensuring that the energy is comfortable and easy down your front, and fast and energetic up your spine.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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