By Gill Tree, instigator of National Massage Day and Author of the Manifesto for A Pro-Touch Society.
In 1992 I set up a school of massage which I kept for twenty two years. I Created our anatomy and physiology course for our massage students in 2008 and very soon had other schools of therapy wanting to buy it for their students. That is how my next business was born!
I thought I would share this article with you as in the age of Covid, we need as much positive touch as possible.
I believe we are all already experts when it comes to loving touch. Each of us is able to instinctively reach out and communicate through our hands what words cannot say.... a deep level of feeling, understanding and care to those we cherish.
When we bang our elbow we'll rub it to make it feel better without thinking and we rush to soothe the grazed knee of our child.
In infants there is a condition known as marasmus where without loving touch babies can wither away and die. Adults who do not receive loving touch may become withdrawn and anxious. We can see extremes of this in those with mental illness who may rock themselves for comfort.
In my role as a Massage Therapist I have worked with the elderly massaging, soothing and reducing pain in old arthritic and stiff joints. I have taught the parents of very premature babies, how to touch their tiny child through the doors of the incubator and I have soothed the dying cancer patient through their pain and suffering.
In everyday life we can all benefit from massage therapy to help us cope with the everyday strains and stresses of the twentieth century.
When one person touches another in a loving way, there is a release in both, of the hormone oxytocin. Well known to be found in abundance in breast feeding mothers, it is the hormone that ensures the bond with, and love for the infant is secured. When released through touch in both men and women, it gives us a feeling of well-being and of being nurtured.
In my travels around the world, particularly in Asian countries, it is common to see mothers sitting in the sun massaging their babies in their laps. Watching this natural, effortless and loving gift that is so obviously a pleasure for both mother and babe, really brings home that we in the west have much to relearn and remember to become more attuned to a more natural, more peaceful, more tactile and more loving way of being.
The benefits of massaging our baby are exactly the same as for adults such as relaxed muscles, improved circulation and digestion, enhanced immunity and sense of wellbeing.
AND there is so much more that works on a much more subtle level, the benefits of which are fundamental to our babies well being.
Insufficient loving touch for all of us, but particularly babies can lead to withdrawal, depression, a lack of appetite and a withering away, known as marasmus. Scientists are now acknowledging that if babies do not receive adequate, loving, tactile
stimulation, they can be adversely affected, psychologically.
Massage encourages eye contact, smiling, stroking and talking to our babies, all of which are crucial to developing a loving bond between parent and child.
Massage opens up the communication between parent and baby and the ability to understand the baby’s communication, through its body language, is developed.
It is important to treat our children with the utmost respect and to gain their permission with regards to giving them a massage. Even the youngest baby will be able to indicate through their body language whether they are feeling comfortable or not. Teaching children that they can communicate whether they wish to be touched or not, will serve them well in later life. By being respectful we in turn teach our children to assert themselves.
Massage will also;
Stimulate the functions and development of all the systems of the baby’s body
Provide relief from common complaints such as teething, colic and constipation
Enhance relaxation: studies are showing a reduce in stress levels, even for premature babies
Benefits for the parents:
Improved self-confidence, a stronger bond, learning how to read baby’s language and cues production of relaxing hormones whilst performing massage
When massaging your baby, focus on the quality of your connection rather than the techniques. As long as these are performed caringly and lovingly there really is no right or wrong.
If your baby cries when massaging, then accept that they have had enough or are not in the mood and give them a cuddle instead.
Do not massage your baby while asleep. You will also find that if they are tired, hungry or just been fed these are not good times to begin a massage. Research shows that the best time for the baby is when he is in a quiet alert state.
This state can be identified by observing your baby who will display quiet, slow movements, eye contact and an obvious readiness to interact. You can massage your baby every day or however often your lifestyle allows.
Routine brings a sense of security to babies, so find a time of the day suitable both for your baby and you.
Use a light pure vegetable such as sunflower, to massage your baby, without anything added such as perfumes or essential oils. Perform the techniques with care and with a firm even pressure to avoid tickling and irritating your infant.
In my baby classes, it was always a pleasure to do a guided relaxation for the parents at the beginning and to find that as we all relaxed, the babies more often than not, relaxed and quietened too. It is my belief that babies come into this world with wonderful perception and intuition and can pick up on our feelings and emotions and often mirror them.
Babies of course also have their own feelings and emotions and massage and quality touch give them the safe environment and self esteem in which to express them.
I became an infant massage instructor by studying with the international Association of Infant massage, (IAIM) a world wide organisation that has trained many thousands of instructors to teach classes with in local communities.
Massage in labour
During labour, every woman’s needs are very different and some may not want massage at all. If a woman is open to massage during labour, the main areas which need to be worked are - the sacrum and lower back, the abdomen, the neck and shoulders, the legs, the arms and feet. Women tend to respond better to holding techniques – simply holding a part of the body firmly during contractions- as there is so much going on. However, often between contractions, they may like effleurage techniques.
Massage of the lower back and sacrum can be beneficial - firm, slow effleurage can be pain-relieving. It is an extremely helpful area to apply pressure to, which can often feel painful in labour. It also relaxes the whole pelvis and can provide pain relief as well as allowing labour to progress. Between contractions, gentle stroking or lighter general pressure can help with relaxation.
* (Please note references made throughout this article to the book, is for ‘Total Massage, by Gill Tree http://www.amazon.co.uk/Total-Massage-Gill-Tree/dp/1840725826/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354708560&sr=1-1 )
"These anatomy and physiology courses are fantastic. I wish all my university lectures 10 years ago had been available via e-learning. I would have remembered so much more"
- Cordelia Peacock -
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