Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey spa 2nd Street District.
When speaking with my clients concerning their goals for our session, many of them specify distinct musculoskeletal concerns they would like me to address, while others simply shrug and answer with, “I just wanna relax and feel good.” Almost inevitably they wind up getting a little of both.
I have a definite scope of practice as a massage therapist that focuses on stress relief and relief from myofascial dysfunction. I cannot avoid working with individual’s health and fitness goals. As such my clients consistently expose me to new practices related to those goals. I’m a curious person and I do my own research too.
Should you poke around in cyberspace for answers to your health or fitness goals, you will inevitably encounter marketing motivating you to take up behavior XYZ for the sake of health, happiness, and feeling good. I think the underlying narrative suggests that if you’re not healthy you won’t feel good, but what about the other way around? Does feeling good promote health?
The short answer, turns out, is yes.
Surely you’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine. According to helpguide.org laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles and is even good for your heart. It’s like a whole body internal massage. Of course laughter also improves mood. Similarly, behavioral psychologists have famously experimented with and confirmed the relationship between acts such as smiling and the mental and emotional state of their subjects. Many have measured their results in the relative abundance or absence of stress-hormones and neurotransmitter levels. They advocate a certain fake it ’till you make it approach.
Laughing with friends is even better because it engenders those feelings of safety, connection, and community that allow us to step away from our stress triggers. Leisure, and respite from routine also allows us to normalize our stress levels. Sun on the skin (protected by a high SPF of course) elevates moods and increases vitamin D production. Hearing the gentler sounds of nature, breezes through the trees, and the soft lap of water on the shores lowers the heart rate and connects us with something bigger than our problems. Touch produces the feel good hormone oxytocin, so even spending time at the petting zoo can be rewarding. Hearing your favorite music produces all kinds of feel good neurotransmitters and activates ecstatic centers in the brain. In fact, preemie babies have shown to thrive when their care takers play soothing music.
So is this really news to you? In this day and age we all know that the body and mind influence one another. Though stress effects allow an organism to overcome extreme threat, the correlation between prolonged stress and illness, including myofascial dysfunction, are well documented. We all know that the effects of stress correlate positively with disease. Feeling good promotes health, and it does so primarily because it combats the effects of prolonged extreme stress.
I constantly hear people in our culture defend their behaviors of overwork. They delay their private time and feel-good time, citing obstacles and goals. People brag about how much they’ve done and how little they’ve slept, or how much time they don’t have. I do it too. It’s a feature of our culture. We feel we must continue our efforts even when our physical and emotional well being suffer. Truly, life without challenge would feel empty. But there’s another side of the story that describes an optimal balance for health, and even productivity. Salon.com has an article about this called “Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week.” That balance requires the phenomenon of making sure you feel good.