Massage therapy: Science and technique

The next time you consider making an appointment for a massage, you should be delighted to discover that the requirements to become a licensed massage practitioner are rigorous, to say the least. Requirements vary from state to state, but in Washington you must successfully log at least 541 hours at an accredited school or academy, and then pass a national board certification exam. The requirements are intense because massage therapists are considered hands-on health practitioners.

I know most of this because my wife, Katie, and I are about two-thirds of the way through the program at the Bellevue Massage School and are knee deep in a variety of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology and massage theory and practice courses and exams. Muscles are analyzed and dissected by origins and insertions, their actions and endangerments scrutinized. We top it all off with hours of physical massage, learning and applying layer after layer of various massage techniques and strokes. Swedish massage, including effleurage, petrissage, friction, vibration, and tapotement are balanced by forays into deep tissue, Thai, and Lomi Lomi.

The hours are a little rough, with three five-hour evenings followed by a full nine-hour day every other Saturday, but nobody said anything worthwhile was supposed to be easy. Our instructors are serious about imparting their wisdom, encouraged by our rapidly improving rate of retention, and optimistic about sending us out into the real world to do some great things for the human condition. In a world where it sometimes seems as if we’re surrounded by those quick to point out what’s wrong, it is a refreshing change of pace to be able to concentrate on the magnificence of the human mind and body.

Our classmates’ occupations run the gamut from mother to esthetician to professional singer; naturopath to spa coordinator. Some seek a new life, some are just starting their journey through life, and some are putting distance between their old self and new. All bring their secular experiences and hope for a better life not only for themselves, but for the many other lives they will touch. The most rewarding aspect thus far is to see that many of the initial concerns, doubts, or even fears we witnessed in January are steadily and firmly being replaced by confidence and optimism.

The benefits of regular massage are many. Our trainers and instructors here at the Club often joke that our LMP’s (licensed massaged practitioners) can fix anything we do to ourselves. Whether you’re involved in cycling, running, strength training, swimming, aerobics, golf, gardening, clam digging or anything remotely recreational or physical, you can find relief on the table. All major professional sports teams now employ or contract out massage therapy as part of the training and healing cycle for their athletes.

Improvements in your circulatory capacity, the flushing out of toxins, and relief from post-exercise trauma to your muscles are all major components of the massage “fix”. According to a National Institute of Health study, massage helps to reduce stress and lower blood pressure, increases the release of endorphins to aid in overcoming depression, has led to weight gain in HIV-exposed infants, reduces pain for migraine sufferers, and improves alertness in office workers. Immune system measurements immediately following a massage showed an increase in white blood cell counts and in natural killer cell activity, indicating that systemically your body’s defense system was ramped up and ready to protect you from the harmful pathogens.

For those of you seeking additional benefits from exercise and physical exertion, massage can help speed up the injury/recovery cycle, reduce inflammation and swelling, and improve range-of-motion at your joints. While we’re at it, let’s throw in the fact that it nourishes the skin, calms you, improves posture and “fosters a sense of well-being.” Where do I sign up?

Bryan Welch is the co-owner of Club Emerald on the Island.

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