Balance Blog

Jan 24th

Learning to Touch

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We all know that touch is good medicine. The benefits of positive touch have been well-documented for decades. When we hold and caress our babies, we are providing them with an irreplaceable building block in their proper development. What we’re less likely to acknowledge is that we need touch throughout our lives – that during all life stages, touch is absolutely vital to well-being and maintenance of life. Cutaneous deprivation, or lack of touch, leads to serious mental, emotional and physical health problems in people of all ages.

In Western societies, we’ve deprived ourselves of healthy, loving touch for generations upon generations. Imagine what havoc a century of cutaneous deprivation has wreaked on our families, communities and cultures! When I went to college for my BA, I spent a lot of time studying the effects of touch (and lack of touch), from many viewpoints – through research into the psychology of touch, through movement analysis and experiments in group dance, through study of anatomy and physiology. As a result of that eye-opening experience, I committed myself to helping bring touch back to people.

You don’t have to take classes and become a touch therapist to help heal the societal disease of touch deprivation. Here are a few simple ways to make a difference, for yourself and others:

Hug somebody.
Yes, they’ve researched hugging. I’ll leave out the clinical details, but suffice to say that hugging does some amazing things to you physiologically. Opinions vary as to how many hugs you actually need in a day to stay healthy. Personally, I like about a hundred. My recipe: start with one, and keep going til you feel good. As with any touch, make sure your hug-receiver is open to the experience.

Hold hands.
With your sweetheart, your kids, your parents and friends (yes, grown-up people can hold hands too!). Obviously this requires a certain level of intimacy and ease with someone. Among other effects, simple hand-holding has been shown to reduce pain and fear.

Love on your pets.
Petting your cat or dog (or parrot? or ferret?) can reduce loneliness, depression, anxiety, unhappiness, emotional disorders, the list goes on … and it works is positive effects on both you and your pet.

Give a massage.
Wait, give a massage? Yes, learning and sharing massage is a gift to both the people you touch, and to yourself. You may not be a massage therapist, but you can still share the benefits of massage with others – your spouse or sweetie, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your co-workers – who would turn down a shoulder rub in the middle of hunching over the computer? Non-credit, starter massage classes are available in Louisville, and elsewhere.

You don’t have to have the perfect technique or learn the most cutting-edge modalities. The most important aspect of massage to learn is the right quality of touch. For example, when you just grab hold and start digging in, your receiver’s nervous system will probably immediately go into “lockdown” – tensing the muscles, on an instinctive level preparing for physical attack. This is a wall that goes up between many a massage therapist and client, if the therapist is not aware of (or is disregarding) the nervous system response, and being insensitive to the client’s state of vulnerability. Using simple centering techniques – standing still, closing the eyes, taking some deep breaths, connecting in with the sensations in your own body – you can practice an approach that calms both you and your receiver, and allows for a good-feeling and beneficial massage experience.

With massage, you have the opportunity to place your consciousness into your hands. Massage allows you to tap into your innate physical awareness, and to share this awareness with another (through touch) is a very primal means of communication. What a great way to bring positive touch to someone you care about. And take it from me – it’s fun!

What better time than now to help bring back the healing gift of touch – to give a hug, hold a hand, pet your dog, rub some tired shoulders? Whatever your approach, lets get out there and spread the love!

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Oct 18th

Massage Therapy and the Immune System

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Here in Louisville, we’re nearing flu season, and many of us are preparing by stocking up on vitamin C and other immune-boosting supplements.  Maybe you already receive massage, for relaxation or pain issues; you can also consider massage a vitamin shot for your immune system!  Are you or someone you care about concerned with a weakened immune system? Studies show that massage therapy may help.  It’s long been known that stress suppresses immune function and increases inflammation.  It’s also been proven that massage therapy can measurably decrease stress, allowing for a strengthened immune system.

In addition to its effect on the stress that suppresses immune function, it appears that massage therapy has a direct effect on the immune system as well.   A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine found that in preliminary testing, a single session of Swedish massage appears to enhance immune function, and that massage therapy may help in managing autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.  Three studies by the Touch Research Center of Miami involved HIV positive men, healthy women with no major medical issues, and women living with breast cancer.  These studies found that among these different groups, massage therapy helped to build the immune system.

Many of us who are concerned with a weakened immune system, from preparing for the flu season to dealing with autoimmune disorders, can benefit from the biological and psychological effects of massage therapy.  When looking for “your” Louisville massage therapist, make sure she or he uses techniques that relax you, as well as get to the source of the pain.  This will ensure that along with all the other benefits of massage therapy, you’ll get a good boost for your immune system, as well.

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Oct 11th

Massage Therapy and Cancer Pain

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A diagnosis of cancer can be life changing. Many people living with the disease face changes in their routines, relationships, work, finances, and how they look and feel.   Mood problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression can take over.  Pain from cancer can become a serious problem.

Cancer pain can be caused by medical tests, spinal cord compression or pain from a tumor.  Treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, can also cause pain.

Treating cancer pain begins with an attempt to remove the source of the pain, which involves removing the cancer itself when possible.  When this is not possible, pain medications are often the next step.    Medications range from over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, to strong prescriptions such as morphine.  In some cases nerve blocks may be used.

More doctors are recommending alternative therapies in conjunction with medications for pain.  Acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation and massage therapy may help.

Studies suggest that massage therapy can actually decrease some of the problems associated with a diagnosis of cancer, including pain, insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress.  “Many health care professionals recognize massage as a useful, noninvasive addition to standard medical treatment.”  [American Cancer Society]  Since stress and anxiety can cause pain, or worsen pain that you already have, massage therapy can be a very helpful complementary therapy.

It’s been said by people living with cancer that due to the nature of the disease, and the treatments for it, it can feel as if your body is at war with you.  These people report that massage therapy can bring back a sense of well-being, a positive connection with your body that can be lost during the course of the disease and its treatment.

For more information:

American Cancer Society 
The Mayo Clinic, cancer pain

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