Most of us have experienced periods in our lives when we seemed more vulnerable to infectious illnesses such as respiratory or urinary problems. If we asked ourselves why this was happening, we could generally recognize that we were “run down”, stressed out” or in some other way not taking care of ourselves properly with enough sleep, proper nutrition etc. We know that we are constantly exposed to bacteria and viruses that are blamed for illnesses, but generally we are able to resist infection.
We also notice that some people seem to have a “strong constitution.” They seem to be able to overextend or take other liberties with their lifestyle and not show any signs of poor health. Others have more of a predisposition to illness and it seems that a few days with too little sleep and they develop a sore throat.
These are experiences which give us some sense of the strength or weakness of the immune system. Longterm or more serious disorders of this system can be recognized in illnesses such as environmental sensitivity, allergies, chronic fatigue, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
People who recognize a weakness in their immune system often wonder if massage can be helpful. The answer is yes! However this is not a situation such as a muscular strain that can be relieved in a treatment or two. When we address immune system problems we must speak to the patient’s whole being, striving to restore harmony and a feeling of wholeness. This can help to restore the self-balancing capacity.
Regular massage sessions provide significant benefit beyond the immediate the relaxation we enjoy. Numerous scientific studies show positive results from regular massage treatments. In one study by Gail Ironson, M.D., HIV positive men were given 45 minute massages five days a week, for a month. They showed an increase in serotonin and an increase in natural killer cells, viewed as the first line of defense in the immune system. This is testing a very narrow aspect of the human immune system, but it does lend scientific credibility to a therapy which is widely recognized as therapeutic, based on experience.
Another obvious benefit of massage is the stimulation of the lymphatic system. This is of particular help for people who are weakened and do not exercise regularly. We can also see improvements in the circulation of blood, nourishing our whole body. Massage of the abdomen will, of course, help to overcome problems of constipation and encourage proper elimination. Anyone who has experienced a period of constipation knows that our whole sense of well-being begins to be affected by this condition. Treatments which support the healthy functioning of the liver and spleen are also recommended.
People who are in a weakened condition or have immune disorders often feel overwhelmed by their illness. They may feel estranged from their bodies. When we are able to bring a spirit of kindness and patience to our treatments we can be very supportive. Excess sentimentality or anxiety about details can be repellent to the patient. A positive attitude, which is realistic and yet encouraging can help the patient to overcome his or her fears. As Jesse Stoff, M.D. points out in the book Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, “Hope can free the ill from despair and help maintain a good quality of life and a reason for living. Hope, transformed by the will of the human spirit, can sustain life, even under the most difficult of circumstances.” Massage, incorporating that special therapeutic value of human touch, can indeed bring encouragement was well as soothing to the human soul.