Ever wonder why you feel relaxed after a massage – as if all your troubles have melted away?
This phenomenon has to do with your nervous system and that pesky fight-flight-freeze reflex. (We know now that it’s not just “fight-or-flight,” but that’s for another day.) Our nervous system works in two different ways, and really they’re like two different nervous systems.
First, there’s our SYMPATHETIC nervous system. When you’re being chased by a bear (or, say, when you get cut off in traffic), this is the nervous system that takes over the operations of your body. It causes your heart rate to go up, your digestive system and many of your organ functions to reduce their functionality, and your breathing rate to increase and become more shallow (among other things). This is because all that increased blood flow goes to your limbs and extremities so you can run faster. This is great if you’re being chased by a bear, obviously, but not as valuable if you’ve been cut off in traffic or have a work deadline or stressful things going on with your kids. Adrenaline and cortisol (the dread “stress hormone”) get released during this process. Unfortunately, because our everyday lives tend to be filled with lots of stressors, we spend a lot of time in this sympathetic mode, and our bodies were not built for us to stay in emergency mode.
Enter the PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system. When the danger has passed, our breathing and heart rate slow down. Our blood goes back to our organ functions. In short, we return to normal. That’s because stress is not supposed to be our “normal.” We, as a society, are finding it harder to engage our parasympathetic nervous systems – to slow down that rush of adrenaline and cortisol, to slow our breathing and heart rate.
The good news is, massage engages the parasympathetic nervous system. It slows down the release of cortisol, relaxes the muscles that have been chasing literal and figurative bears, creates an environment where heart and breathing slow down and deepen … in short, it creates a RETURN TO NORMAL.
If you find you need to slow down, email me and let me help.
Be well, healthy, and whole!