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The next time you spend a string of stressful days at the office, don't reach for a sugary snack to perk you up. Instead, reach for the phone and schedule yourself a professional massage. Once considered a luxury, massages are now seen by many as an important tool in the battle against tension and stress.
"The most noticeable benefits of massage are relaxation and stress reduction," says Carol Cournoyer, assistant spa director at The Spa at Norwich Inn in Norwich, Connecticut. In addition to the pampering effect, more and more people are turning to massage for the health benefits it offers. "A lot of people with back problems or athletes with injuries are getting massages," says Cournoyer. "In fact, chiropractors and physical therapists often recommend massage to their patients."
And with good reason, according to new research. Studies have confirmed that massage has many health-boosting effects including reducing heart rate; lowering blood pressure; increasing blood circulation and lymph flow; relaxing muscles; improving range of motion; boosting the immune system; and increasing endorphins. A study by Beth Israel-Deaconess Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education and the Center for Health Studies in Seattle found that was an effective treatment for patients will chronic lower back pain.
Besides these physical benefits, massages also offer these mental and emotional benefits, says the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org):
Photo courtesy of the Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich, Connecticut.
Carol Cournoyer, assistant spa director at The Spa at Norwich Inn in Norwich, Connecticut explains the basics of common massage styles:
Swedish. This style is the most popular -- and what most people picture when they think of massage. It is known for its flowing movements, which usually include stroking, kneading, applying pressure, and stretching. Among the benefits: Increased circulation and tension relief.
Shiatsu. Deeper than a Swedish massage, this Japanese technique focuses on stimulating pressure points along nerve paths to release energy blockages. The result: You feel relaxed, but energized.
Deep tissue. This type of massage is similar to Swedish, but deeper and more intense. The therapist uses deep compressions to ease muscle tightness and discomfort. If you're looking for a light rubdown, this isn't the treatment for you!
Hot stone massage. A newly popular treatment, hot stone massage (sometimes called La Stone Therapy) uses smooth basalt lava rocks to warm the body and, with the addition of massage oil, integrates the stones into traditional massage techniques.
Sports therapy. This site-specific treatment is designed to relieve aches from overworked muscles as well as improve athletic performance. While the whole body can be included in the massage, the therapist focuses on specific areas, depending on the client's needs. For example, when working on a marathon runner, the massage therapist may focus on the legs and/or feet.
Phytotherapy. A specialty at the Spa at Norwich Inn, phytotherapy is a Swedish massage that incorporates essential plant oils that have different effects. Among the options: relaxation (uses a blend of ylang ylang, lavender, and tangerine), energy (combo of peppermint and rosemary), muscle relief (blend of birch, thyme, and juniper).
Thai massage. This treatment, for which the client usually wears loose-fitting clothes and reclines on a futon, has been called the "lazy person's yoga." The therapist presses deeply into the muscles with his thumbs, elbows, or knees, to open up the flow of "chi" or energy. Then he moves the client through a series of yoga positions to gently stretch the body.
Follow Cournoyer's advice for a comfortable, relaxing massage experience: