Bodywork, which includes massage therapy, is a form of communication through touch. Although the nature of hands-on touch may differ from one modality to another, all types of bodywork and massage have the perspective that human touch communicates positive, soothing messages to both the body and the mind. 

Touch messages are real. They are transmitted to the brain via nerve endings where chemicals are released that signal the muscles to relax. This physical release is accompanied by feelings of well-being and more optimal overall functioning. 

Touch is the first sense to develop in human beings. Human, nurturing touch is so essential that babies will fail to thrive and eventually die without it, even if they are provided with proper nutrition. Although as adults, we will not die without nurturing touch, we thrive with it. Massage and bodywork can provide the kinds of touch that help prevent physical and emotional problems and help heal the body and the mind.


Touch Affects Us on Many Levels 

The touch in bodywork and massage, whether light or deep, can promote healing on a number of levels. The depth of touch is not necessarily an accurate gauge as to depth of impact. Modalities based on light, gentle strokes and movements can have a profound effect on physical and mental health. 

On the physical level, the healing power of touch may result in your feeling less pain in your shoulder, resulting in freer movement, or the release of long-standing tightness in your chest, resulting in freer breathing. On the mental and emotional levels, touch heals by facilitating mental clarity, improving concentration, alleviating stress, reducing anxiety, and fighting depression. The touch provided in massage and bodywork can help you feel more comfortable with yourself and with your body, factors that contribute to healthy self-esteem. 

Appropriate touch also enhances positive communication between the body and the mind. The relationship between internal bodily and mental processes is at the heart of the mechanism through which touch derives its power.


The Mind-Body Feedback Loop

The internal reaction triggered by touch affects communication throughout the mind-body feedback loop. Here is how the loop works: 

Mental tension created by circular obsessive thought patterns, also known as worrying, makes your muscles tense. Your tense muscles signal your brain, creating further mental tension. Your whole being becomes uptight. 

You decide to get a massage. 

The process of therapeutic, nurturing touch can break this pattern by providing touch signals that communicate “Relax” to the mind, as well as to the body. Once relaxed, the mind and body can communicate with each other more openly and efficiently by providing equally powerful messages to relax and move freely. 

Touch has the power to help you substitute a positive mind-body feedback loop for the negative one that was maintaining your stress. The refreshing, open flow of communication within the mind-body system promotes creativity, spontaneity, and a feeling of relaxed vitality. 

The Power of Touch throughout History 

The significance and healing power of human touch has been acknowledged for thousands of years.

Massage, the systematic rubbing and manipulation of the tissues of the body, is one of the oldest means used for the relief of bodily infirmities. Massage has been in recorded existence since the year 2200 B.C. Eastern cultures are way ahead of Western cultures in the realization that human touch is a powerful tool for improving physical health and promoting feelings of well-being. There would be no modern forms of massage and bodywork without the foundation laid by Eastern cultures.

As long ago as about 1800 B.C., the Ayurveda, the earliest known medical text from India, listed massage as a primary healing practice. Massage has been practiced in India and Japan for many centuries. Massage was practiced by the Greeks and Romans in connection with their therapeutic baths. Herodotus taught Hippocrates massage and medical gymnastics. Julius Caesar, who suffered from epilepsy, had himself pinched all over and massaged on a daily basis. Through the power of touch, he was better able to carry on his work. 

A percussive type of touch, known as whipping, was used by the ancient Roman physicians to treat a variety of diseases and is still used by Laplanders and Finns who beat the body with bundles of birch twigs. The natives of the South Pacific islands have used massage for hundreds of years. 

The Chinese practiced massage as many as 3000 years ago. In fact, an ancient Chinese book that was later translated into French was probably the foundation for the Swedish massage strokes developed and systematized by Per Henrik Ling in the 1830s, which in turn became the basis of modern massage. In France and other European countries, massage has been a popular treatment for pulled muscles since the 19th century.

Andrew S. Levine, Valerie J. Levine – The Bodywork and Massage Source Book