Maybe that’s what massage is to a lot of people, those who don’t have chronic pain or migraines — it’s enforced meditation for those of us too distracted to meditate. You’re paying someone to meditate you. It’s not anything they’re doing, necessarily. It’s that they open a little window. They give you an excuse to lie there in silence and pay a deeper attention to the fact that you exist. The true value of shamanism may be a concealed one, that it holds us in place and says this.
I admit it. I give massage, and I love helping people move into a state of deep, quiet relaxation. It affects me. Even though I’m being active, I participate.
Massage is something I’m doing (working your circulatory and lymphatic systems, shifting your nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic, calming your brain waves, working knots out of your muscles, loosening you out of your ordinary tension and patterns, touching your flesh with care), and you’re doing. Your part of the experience is you deciding to take time out of your busy life to be present and receive nurturing.
Here’s my experience: I meditate, and I receive massage. When I meditate, I relax my body, breath, and mind, but on my own, I cannot relax as deeply as I can with massage. At least so far I have not been able to do that. I can’t say it’s impossible.
Meditation is a different experience, one I think of as “presence practice”. Relaxation helps but is not an end in itself (usually, unless I’ve been especially agitated). There’s a discipline to meditation: witnessing the mind, inquiring into the nature of reality and identity. I’ve also experienced joy and bliss.
Massage jumpstarts physical and mental relaxation. There’s something about the touch of nurturing hands and surrendering to another person. In my massage training, I learned that there are specific places on the body that when massaged, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the non-“fight-or-flight” nervous system, the one for rest and relaxation. I use that knowledge in massage to help people get out of their heads and into their wholeness more quickly.
The deepest prolonged relaxation states I have experienced so far were through bodywork. I experienced being relaxed so deeply that I skimmed just this side of being asleep for half an hour or more.
One was during a cranio-sacral therapy session that involved the locus ceruleus, a blue spot in the back of the brain.
The other was receiving esoteric acupuncture. Afterwards, I was told that if I had not already been a meditator, I would not have experienced such a deep state.
Both experiences, receiving massage and meditating, have to do with surrender and relaxation and presence. As I understand it, each creates neural pathways that make it easier.
Doing both likely hastens and deepens well-being. `