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The Blissful Sensuality of Massage

               by Shama Kern                  Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I am a professional massage therapist, and I enjoy receiving massage as much as I like giving it.

Why? Because it makes me feel great! However I can’t help but notice a trend towards establishing the benefits of massage in increasingly scientific terms. While this is certainly important and useful knowledge, I want to emphasize another aspect.

Massage is not and should not be a scientific experience.

I want to propose that the benefits of massage are not just about scientific data and double blind studies and physical reactions that can be measured and proven and tested and put under a microscope and evaluated in a test tube and approved by scientists who might have never had a massage in their entire life.

The true experience of a good massage cannot be measured scientifically.

Why do people really get a massage?

Massage by its very nature is a sensual experience! What do you think how many people go to a massage therapist to get their neuropeptides adjusted or their dopamine levels elevated? Care to take a survey?

People get massage because:

They want to feel good.

They know that it helps them with their aches and pains.

You don’t need scientific facts to understand that. You can feel it. Granted, is is good to have the scientific facts as a backup.

No-pain-no-gain? Thanks-but-no-thanks!

There is a branch of massage aficionados who subscribe to the theory of no-pain-no-gain. The harder the therapist presses, the more therapeutic it must be, even if it is very painful. If that works for you, good for you. But massage can do a lot more than loosen hard muscles. It works on an emotional or mental level too. It releases stress.

Let’s take a look at what kinds of experiences help to release stress in life.

Sensual experiences release stress

A heartfelt hug releases stress, because it is a wonderfully sensual experience. We are naturally inclined to give a totally stressed out and desperate person a hug.

We intuitively know that it helps!

The trouble is that often we wait until we encounter such a desperate person before we allow ourselves the healing benefits of a genuine hug.


Sex releases stress too, because it is highly sensual. It is very difficult to think about the pressures back at the office while you are in the middle of a wonderful sexual encounter.

Cuddling your purring cat releases stress too because it is a sensual experience.

If you don’t believe that, ask your cat. She knows and makes no attempt to hide it.

Why should massage be an exception?

Massage releases stress too, because it is a totally sensual experience (not sexual). We see the common thread here. Sensual experiences are good for you. They release stress.

If stress is released, energy is freed up in the body and mind which in turn enables your body to do what it knows how to do and is designed to do very well: to heal itself on many levels.

Your body has an absolutely amazing ability to heal and restore itself if you don’t sabotage it too badly by ingesting junk food, drugs, alcohol, nicotin, and depriving it of enough water or sleep and yes, sensual feelings.

Sensual feelings do not only release stress, they make you feel more balanced, happier, enthusiastic, confident and on purpose. Puritans are not fun to be with. They deprive themselves and others of the sensual feelings that every baby and every cat and every dog knows is great for them.

Our pets might have more common sense than we do.

We have some confusing standards. If you rub your dog’s belly and he rolls over and stretches all four legs, we all think that this is cute. If a human appreciates sensual touch, it is immoral and indicative of a questionable character. If you hug and kiss a baby, it is adorable, if you hug and kiss a human, you are promiscuous.

If you stroke your purring cat, it is lovely, but if massage therapists dare to admit that massage is a sensual experience, they run the risk of being accused of unprofessional conduct and their clients might become highly suspicious of their motives.

Yes I know – there are child molesters and sex maniacs out there. But I am talking about reasonably normal people here, which is the vast majority of us. And yes, although very rare, things can go wrong between a massage therapist and client.

Anyway, if you want a guarantee that you will never be mistreated by any human being, you have to go and live in a cave in the Himalayas. But then the tigers and cobras might get you.

Sensual is not the same as sleazy

Let’s get one thing straight: sensual and sexual are not identical. They can go together very well, of course, but they can also be easily separated, like in the case of a professional massage session. There is no reason to be afraid of the word ‘sensual’. It is not a four letter word, and it is not indicative of sleazy establishments.

It is a natural, essential and necessary feeling that contributes enormously to your physical, emotional and mental health, and your professional massage therapist can help you experience it. Of course in the process he or she can also elevate your dopamine levels, if you must know.

The problem is that in our western culture, sensuality is often associated with sexuality. But the fact is that sexuality is a subset of sensuality, or an optional component, you could say. Sensuality is just a pleasurable experience through our senses.

Even the dictionaries can’t agree

I did a test and checked on dictionary definitions of sensuality. The result shows the cause of the confusion. Here is what Encarta World English Dictionary has to say:

being sensual: the capacity for enjoying the pleasures of the senses

being pleasing to senses: the quality of being pleasing to the senses

And here is what Webster’s has to say about sensuality:



The first definition sticks to the natural meaning of the word, whereas Webster’s attaches a strong negative slant.

Touch spies on duty – a revealing experiment

This reminds me of a study where researchers went around the world to observe touching habits in different cultures. They just sat down in cafes and counted how many times people touched each other. In Italy and Brazil it was dozens of times per hour, in America two times, and in England zero.

In Italy sensuality won’t have that negative charge attached to it that it sometimes has in North America. The meaning of words depends on the cultural context.

Let your pet teach you the meaning of massage

Those of us in the professional massage business who are honest enough and have enough common sense, understand that massage is a wonderful sensual experience (which has nothing to do with ‘sexual’ in this context).

We know that this is what feels good, and in the final analysis, this is what most clients are coming for. They want to feel better after the treatment than before it, and they want to enjoy their session. If you are not sure what enjoyable means, watch your cat or puppy and they will gladly show you.



The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and

director of Thai Healing Massage Academy

which is headquartered in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

He can be reached at

Benefits of Massage

 September 20, 2010

Regimens: Massage Benefits Are More Than Skin Deep


Does a good massage do more than just relax your muscles? To find out, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles recruited 53 healthy adults and randomly assigned 29 of them to a 45-minute session of deep-tissue Swedish massage and the other 24 to a session of light massage.

All of the subjects were fitted with intravenous catheters so blood samples could be taken immediately before the massage and up to an hour afterward.

To their surprise, the researchers, sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, found that a single session of massage caused biological changes.

Volunteers who received Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol in blood and saliva, and in arginine vasopressin, a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. They also had increases in the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the immune system.

Volunteers who had the light massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment, than the Swedish massage group, and bigger decreases in adrenal corticotropin hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol.

The study was published online in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The lead author, Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport, chairman of psychiatryand behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai, said the findings were very, very intriguing and very, very exciting and I'm a skeptic.         

Are you feeling guilty about getting a massage?

Does massage seem too self-indulgent?

Actually, massage has many important health benefits.

Massage can help you maintain physical, mental and emotional well being, especially when it is part of your wellness routine that includes proper exercise and rest, healthy eating habits, and a positive outlook in life.

Read the statements about Massage Therapy on the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) website:

Follow this link to read a CNN article that discusses the many benefits of massage as documented in research studies.

Massage: It's Real Medicine

Massage sessions can slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and block the nervous system's pain receptors. 

The Health Benefits of Massage

* Massage calms the nervous system and promotes a sense of relaxation and well being.

* Massage reduces tension and anxiety.

* Massage improves blood circulation, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the cells.

* Massage stimulates the lymphatic system, which carries away the body's waste products.

* Massage can help to alleviate relieve muscle cramps and spasms.

* Massage therapy can also help with pain management in conditions such as arthritis, sciatica, muscle spasms.

Other Benefits Of Massage

* Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.

* In some instances, reduce dependence upon pain medication.

* Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow?the body's natural defense system.

* Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.

* Prepare for and/or recover from strenuous athletic workouts.

* Can improve the condition of the body's largest organ?the skin.

* In some cases, increase joint flexibility and mobility.

* Lessen depression and anxiety in some instances.

* Promote tissue regeneration and even help to reduce scar tissue and stretch marks.

* Increase the oxygen level and nutrients in tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.

* Reduce post surgery adhesions and swelling.

* Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.

* Release endorphins?amino acids that work as the body's natural painkiller.

* Lessen or relieve migraine pain for some clients.

A Powerful Ally

There's no denying the power of bodywork. Regardless of the adjectives assigned (pampering, rejuvenating, therapeutic) or the reasons a session is scheduled (a luxurious treat, stress relief, pain management), massage therapy can be a powerful ally in your total wellness routine.

Experts estimate that most likely upwards of ninety percent of illnesses are in some form related to stress. Perhaps nothing ages human beings faster, internally and externally, than high stress. While eliminating anxiety and external pressures altogether in this fast-paced world may be idealistic, massage can, without a doubt, help to manage stress. This translates into:

* Decreased anxiety.

* Enhanced sleep quality.

* Greater energy.

* Improved concentration.

* Increased circulation.

* Reduced fatigue.

Furthermore, clients often report a sense of perspective and clarity after receiving a massage. The emotional balance bodywork provides can often be just as vital and valuable as the more tangible physical benefits.

Profound Effects

In response to massage, specific physiological and chemical changes cascade throughout the body with profound effects. Research has documented that with massage:

* Arthritis sufferers may note fewer aches and less stiffness and pain.

* Pulmonary function and increased air flow often is enhanced.

* Patients with dermatological injuries and disorders report reduced pain, itching, and anxiety.

* High blood pressure patients demonstrate lower diastolic blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones.

* Elevated glucose levels in the blood often are lowered through massage therapy.

* Edema and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet can be reduced.

* Chronic pain from repetitive motion injuries can be lessened.

Research continues to reinforce the enormous benefits of touch?which range from treating chronic diseases, neurological disorders, and injuries, to alleviating the tensions of modern lifestyles. Consequently, the health care community is actively embracing bodywork, and massage is becoming an integral part of hospice care and neonatal intensive care units. Many health care centers, long term and acute, also are incorporating on-site massage practitioners to treat post-surgery patients, those who experience chronic pain, and clients who suffer from anxiety, depression, and issues that involve personal loss, profound grief, and self esteem.

Increase the Benefits with Frequent Sessions

A massage literally can do you a world of good. Experiencing the pleasures and benefits of a massage frequently can do even more. This is the beauty of bodywork. Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you'll be and how youthful you'll remain with each passing year. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. And remember: just because massage feels like a pampering treat doesn't mean it is any less therapeutic. Consider massage appointments to be an essential component of your health and wellness plan, and work with your practitioner to establish a regular appointment schedule that best meets your needs.

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