Massage Therapy: Your Wellness Strategy

By Nora Brunner

For many people, massage and bodywork are a critical part of their health and wellness strategy–an idea medical professionals are increasingly embracing. In a recent online survey, massage devotees talked about their commitment to regular massage therapy. These folks find a way to afford it, regardless of other demands on their resources.

Best Life
“Getting massage has been part of my life since I was in my 20s–I’m now in my 50s,” says Los Angeles chef Gisele Perez. Once a modern dancer and now proprietor of a boutique catering company, she considers massage necessary to the career she loves. She finds massage helps resolve problems she’s grappling with and that solutions arise spontaneously in her thoughts while she’s on the table. “I think it maintains my emotional balance,” she says. Many massage clients report cathartic experiences when they finally allow themselves to fully relax. With so much of our lives devoted to what one spiritual guru calls “efforting,” it’s nice to know that letting go of it all can be just as productive, perhaps even more so.

Some have come to massage because of injuries and found unexpected blessings in their situations. While many first-time massage clients have become acquainted with massage because of referrals from health professionals, there’s no need to wait for an injury to prompt you into forming the massage habit.

“I consider professional massage therapy an essential part of my best-life design,” says author and psychologist Mollie Marti, who suffered a whiplash injury several years ago in a car accident. “It’s been worth every penny,” she says of the work that has improved her range of motion and relieved muscle soreness, as well as offered deep relaxation, greater alertness and clarity, and a heightened sense of well-being. “I feel better and am happier and more at peace.”

Professional athletes also use massage strategically before events to help them achieve their best. Research also shows muscles recover more quickly after a workout. For weekend warriors, a massage can help recovery, or also serve as a reward for sticking with an exercise program. That’s doubling the return on your investment.

Research shows the cost of a massage has remained fairly steady in recent years, even as other popular pastimes have become more expensive. “Affording it” is a matter of priorities, or at least that’s the way 22-year-old Elizabeth Sosa Bailey sees it. She calls her modest Houston public radio station salary “practically a sneeze,” yet she manages to get a monthly massage. “My first massage was only 30 minutes, but I fell in love,” she says. “It’s worth it because it makes me happy.”

Being happy is only part of it, since studies show an ever-increasing number of health benefits massage affords. This is an instance where the pillars of intelligently managing your health–prevention and early intervention–come into focus.

Medical Odyssey
Attorney J. Kim Wright of Taos, New Mexico, stressed out over the constant demands on her time after founding a law practice 15 years ago. Those pressures, combined with having a large family at home, soon led to margaritas at a local watering hole with her staff every Friday after work. When coworkers started discussing an additional drinking night on Wednesdays, she got worried about the path she was on. A colleague recommended massage. She scheduled weekly massage appointments, a resource that also helped her cope with a divorce when her life changed direction. The sessions stretched her budget, but became her lifeline, she reports, adding that she often broke into tears the minute she walked through the door for her massage session. “It was the outlet I needed,” Wright says.

Christine Stump used to work as a full-time paramedic and continues in a part-time capacity after adding yoga teacher to her career. Massage is how she maintains her emotional balance and avoids injuries that have disabled her coworkers in the “adrenaline-soaked world of emergency services,” she says. “I process my experiences with greater ease,” Stump says. “My monthly massage is a tremendous reset button.”

A Self-Care Experience
Author and teacher Charlie Adler of Washington, D.C., has been getting regular massage for 10 years, admitting that perhaps he enjoys his job a little too much. Adler is a full-time instructor in wine and cooking and can’t help but enjoy the fruits of his–and his students’–labor. Committed to holistic medicine, he says: “Massage is disease prevention for me. It seems wrong to me to wait until you get sick to go to a doctor.” The 47-year-old reports he often falls asleep in the middle of his session.

“As a ranked expenditure, massage is up very high,” he says. “It has a higher importance than going out to eat and cable TV … I rank massage equivalent with faith or religion, or maybe as one component of my belief system. I have missed massage for as long as three weeks just once in 10 years,” he says.

Former ballet dancer Luis Perez of Miami, Florida, has been getting massage twice that long. With 20 years of twice-weekly massage, he works in health and fitness, putting his money where his mouth is. “I have given myself permission to make myself a priority,” Perez says.

Many people make massage a priority, and you may well be one of them. Know that you have chosen something with real value that benefits your health–both in body and mind.