Just as the opening and closing scenes of a play can dictate how you feel about the entire production, the beginning and end of a massage can be the most memorable and important parts of the entire experience. One of the leading factors that determines whether you have a massage that connects and balances your mind and body can often fall into the hands of a touch technique called the nerve stroke.
The nerve stroke –- a light finger-tracing touch over the skin in a downward movement along the body -– can be one of the first techniques debuted during a total body massage experience. But once you have settled in, started to relax and the therapist begins lengthening muscles and releasing your tension, this important touch technique can be quickly forgotten. Although short in duration in the overall context of a 60- or 90-minute treatment, these short feathering motions that signal the start and end of a massage to your mind and body can hold great significance to the success of your session.
Act 1: Massage is More Than Just the Muscles
When you think about all of the emotions and body systems that play a part in the overall massage experience, the leading role always goes to your body’s muscles. However, the understudy who can make or break the performance of your mind and body’s health is the nervous system. Both of these leading roles in your body work together during a massage to connect and balance your mental and physical health.
“In massage, you aren’t just getting out all of the knots,” explains Brittney Haas, massage therapist at Elements Chandler West. “You’re opening up muscles, letting blood in and allowing the nervous system to have clear communication between the brain and the muscles. Light touch in the first 30 seconds of a massage works to stimulate your body. And after that it can put you in a deep state of relaxation.”
To introduce your body to the start of a massage, a therapist may gently slide his or her fingertips over your body to dial into your muscle tension, body positioning and energy systems (aura and chakras). These gentle nerve strokes also can help increase the body’s blood flow and stimulate the nervous system to begin the process of healing and rejuvenation during the massage session.
“A huge part of massage is nerve stimulation,” says Haas. “Just from the first light touches of a massage you’re stimulating the nerves. If you leave your nerves stagnant, you aren’t going to get the best results. If your nerves are more stimulated, you’re going to have faster response times and keep everything working better for your mind and body.”
Act 2: The Best Closers Get the Most Applause
As you near the end of your massage, all of your different body parts may feel scattered and disconnected as your legs, arms, neck and back have all been treated and manipulated separately throughout the session. To help reconnect and rebalance all areas of your body and bring your wandering, relaxed mind back to the present, therapists will wrap up a massage with finishing nerve strokes that will typically include running fingertips along the length of your body.
This important closing act helps bring together all of the benefits of massage, while preparing your mind and body to re-enter into the real world feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. The ending nerve stroke can make or break an award-winning massage experience.
“Using nerve strokes at the end of a massage is a nice way to finish up the body from head to toe and bring everything together,” explains Haas. “During a massage, your nerves are firing. But the nerve stroke at the end helps to calm everything down and helps your body better respond to everything that we just did in the massage.”
The Encore: Keeping the Mind and Body Running Strong Long After the Curtain Call
After you slowly get up from the massage table, your focus on relaxation and rejuvenation shouldn’t abruptly end at the studio. To leave a lasting impression on your mind and body of what it feels like to be loose, relaxed and unwound, it’s important to schedule downtime at home after your massage so you can continue to consciously focus on healing your mind and body.
“When we finish a massage with light nerve strokes, the body is ready to keep healing long after the massage ends,” advises Haas.
Haas doesn’t recommend going back to work or heading to the gym following a massage, but rather taking time out for yourself. In fact, she gives the following health and wellness post-massage tips to all of her clients:
- Let your spouse know that he/she has child duty during the night of your massage so you can spend the evening having quality “you” time.
- Hydrate your body with adequate amounts of water throughout the remainder of the day.
- Recover and repair your mind and body with meals that include healthy nutrients and vitamins.
- Take a warm, hot bath before bed to allow the heat to work into your muscles and support overall relaxation. If injured, follow the bath with an ice pack or Biofreeze on the injured area.
- Go to bed early to let your mind and body fall into a deep state of relaxation.
An award-winning massage features a cast that includes a mix of nervous system stimulation and muscle relaxation at the beginning, middle and end of a massage, as well as incorporating lifestyle habits that will support the body’s ability for continuous healing after the conclusion of the session. The simple, yet effective, nerve stroke is a small, but powerful, act to connecting, rebalancing and rejuvenating your mind and body’s internal systems.