Massage is Sensational

Brain OrgasmA recent article in The Atlantic about a phenomenon called ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) reminded me of how little we celebrate the purely sensational nature of massage.

ASMR is a subjective sensory experience that typically includes highly pleasurable tingling in the head triggered by external audio or visual stimuli such as whispering, tapping or watching certain videos. Possibly because someone early on began referring to this sensation as a “brain orgasm,” the ASMR meme went viral with articles appearing on Slate, Time, and Huffington Post as well as numerous podcasts and radio programs. YouTube already lists nearly 2 million videos on the subject.

I had two reactions when I first read about ASMR. The first was, “What’s the fuss about? Every time I get a massage, I tingle all over, including in my head and brain.” My second thought was, “How come massage doesn’t have 2 million videos on how good massage feels?”

Professional massage exists on a social acceptability spectrum that can be summarized into four major categories: Sexual, sensual, wellness, and therapy. For the past 30 years the goal of the mainstream massage industry has been to highlight the latter two categories while downplaying the first two in an attempt to create as much distance as possible between massage and any hint of prostitution.

In the process, the fact that, first and foremost, massage feels good has gotten lost. That is unfortunate because, as science is now discovering, feeling good is probably one of the best things that we can do for our ongoing health and well being.

Learning how to stimulate a parasympathetic (relaxation) response, as massage does quickly and so effectively, is crucial to the daily health and renewal of virtually every physiological system in our bodies, not to mention the maintenance of a healthy psycho-social balance.

“Massage is not just pampering,” popular magazine headlines try to convince us. I say, what’s wrong with pampering if it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases oxytocin and heightens heart rate variability, a marker of parasympathetic response? A simple, caring massage is also an unconditional validation of my existence that nurtures both internal and external empathy. What’s not to like?

All massage is sensational. It makes us feel more and it makes us feel better. What a gift is the massage that banishes the numbness with which we armor our bodies and our spirits. Let us celebrate the sensational essence of massage and start making those videos.

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3 Responses to Massage is Sensational

  1. Irene smith says:

    I have a client who is quadriplegic, has a feeding tube, a breathing tube placed into a tracheotomy and the tube is strapped to his neck and then taped . His hands are contracted up to his chin. One of the highlights of my week is when our sessions are finished and beaming from ear to ear he most often says,” that really felt good!” Seeing people in catastrophic situations and those at the end of their lives highlights my intention of delivering pleasure through touch. There is no shame in this intention.

  2. Marsha K Copeland says:

    Thank you David for reminding us that massage does not have to be about “fixing” one. It is a gift of pleasure we can give ourselves and others just because it feels good. The first step to understanding how to take better care of yourself is to feel good inside your own skin.

  3. Janet Ruckrigl says:

    Interesting article about ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), which confirms the effect of both the relaxation and therapeutic massage in stimulating the parasympathetic system and meridians. Many clients express the fact that they look forward to a “good night’s sleep” following a good massage, which again confirms the overall physiological benefit of massage. Keep up the good work of educating folks all over the world, including licensed massage therapists, about the benefits of skilled touch!

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