Have you noticed that if you feel unwell for a long period of time, your mental well being starts to suffer? Or that when you are down in the mouth, you seem to pick up every bug that is making the rounds? This is because our physical and emotional states need to work in harmony for optimum well being. The aim of any holistic therapy is to treat the person as a "whole" and encourage balance in all aspects of your being (homeostasis) by finding the root cause of a problem and not just simply focusing on the surface problem. For example, tension in the muscles of the back can be caused by poor posture when working, driving etc and a nice relaxing massage can stretch those muscles out and get the blood flowing freely again. For a time. But why is your posture bad? Do you take regular breaks to move around and stretch? Are you under a lot of pressure at work? Do you think about the amount of work you have to do all of the time - not allowing yourself to have a break in case you fall behind? If you have your nice relaxing massage and then fall straight back into your usual habits, your muscles - which have very good memory! - will also fall straight back into old habits and your "bad back" will start again.
Holistic therapies are almost like re-training exercises for your whole system. Regular treatments will make you more aware of your posture, the condition of your skin and the muscles where you hold tension. You will become much more aware of your whole self and the need to eliminate toxins, stretch your muscles, nourish your skin as well as the importance of rest and relaxation. All this brought together results in balance of the Mind, Body and Spirit (homoeostasis) and a greater feeling of well being.
While incorporating regular treatments into a healthy lifestyle is obviously the best course of action, I am well aware that this is not always possible. Even the occasional treatment has benefits and this leads me to talk about stress.
What is stress?
Stress is good! (You weren't expecting that were you?) It is a perfectly normal reaction and is how we deal with external pressures whether physical or emotional. Many years ago, when we would have been hunting amongst dangerous beasts, the stress reaction kept us alert, gave us strength to fight or enabled us to get quickly out of the way and basically kept us alive. When we are feeling under threat, our body very quickly reacts by releasing adrenalin which triggers a chain reaction.
Breathing becomes rapid so that more oxygen is available to be converted to energy.
Heart rate increases and blood pressure rises to quickly pump this oxygen around the body, delivering extra power to the muscles.
Increased sweating so that the muscles are kept cool and do not tire from over-heating.
Blood is diverted away from the skin to the internal organs so blood loss is decreased if we are injured.
The immune system powers up so that any wounds can be treated immediately.
The body completely focuses on the perceived threat to the exclusion of everything else.
This is known as the "fight or flight" response, an amazing tactic developed by the human body over thousands of years to keep us safe from predation. Once the danger has passed, the excess energy is spent and everything returns to normal.
Though modern stresses are still very real to us, our bodies have not adapted the stress response accordingly and so this is now a slight over reaction to having a deadline for getting a piece of paper from one side of the building to another! This is when stress becomes a problem.
It is your reaction to a stressful situation that is key. When a problem (a perceived threat) builds up in your mind, sooner or later the fight or flight response will kick in and you will become entirely focused on this problem as the chemical reaction within yourself completely takes over. If you do have an important deadline, though still a slight over reaction, it can be a very useful mechanism as long as once the deadline (threat) has passed, you have some technique for getting rid of all the excess energy that has been released into the system such as going to the gym, going for a run etc and then recovering with something restful and relaxing, such as a massage.
However, if you are constantly in a state of perceived threat/anxiety with no outlet for the excess energy your body is creating and no time for your body and mind to rest, this is when stress becomes a very bad thing that can, and does, lead to very serious health conditions. This is why I believe that even intermittent treatments are beneficial. Just giving your body and mind a break for one hour while you have a holistic treatment helps lower the heart rate, helps lower blood pressure, increases circulation, helps you focus on your breathing and helps you ground yourself and reconnect to the essence of who you are.
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