Manual Therapies: Massage, Reflexology, and Acupressure
Massage is one of the traditional natural healing arts which falls under the umbrella of naturopathy. It is used to promote health naturally together with proper nutrition, herbs, hydropathy or hydrotherapy, exercise, rest, sunshine and pure air.
Modern massage practitioners adhere to the natural health philosophy that include a preference for the natural methods of healing as stated above, in the vital force or innate inner healing of the body, and human life from a holistic viewpoint. The manual therapies of massage, reflexology, and acupressure can be as beneficial to animals as they are to humans.
You can find those specializing in animal massage and acupressure through the National Board of Certification for Animal Massage & Acupressure (NBCAAM) at www.NBCAAM.org, Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute at www.animalacupressure.com, Northwest School of Animal Massage at www.nwsam.com, International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork (IAAMB) at www.iaamb.org, and you can find out about canine reflexology from SRS Canine Foot Reflexology at www.caninefootreflexology.com.
Massage is a form of bodywork that assists the body in removing toxins from the body through manipulation of the muscles and joints, which encourages improved circulation for both blood and lymph. In addition, massage is rather versatile depending on the style of massage you choose whether Western Massage, Ayurvedic, Asian, etc., your body or that of your pet, can become energized or relaxed, invigorated or calmed. Due to the pain-relieving hormones called endorphins that are released during deep muscle massage your body or your pet’s can be relieved of sometimes debilitating pain through the natural methods that massage encompasses.
Massage can also be complementary to traditional forms of health care to assist the body in surgery recovery or from injuries under the guidance of your medical doctor or veterinarian working with the massage practitioner.
In addition, massage can be utilized to assist the body as a preventive measure for general well-being. If you exercise on a regular basis (hopefully you do and that your animals also receive regular exercise) massage can be incorporated into your wellness regime to remove soreness and keep the toxin buildup within the body – especially the muscles – from occurring allowing you to not only feel better but to have better performance in exercise, workplace, sex life, life in general. The same holds true for our animals.
One of the most wonderful aspects of massage is that while it is often considered to be topical and localized, the reality is that as your body is massaged the practitioner keeps your entire being in mind so that the session is really focused on your being, your interconnectedness; the body is a whole not individual parts operating independently of each other.
Massage in its various forms has been around for centuries globally with the Western form of massage being the youngest and more recent form of massage. Western massage is a synthesis of two men: Pehr Henrik Ling (Swedish movement cure) of Sweden and Johann Georg Mesger of Amsterdam. They both combined both active and passive movements into massage with the approach of whole health as their focus.
Massage has its roots in ancient cultures of folk and native traditions. Here in the Southwest and within my own family the cudanderas of Southwestern, USA originating within the Hispanic communities combined the healing traditions and folk medicine of Spain with Native American remedies that include herbs, midwifery, massage and ritual. The “touch” modalities have long been a part of most folk and native traditions in virtually every culture on earth for time immemorial; touch is necessary for growth and healing.
Typically during a massage session you will either be in a room alone with the massage practitioner (although alone when you undress and dress) or in a group room with partitions to give you privacy in undressing and to limit any exposure of your body to others. With animals, typically the setting is a calm, quiet one where the practitioner can work on your pet in his/her own environment. Once your pet trusts the practitioner and realizes the comfort the bodywork will bring, they will come to anticipate the session much as we do when we receive bodywork therapy.
For your own session, there will be sheets draped over the massage table and the practitioner will go over with you prior how to cover yourself before they re-enter the room to begin your massage. The practitioner will go over any health concerns, special needs, etc., with you prior to beginning – and with your pet that will often include consulting with your holistic veterinarian on the current health condition of your pet.
The massage session will engage your active participation in deciding how much or how little pressure or time spent you would like on various areas of your body. With animals, the practitioner will be familiar with how to recognize when your animal is not comfortable or in pain – otherwise a sharp nip or a swift kick might ensue!
As the client, you are empowered to make those decisions with the practitioner working with you to help you receive not only the massage that is most beneficial to your body and needs, but to assure your comfort and ease during the process. As the client you are empowered to decide your parameters and health needs, with the practitioner working with you to help you attain your health and/or recovery goals or that of your animal.
Often the setting is a quiet, darkened room with gentle, relaxing music playing – same with your animals. Typically the session begins with you lying prone (on your stomach) in a full body massage. Your dog or cat will be lying on their side. The only area that is left uncovered on your body is the area where the practitioner is presently working. All is done professionally, protecting the integrity of your privacy and modesty during the session. You can also decide how much or how little you would like to talk during a session.
Practitioners are trained to keep it professional and are focused on you and your needs during a session. Often the session will begin with no massage oils in order to utilize the friction of dry skin to warm up your body. They will then apply massage oils, sometimes mixed with healing essential oils to assist them in the massage of your body – the same is true of massage with dogs and horses. Some practitioners even use aromatherapy diffusers to diffuse the essential oils into the air for the smell and the healing effects during the massage – this approach works well with cats, birds and other animals more sensitive to the phenols in essential oils. Aromatherapy has been shown to help depressive symptoms in patients with depression during massage. (1)
The practitioner will always keep a hand on your body (or your animal’s) at all times during the session to keep continuity and energetic flow. They will not disengage until the end of a session, as they leave the room to allow you to dress in privacy. When you need to turn over to the supine position (lying on your back) they will hold the sheets so as to protect your privacy. With your dog or cat they will need to be turned over by you or the practitioner to their alternate side.
During the session you are free to tell the practitioner if something is too painful or if you’d like the massage to be stronger or deeper or gentler – your animal will let the practitioner know when a spot is too sensitive or if they are uncomfortable as animals are never subtle in their responses! If you decide to continue in massage as part of your overall healthcare, you and your practitioner can evolve to a client-practitioner relationship that will allow you to receive the best possible care for your well-being. I personally find massage to be one of the most pleasant forms of natural health care, even when the practitioner has been working deep tissue massage for injury healing on me – I think of it as a “good” hurt.
Some of the latest studies on massage are proving to be very beneficial in assisting with a variety of “modern” ailments. In one recent study, a group of aggressive adolescents received 20-minute therapy sessions, twice a week for five weeks. Not only did their anxiety levels lower but at the end of the study these teens felt less aggressive and perceived their parents as also being less aggressive towards them. (2)
Massage can be a great asset to any natural wellness program for those endeavoring to care for their bodies or their animals bodies naturally, preventively.
1. Yim VW, Ng AK, Tsang HW, Leung AY. Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. A Review on the Effects of Aromatherapy for Patients with Depressive Symptoms J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Feb 13 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19216657?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
2. Diego, M.A., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Shaw, J.A., Rothe, E.M., Castellanos, D. & Mesner, L. (2002). Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence, 37, 597-607 http://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/Massage.htm
3. Benjamin, Patricia J, Tappan, Frances M. Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques. Pearson Education Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 07458. 2005.
Copyright © April 2009. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Author. This article is for educational purposes only. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader.
Dr. Kim Bloomer is an animal naturopath and published author, consulting on canine nutrition and wellness. She hosts the internet radio show, Animal Talk Naturally and is Co-Founder/President of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy. In addition, Dr. Kim is a proficient blogger and writer on natural pet health, having co-authored the books Whole Health for Happy Dogs, Essential Oils in Animal Care: A Naturopathic Approach, and authored the book Animals Taught Me That. Dr. Kim’s articles have been featured in various publications such as Animal Wellness, Natural Horse, Dogs Naturally, NM Breeze, Raw Instincts, and the Pet Connection magazines. Website:www.AspenbloomPetCare.com
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Photo Attribution: Shadrach the Neo Mastiff being massaged by Dr.Kim Bloomer – photo by Dr. Kim Bloomer circa 2010, All Rights Reserved.