For the purpose of this article, Zen is a belief system that uses meditation and intuition to ascertain the value and values of the true self. Zen has no formal dogma. Rather, its precepts are passed down generationally from master to disciple.
Zen, in contemporary terms, is being present or mindful. Life is lived in the present and with no thoughts or expectations of the future. Zen encourages a oneness with the universe and the philosophy that life will unfold as it was meant to unfold. The act of releasing control helps alleviate stress and many of the health issues that accompany it. The process of mindfulness helps the Zen individual to achieve the most from the moment and live it as a higher self.
Massage and Zen
So, can massage provide Zen? The short answer to that question is no. Zen cannot be provided to an individual, it has to be a conscious life choice made by the individual. However, massage can encourage the individual in the pursuit of the Zen lifestyle.
Physiological Aspects of Massage
One popular form of massage, Swedish massage, uses long, sweeping strokes to encourage blood flow, to improve the efficacy of the lymphatic system, and to promote the release of endorphins that reduce stress and promote feelings of general well-being. A Swedish massage session begins by using effleurage strokes that help release the fascia in the body and begin to improve the operation of other systems in the body. Sometimes massage is even used in treating brain injury.
The fascia is located between the skin and the muscles and covers the entire body. It’s a fibrous substance that can, over time, become sticky and stiff. When the fascia becomes stiff and/or sticky, physical movement is inhibited and energy cannot flow freely through the body; this causes an energy blockage.
Studies have shown that the fascia is impacted by both physical and emotional events. All of life’s experiences, both good and bad, are stored in the tissues and can leave behind a metabolically toxic residue. During a massage, these toxins are flushed from the tissues and carried away by the lymphatic system. This is one reason clients are encouraged to drink plenty of water after a massage.
A body that is full of emotional and physical toxicity is unable to adequately practice the Zen lifestyle. Regularly scheduled massage therapy sessions will facilitate the release of the adverse issues that are stored in the tissues and will thereby promote the free flow of energy as well as an improvement in mobility. The release of negative emotions and metabolically toxic residues will not happen with one massage. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of regularly scheduled massages over time accompanied by the conscious desire to release the negative energy and emotions that caused the blockage.
Abdominal massage is a routine segment of a Swedish massage. This is especially important to those who follow the Zen lifestyle because the abdomen is the repository for unresolved emotional issues. Abdominal massage combines with the overall beneficial effects of massage to restore equanimity and homeostasis, both of which are basic elements of Zen.
Massage, Sleep, and Zen
Regular massage sessions will improve both the quantity and the quality of sleep. Especially for those who suffer from periodic bouts of insomnia, massage can provide the rest that the body needs to recuperate from the day’s stresses. Lack of sleep, whether periodic or consistent, can have deleterious effects on the body and can sometimes simulate the effects of alcohol. It’s difficult to practice the Zen lifestyle when the body suffers from lack of sleep. Massage can restore sleep function and help the individual in his or her pursuit of Zen.
The Massage Environment and Zen
The massage environment provides a peaceful, serene atmosphere, particularly when the therapist or the facility offers Zen massage. Connecting with the higher self is a vital aspect of practicing Zen, so it’s important to be able to clear the mind of extraneous thoughts and concentrate solely on the inner self and its relationship to the present.
Ideally, a Zen session would be scheduled for after the massage because the body and mind will already be in a calm, relaxed state. Many facilities offer Zen rooms specifically for this purpose but for the clients of the facilities who don’t, a conversation with the therapist may be able to provide an alternative.
Other Than Swedish and Zen
Swedish massage is arguably the most relaxing of the various types of massage, but all types of massage will stimulate blood flow and beneficial hormones, and increase the efficacy of the lymphatic system. Achieving a state of Zen is a very individualized experience so any type of massage may facilitate Zen, depending on the individual.
Since some types of massage, such as tapotement or sports massage, are usually scheduled with specific goals in mind, such as muscle improvement before a sporting event, they may not be the best route to achieve Zen. The choice, however, is up to the individual.
Aromatherapy massage can facilitate Zen but the therapist should be notified before the session. Many essential oils and/or essential oil blends can promote relaxation and increase the beneficial effects of a massage. Those who are pregnant should notify the therapist if they want aromatherapy because some essential oils are contraindicated during pregnancy or parts of it.