Nature-based therapies are becoming popular ways for people to find balance and a sense of well-being. As people are discovering how beneficial time in nature can be to their health, they are looking for healing ways to add nature therapies into their lives.
Wouldn’t it be nice to bring the healing effects of nature into your massage practice? Most of us do not work outdoors, however, so how do we bring nature into our massage studios? We do this by using an important and powerful tool: our clients’ minds.
Nature is our original home. We thrive in nature: body, mind and spirit. Spending time in nature has many healing benefits. It improves our sleep, lowers our blood pressure, and decreases depression and anxiety. Time in nature can also strengthen our immune system and produce feel-good hormonesthat give us an enhanced sense of well-being.
When we immerse in nature, we find a sense of belonging in a world so much greater than ourselves. In vast and magnificent settings, such as under the night sky, or on a coastal walk by the ocean, we are likely to be blessed by a sense of awe: a feeling that takes us out of ourselves and into a larger valence of being … a feeling that humbles us and makes us more grateful for our existence. We humans are biophilic, meaning we are drawn to commune with nature.
Nature-based therapies are also becoming popular with healing professionals. Psychologists are offering ecopsychology to help people gain mental balance through their connection to the natural world. Personal trainers are offering primal movement and outdoor workouts. Forest bathing is a fairly new form of healing that brings people on mindfulness retreats in the forest to gain solace and healing. Human rewilding uses activities like foraging and wilderness survival to helps us sync our own biology with the natural world.
People all over the world are excited by the potentials of healing in nature. Ecotourism and wellness tourism are both booming in popularity. With the rising demand for nature therapies, you can enhance your practice by adding the healing effects of nature to your work.
Turning your practice into your own wellness retreat can help you can serve your clients in unique and memorable ways.
Visualization is a mindfulness meditation where we use mental imagery to relax more deeply and achieve our goals. With visualization, we can mentally rehearse actions in an effort to learn new skills or increase performance. Our brainsare hard-wired for visualization.
The motor cortex. Our brain does not distinguish between actual and imagined movements. The same areas of our motor cortex activates when we thinkabout moving as when we actually move. Our brain rehearses movements so we are able to perform better and more efficiently.
Athletes use this to their advantage when preparing for an event by visualizing the entire experience. They mentally bring their body through all the motions to rehearse and refine their movements. This makes them better at their sport, helping them move faster and more efficiently when the event comes.
For example, research was done on the effects of visualization on weightlifters. The control group took a normal break between weightlifting sets. The test group, on the other hand, continued to visualize themselves lifting the weights during their break. Their muscles gained an average of 30% more muscle mass than the control group.
If our bodies can become faster and stronger through visualization, imagine what visualization can do for our clients on the massage table, as they picture their muscles relaxing and lengthening!
The reticular activating system. Our brain is also wired to help us realize our dreams and goals. The reticular activating system (RAS) is a two-inch long, pencil-thin bundle of nerves at the top of our spine that connects our brainstem with our cerebral cortex. Its job is to regulate what information gets communicated between our conscious and unconscious mind.
The RAS filters unimportant sensations and prioritizes important thoughts. By prioritizing our thoughts, it helps us achieve our goals. When we think of something, such as buying a new car, our RAS focuses on this thought. All of a sudden, we see that same car everywhere. This is the RAS in action. Whether our thoughts are positive aspirations or self-defeating, our RAS will seek ways to make those thoughts true. It is always looking for connections between our thoughts and the world around us.
This is why positive affirmations have been so helpful for people. They were looking for a positive outcome, and the RAS helped them find it.
Our bodies are perfectly designed to thrive in nature, in many ways. Bacteriain forest soil and phytoncides in forest air have been shown to boost our immune system.Walking barefoot strengthens the muscles of our feet. Walking on the natural uneven ground makes us pick up our legs higher, which strengthens our legs and hips.
When we exercise our bodies help us by producing endorphins, nature’s natural pain reliever. Walking balances our pelvis and legs and strengthens our spine. The coordinated movements of cross-lateral activities, like walking and running, activate both hemispheres of our brain simultaneously. This stimulates the corpus callosum and strengthens the bridge between the left and right hemispheres.
Our nervous systems are also attuned to nature. Cold water stimulates our vagus nerve and calms our whole bodies. The ambient sounds in nature relax and soothe our nervous systems.
Even the colors of nature are healing and balancing. Green is uplifting and relaxing. Blue inspires our creativity and calms us.
When we register blue-green light in the morning, retinal ganglion cells in our eyes send signals to our brain to increase our cortisol levels, giving us the energy to wake up. As the green and blue light darken into evening, those same sensors signal the brain to begin producing melatonin for sleep.
Studies show that being in nature could help a person recover more quickly from a stressful event. The interesting thing about these studies is that they found that even looking at a photograph of nature helped those people recover from stress more quickly.
Our modern world has changed so quickly our bodies have not had a chance to catch up. Our nervous system is still designed for quick, explosive stressors (like being chased by a saber toothed tiger) and long periods of calm (where we go back to gathering, fishing and tending the fire with our family). We are not adapted to the constant stressors of modern-day life (deadlines and traffic).
Our bodies end up bathed in adrenaline and cortisol, again and again throughout the day, unable to absorb the last bout of adrenaline before the next surge begins.
Which brings us to our clients. They are more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed than ever before. We live in a world of constant distractions and long to-do lists, coupled with the demand to multitask so we can “get ahead.”
We do not have time to daydream and be present. It is difficult to find time for the parasympathetic mode. We wait for another moment to relax. “After I get this done, then I’ll be able to rest.” Instead, that time keeps getting pushed back to another day. More to do lists, more responsibilities, more goals. Our adrenal glands are overtaxed and yet we resist relaxation.
Many of our clients wrestle with these thoughts on the massage table. They come to us to relax and take a break from the world’s stresses, and yet they end up thinking about the traffic on the way to the appointment or their to-do list after they leave the massage.
They find it difficult to be mindfuland present with us, to focus on their bodies and the sensations of the massage. For many people, when they finally relax, they check out and fall asleep on the table.
Our clients can have a more deeply satisfying and informative experience if they are able to be more present with us and mindful with their bodies at the massage session.
This is where visualization comes in.
We have so many more tools at our disposal than just our knowledgeable touch. We can guide our clients through a beautiful, transformative experience on the massage table. We can give them an experience that is so much more serene than a clinical rebalancing of their muscles, and so much more memorable than an hour-long relaxation session.
By giving our clients wonderful healing thoughts they can carry with them, we can keep them thinking about (and talking about!) their time with us.
Read “This is How to Add Guided Visualization to Massage,” posting to massagemag.com on March 3, for complete instructions on adding guided visualization to massage.
Erik Krippner, LMT, and Faye Krippner, LMT, have been practicing massage together, side-by-side, for nearly 20 years. They are the creatures of NatureBody™ massage stories, helping people relax and heal through guided visualization and self care. Find out how you can use guided visualization in your practice, and listen to a free NatureBody™ meditation at .
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