Think of the last time you left a massage or reflexology session. You may still talk about the just-right pressure your practitioner applied that finally helped you unwind. While these and other contact-based bodywork modalities obviously have an effect on your sense of touch, what you may not realize is that your treatment helps you feel the way you do because of its employment of all five of your senses.
We are designed to interact with the world around us in a variety of ways—through touching, hearing, smelling, seeing and tasting. Though we may think of a situation as only engaging one of these senses (the taste of a dessert, for example), the truth is that more than one is often factoring into what we experience. That treat, for instance, pleased your taste buds. But the delight of that first bite was surely also influenced by the smell of its chocolate filling, the beauty and music of the dining room, the comfort of the chair you were sitting in, and so on.
The same can be said for some bodywork treatments. Relaxation, instead, is the feeling that each component of your session is crafted to illicit. Here’s how it is often done—and why.
Sense of Touch
The expert technique of your practitioner may target specific muscles or points, bringing various benefits, but the physical contact alone adds to how you feel, too. Research shows that sensations—whether they’re rough or smooth, gentle or hard, hot or cold—affect mood and behaviors. Human touch also encourages a connected, cared-for feeling that helps ease you into a more comfortable, blissful state. The softness and warmth of a massage table, the slipperiness of lotions and so forth only add to the tactile experience.
Sense of Hearing
Harsh sounds, like blaring car horns, can actually heighten our stress levels. Fast ones can make us work harder and move quicker (why music with a rapid beat is often played in fitness classes). Likewise, slow, soothing sounds send a calming message to the brain and may not only slow your heart rate, helping you relax if you’re wound up, but reduce your perception of just how painful that tight muscle in your shoulder is. With this in mind, bodywork sessions often include soft music or recordings of nature sounds, such as waves crashing on a beach.
Sense of Smell
Fragrant essential oils. Pleasant-smelling candles. A perfumed spritz on your massage pillow. These may seem like expendable features of your treatment, but they are far from it: The receptors in your nose that pick up scents speak to the area of your brain that is also responsible for emotions and stored memories. Lavender is a popular choice for its ability to activate certain brain cells and help you feel lulled, and scents like jasmine and chamomile can have a de-stressing effect. One study even showed that a whiff of a subjectively “relaxing” fragrance can alleviate stress-induced muscle tension.
Sense of Sight
Your eyes are responsible for two-thirds of all messages your brain receives and processes. As your main “news source,” what you see can have an immense effect on how pleasing you find a situation. A walk in the park, for example, always seems that much more enjoyable when you see patches of flowers in bloom along the way. Bodywork treatment rooms often have dim lighting, flickering candles and soft colors to set a calm, inviting tone. Service rooms tend to be uncluttered, to encourage a peaceful state of mind.
Sense of Taste
This aspect of your treatment is likely less prominent that the rest. Still, a glass of just-squeezed juice or some fruit slices cannot only quench you after your treatment, but please your tongue with refreshing flavors that echo just how revitalized you feel. Furthermore, since most of what you taste is tied into how something smells, these offerings provide yet another opportunity to influence your mood with their scents.