Just 10 Minutes Of Massage Is Enough To Help The Nervous System Relax
Studying the effects of massage.
To conduct the study, researchers in Konstanz's psychology department analyzed the effect of touch on the parasympathetic nervous system (the system of nerves involved in relaxing the body) by giving groups of participants two different types of massages. For a control group, they also had a group sitting quietly without touch.
One of the massages was a head-and-neck massage, meant to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system through massaging the vagal nerve. The second massage focused on the neck and shoulders and was softer, to see if touch alone was relaxing.
The team monitored the participants' levels of physical and psychological relaxation by asking them about their emotional state and looking at their heart rate, as well heart rate variability, which shows how well the parasympathetic nervous system responds to stress.
10 minutes of relaxation is enough.
Based on the findings, just 10 minutes of resting or getting a massage reduced stress levels in the participants, with massages being more effective than resting alone. The participants reported feeling less stressed and more relaxed, with improved heart rate variability.
According to the study authors, that increased variability means the parasympathetic nervous system was better able to respond to the environment and get the body more relaxed. Best of all, this effect was present (i.e., the PNS was easily activated) through both massage and sitting quietly.
And the fact that it only took 10 minutes for any sort of relaxation to notice benefits is significant: "We are very encouraged by the findings that short periods of disengagement are enough to relax not just the mind, but also the body," notes Maria Meier, one of the study authors, and doctoral student Konstanz in a news release.
Why it matters.
As luxurious as a spa day or a 90-minute Swedish massage sounds, what this study shows is that relaxation is accessible to everyone. "You don't need a professional treatment in order to relax," Meier says. "Having somebody gently stroke your shoulders, or even just resting your head on the table for 10 minutes, is an effective way to boost your body's physiological engine of relaxation."
Now that these promising benefits for massage have been found, the team hopes to analyze other so-called short interventions, like breathing exercises and meditation, to see if they can get similar results. The hope is that these kinds of practices could improve the lives of those with stress-related diseases like anxiety and depression.
So, the next time you're stressed, grab some massage oil and prepare to relax. Treat yourself to an abhyanga sesh (ayurvedic massage), ask your partner to give you a brief massage, or, when in doubt, sit quietly and do something that relaxes you. According to this research, 10 minutes is all you'll need to start feeling more relaxed.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.