Relaxation, stress relief and the easing of tense, aching muscles are the most obvious benefits of massage. However, massages — and other spa treatments including facials, aromatherapy and body wraps — assist in removing toxins from the body, which helps us look, feel and function better.
"Our bodies absorb harmful toxins and pollutants we are exposed to in our environment," says Marie Humphries, a massage therapist and owner of Therapeutic Touch Massage Studio (726 1/2 E. Boston St., Covington, 985-590-7490; www.therapeutictouchmassagestudio.webs.com). According to Humphries, common environmental pollutants include smoke, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and salt. Signs of a toxin buildup include a weak immune system, lethargy, trouble sleeping, cellulite, skin problems, fluid retention and difficulty losing weight. Removing harmful toxins and pathogens, she says, can increase energy levels and improve overall health.
Massage works on several levels. In addition to flushing out water, salt, minerals and other substances that accumulate in the muscles (for a variety of reasons including muscle tension, which reduces the flow of oxygen and nutrients to tissues), it also stimulates the flow of lymph fluid, the body's natural defense system against toxic invaders. Drinking plenty of water after a massage aids the process. Treatments like exfoliating facials (which help unclog pores), back facials (which use warm clay masks to draw out impurities), body wraps (which promote sweating and utilize detoxifying agents like seaweed or sea salts), hydrotherapy treatments (which also promote sweating) and certain aromatherapy oils have detoxifying effects as well. Some spas even offer lymphatic drainage.
For those interested in trying a home detox treatment, facials and bath soaks are easy, relaxing options. Because aromatherapy works well in conjunction with facials, Humphries suggests combining essential oils of black pepper (it increases circulation, stimulates the digestive system and works as a diuretic), cypress and juniper berry. Cedarwood and frankincense are also good for detoxing. Essential oils enter the body either by absorption or inhalation, so they can be used in a variety of ways — as oil-infused candles, diffusers, in a bath, mixed into massage lotion or even inhaled from a tissue or washcloth.
"There are so many different aromatherapies out there," Humphries says. "It's easy to get information ... by Googling essential oils, and they're easy to buy at any health food store."
In addition to smelling nice, essential oils help you feel good. Coupled with massage, they can help prevent health problems before they occur and even improve your mental outlook, Humphries says. "Massage releases (from the brain) serotonin and endorphins ... the body's natural painkiller and feel-good hormone."
Marie Humphries' Exfoliating Scrub
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1.5 teaspoons sweet almond oil
Granulated sugar — enough to thicken the mixture
Lightly rub the mixture over your face, avoiding the eye area. Cover the face with a warm, wet towel for a minute to open pores, then use the towel to remove the exfoliating scrub. Follow with a purifying mask. Apply a warm, wet towel over the mask for a minute, then use the towel to wipe the face clean. Finish with a toner, tightening serum and moisturizer.
A relaxing detox bath is simple and inexpensive. Add sea salts and/or Epsom salts and a few drops of essential oil such as lavender or ylang-ylang to a warm bath. Soak for 10 to 20 minutes.