As a massage therapist I am both blessed and humbled by the opportunity I experience daily to touch people’s lives including those living with HIV and Aids.
But besides supporting survivors on a purely benevolent and emotional level, massage also influences body-mind processes as well as their immune systems.
On the first day of December each year, or World AIDS Day, we are reminded that, despite great strides in treatment, the human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immune-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) remains a health risk worldwide. In South Africa alone more than a 1000 people are infected each day.
Anti-retroviral medication has changed the lives of many people for the better and several research projects underway such as the newly launched HVTN 702 HIV vaccine efficacy study, show great promise.
But despite the progress in medical and health domains, there are still many people with HIV and Aids who survive but do not thrive due to a lack of social support, acceptance, compassion and the tenderness of human touch.
As Leo Buscaglia says, too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
A systematic review published in Cochrane Database System Review in 2010, examined the safety and effectiveness of massage therapy to improve the quality of life, enhance pain management and support the immune system in people living with HIV/AIDS.
The team concluded that, although more research is needed, massage may have a positive effect on the immune function of infected people through:
1. RAISING IMMUNE CELLS
A study conducted by a team from the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles showed that people who received a 45-minute massage had more white blood cells or lymphocytes. These are cells that help defend the body against disease.
2. STRESS MEDIATION
Massage contributes to lowering our stress response by bringing down cortisol or stress hormone levels. The same study also shows that it lowers vasopressin, a hormone believed to play a role in aggressive behaviour.
3. COUNTERACTING INFLAMMATION
Another finding from Cedars-Sinai study was that after a massage participants had lower levels of cytokines, the molecules that play a role in inflammation.
4. CHRONIC PAIN
By controlling inflammation as well as muscle spasms and cramps can help relieve pain.
For massage to prove beneficial to people with HIV/Aids and to achieve immune-enhancing results, Jacob Gnanakkan in Massage Today recommends that the therapist do full-body treatment which should last approximately one hour and be performed at least once or twice weekly over a few months. This should form part of the medical treatment plan and other stress-relief therapies.
So to show compassion and to boost your immune system, stay in touch.
Optimal functioning of the immune system, it turns out, is dependent upon feeling good.”
Body-mind or mind-body? If you are struggling with physical and mental pain and feel that the dominant health paradigm’s dualistic approach to mind and body seems inadequate to explain anything, I want to talk to you. Join me under the tree in my garden for a cup of rooibos tea and let’s talk massage and SomaSense!