We speak to the massage expert about the connection between the physical body and emotions and how massage can help improve sleep
Massage therapist and teacher Beata Aleksandrowicz knows first hand the healing power of touch. Growing up in communist Poland, Aleksandrowicz was raised in a household where the ethos was hard work, and positive physical contact was non-existent. “I grew up in a very difficult environment and received a clear message from an early age that I should avoid touch,” says Aleksandrowicz. “So for a long time, I avoided physical contact as much as possible. In effect I was deprived of touch, not being able to give it and even more importantly not receiving it either.” It was this upbringing devoid of touch that ultimately led her to her career in massage, however. The turning point came when she attended an open day for a massage school recommended by a friend. “My first reaction was: “What?! Me?! Massaging? You must joking!” But I went there and it was a turning point in my life that not only gave me the most beloved profession but also helped me to heal my own wounds.”
Twenty years on and Aleksandrowicz now helps to heal the wounds of others, working both with clients of her own but also helping massage therapists themselves take care of their health and emotional wellbeing. In 2002, Aleksandrowicz created Pure Massage – a method that combines everything from energy work to deep tissue techniques and Theta Healing (a meditation technique created by Vianna Stibal that involves changing your brain wave cycle) – and which she now teaches at spas across the globe. We spoke to the expert about the connection between the physical body and emotions, about how technology is affecting her industry, and how massage can help improve sleep.
How can massaging the outer body affect health and the inner systems of the body?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: We generally associate massage with a quick fix when we have a physical problem in the body. Because we have narrowed down “massage” as a simple physical fix, we have lost the understanding of how powerful and healing it can be on both a physical and emotional level. Massage helps the body to relax and releases muscular tension. Massage will help to increase breathing, oxygenating the body and supplying vital nutrients. It helps to stimulate the body which is often in a stagnant state. The body has its own intelligence and healing system. In order for the body to function properly, it needs to be in balance. So, things like stress anxiety, emotional traumas, tiredness and burnout will have an impact on the balance of the body. All systems of the body depend on each other, they work together and respond to each other. The beauty of massage is that it brings that balance to every system in the body.
What is the connection between the physical body and emotions? How do they affect each other?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: We know that every thought creates reality for us and that the ecology of the mind has a big impact on our appearance. Thought changes into emotion and that emotion has an impact on the body. There is also the response of the body from the emotions. For example, if you feel fear your body will shrink; if you feel tense your jaw will tense. You feel happy, you will breathe more openly and walk lighter – every system in the body responds to emotions. Emotions come from our thoughts, from what we believe about ourselves. That’s why it’s important to take care of the quality of our thoughts as this is the starting point.
You’ve mentioned working with indigenous tribes in Africa and learning their techniques. Can you tell us more about that?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: I worked on a five-year charity project, supporting a unique Kalahari Bushmen group. I travelled extensively in Africa and was initiated and recognised by healers in Botswana and Namibia. It resulted in creating Touch of Trust, a documentary that explores our ability to communicate through touch beyond cultural barriers and differences. It has a life-changing impact on me – communicating with tribal people through the power of touch.
Treating people, especially with face massage, can be quite intimate. Do you find it creates a bond between you and your patient?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: Working with people is very intimate work – so it depends on your attitude to work. I personally want to make a change in clients, so I work with mind, body and spirit perspectives which requires intimate contact. The face is very intimate. The face has many nerve points which are related to the whole body as well. My work creates a bond between me and my client. The sense of bond and trust is fundamental, I am often helping a person to reconnect with themselves. In order for the healing to happen there has to be a sense of safety.
Have you noticed a shift in people’s wellbeing as technology and social media have advanced over the years?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: I believe that we know much more about health today and the media is helping with this and new research is also helping us in our understanding of this. Technology can measure and monitor our health, sleep and happiness including heartbeat, blood sugar, fitness levels etc. In that way technology is extremely useful. On another hand, technology and social media communication can have a devastating effect and we know why.
What’s the best thing people can do to help their wellbeing?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: Firstly look at the quality of your sleep. This is the time when you regenerate your whole body. Make sure that you sleep well, drink enough water. Stretch in the morning because the connective tissue gets shrunk whilst you sleep. And in order to create the space for the whole system to work. Finally, you need to breathe correctly. This is the basis and then everything else will follow. Lifestyle, diet, ecology of mind comes from this place.
How can massage help to get better sleep?
Beata Aleksandrowicz: Hormones play a vital role in our sleep patterns and massage is an excellent way to positively influence these whilst helping to soothe the soul and calm the nerves, ensuring you get a peaceful night’s rest. Levels of the hormone cortisol are often elevated in people who are stressed (yes – that’s most of us) which can lead to insomnia. Massage helps to balance the hormonal system and it's proven that massage can reduce the level of cortisol by an average of 30 per cent. Serotonin, our happy hormone, influences our wellbeing, appetite, memory, sexual drive and sleep. Whilst it needs light and exercise to thrive, studies have also shown that massage can help to boost serotonin levels up to up 28 per cent. So before you go to sleep, try massaging your hands, feet, and neck.