Plenty of research has shown the benefits of massage for people suffering from depression, anxiety and low-back, neck and shoulder pain — but the workplace connection hasn’t been spelled out.
Fortunately, corporate attitudes are in rapid transition and inroads for workplace massage are being constructed.
Companies that make massage a regular part of employee workdays include Cisco Systems, Baptist Health South Florida, Genentech and Scripps Health, to name a few.
Thirty years ago, only in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a business conference entitled Wisdom 2.0 that would bring leaders from some of the most successful technology companies, such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Cisco, together with academics, researchers, politicians and spiritual educators, such as Marianne Williamson, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield, to discuss “how to live with greater wisdom, purpose and meaning.”
Check out the audio of these and other presentations via the conference website. Listen carefully, and you will hear the latest business jargon — words like presence, engagement, compassion and mindfulness, and such concepts as conscious capitalism, the innovative mindset, places and spaces of intimacy, and reclaiming ourselves.
Another easy way to learn about the changing values in business is by tapping into the seemingly bottomless library of presentations offered up by TEDTalks.
One word you will hear repeatedly in all of these discussions is connection.
Companies want their employees to feel connected to themselves, to each other, to customers, to their work, to their communities, to their environment — and even to the greater good of all humankind.
We Are Connection Experts
Of course, touch is the physical manifestation of connection, and seated massage is a safe container for a lot of touch. So, in terms of the massage version of a wellness coach, we are actually connection experts.
Why is massage so good at creating a sense of internal and external connectedness? In a word: oxytocin. Over the past 10 years, this hormone, which also acts as a neurotransmitter, has risen from obscurity to take a leading role in the wellness narrative.
Here is the short, somewhat oversimplified rags-to-riches story of oxytocin, starting with some basic physiology (you can use this story to market your seated massage to businesses):
The autonomic nervous system has two complementary branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which generally activates our fight-or-flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which generally promotes rest and recovery and makes us feel calm and connected.
We live in a sea of stress caused primarily by overstimulation of the SNS. Too much noise, too many smells, too many people, too much work, too much e-mail, too many perceived dangers.
The fight-flight-freeze response, once the occasional visitor when a tiger crossed our path, has become a constant companion. This chronic stress response has been dissected in thousands of research papers, and the conclusion is simple: We are physically, mentally and emotionally overwhelmed.
What has been studied far less, until now, is the PSNS that stills the waters and brings a sense of peace and calm, comfort and compassion, healing and health to our lives. Evidence is mounting that the primary chemical that triggers this parasympathetic response is oxytocin.
Originally thought to be released only during childbirth and breastfeeding, oxytocin is now known to be produced by the pituitary gland of both males and females throughout our lives.
We also now know the most efficient way to stimulate the release of oxytocin is through caring touch.
This means we have a scientific rationale for why massage makes us feel better, which we can explain to companies and customers. For the last 25 years, my key message was “Circulation is not optional.” Now it is “Oxytocin is not optional.”
When oxytocin kicks in, employees feel better about themselves and each other; productivity and creativity increase because energy is no longer drained away by a hyperactive SNS; and the multiple health problems brought on by a chronic stress response are reduced, resulting in lower absenteeism and health care costs.
To position yourself as a credible wellness coach for massage, I suggest becoming credentialed and developing a solid rationale to justify your services. The established wellness industry can provide you with the credential, while some revolutionary research will provide the rationale.
Formal training in wellness is often as close as your local academic institution, which may offer degrees or certification in health, wellness and fitness. A quick search will also put you in touch with related academic programs and online courses.
You can also access professional training and specialized credentials through nonprofit organizations, such as the National Wellness Institute or the Corporate Health and Wellness Association, both of which offer online and in-person training, certification, membership and conferences.
Both academic and professional credentials are useful paths for getting a broad-based foundation in wellness and developing credibility as a wellness coach; however, you will quickly discover massage is rarely found in the curricula of the mainstream wellness industry.
In part, this is because of our deep-seated cultural phobia regarding touch; in fact, specific prohibitions about touching are still routinely included in many corporate sexual harassment policies.
This absence of attention to massage by the wellness industry is also indicative of the absence of good data justifying the benefits of massage in the workplace.
To become a serious wellness coach and succeed at landing corporate contracts for your services, get a credential and become an oxytocin expert.
Then get out there and promote the fundamental reasons why massage benefits the workforce.
About the Author:
David Palmer developed the first professional massage chair in 1986 and has trained more than 12,000 practitioners in seated massage techniques and marketing. Palmer can contacted via his business, TouchPro International, for seminars and speaking engagements/ He wrote “21st Century Workplace Seated Massage” for the October 2012 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.