By: Karen Menehan
When wellness experts Lynda Solien-Wolfe, L.M.T., and CG Funk got together a couple of years ago to figure out a way to educate more people about the benefits of massage therapy, they brought to the conversation a combined half-century of experience in the massage and spa fields.
What resulted was the identification of a truth that is powerful in its simplicity: Receiving massage makes people happy.
Now, Wolfe, who is vice president of massage and spa for Performance Health, and Funk, have just launched their Massage Makes Me Happy Initiative, sponsored by the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit organization that educates the public and private sectors about preventive health and wellness.
The initiative will promote massage’s ability to benefit recipients on the physical and emotional-mental levels—or, more simply, to make people happy—through education, advocacy and global awareness.
“People are coming around to, ‘[Massage] helps me feel good,’ but they don’t know why,” Funk told MASSAGE Magazine. “They relate it to a physical aspect, like, ‘My back doesn’t hurt me as much anymore,’ but they don’t relate it to, ‘I feel calm, I feel relaxed.'”
The initiative’s mission is to promote awareness of the positive benefits of massage, to consumers as well as to medical, spa and wellness professionals, by using the message of happiness.
More specifically, those involved in the initiative will create a global platform and rallying cry around “Massage Makes Me Happy”; consolidate existing clinical research and support new research for deeper integration of massage into wellness practices; encourage storytelling of the benefits of massage; and promote massage and massage careers worldwide.
Massage & Happiness
“Can we prove that massage makes you happy?” Solien-Wolfe asked rhetorically. “The research supports it. Your mood levels change, your pain levels go down.”
Research conducted so far indicates that massage therapy lessens depression, especially in pregnant and post-natal women and in cancer patients (those populations have been studied more than have others) also diminishes anxiety and pain, and spurs the release of oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone, among other benefits.
Tiffany Field, Ph.D., has led much of that research since 1992, via the Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida, which she founded and directs. Field is also one of the founding members of the Massage Makes Me Happy initiative.
“Our first plan is to compile the research that already exists and be able to highlight studies on pain and depression,” Solien-Wolfe said, adding that the group plans to promote how massage really does create happiness in a human being’s life.
“We haven’t seen anyone focusing on this, and we thought it was a big missing piece of the puzzle,” she said.
The initiative will also help promote massage and massage careers by elevating the perspective of massage work itself, Funk said.
“There is still a perspective out there of ‘I’ll get a massage, but I wouldn’t want my daughter be a massage therapist,’ so by helping consumers understand the deeper aspects of massage through happiness and happiness markers, career promotion can be dovetailed into that,” she explained.
Funk added that she’d like to see massage therapists have more pride in their professional identity, and more young people make massage therapy their first career choice.
Another way the initiative will support massage therapists in their careers is by including spa owners and directors in the educational component—not as teachers so much as students, Solien-Wolfe said.
She explained that massage is a huge money-maker for spas worldwide, yet the real health benefits that come from receiving massage therapy can get overlooked or are sometimes not fully understood by the people who own and run spas.
“We noticed there was a big gap in the things and topics and subjects and conversations that came up around spa and wellness businesses and initiatives, and the actual work being done every day by trained massage therapists,” Funk explained.
The beginning conversations about the initiative will take place at the Global Wellness Summit in Palm Beach, Florida, an event often heavily attended by spa and wellness personnel.