When people are mourning the loss of someone or something significant in their lives, they frequently experience physical tension and physical symptoms including profound fatigue, achiness and headache, general malaise, lack of sleep, loss of appetite. These issues are tied to the sympathetic nervous system, the body's subconscious way of recognizing and responding to threats. "Grief triggers"--small reminders of what was lost--are perceived by the sympathetic nervous system as such threats and occur many times each day, triggering the sympathetic nervous system's fight-flight-freeze response. This response tenses muscles and releases stress hormones. If often-repeated, it can lead to serious physical discomfort.
Grief massage seeks to mechanically stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the "rest and restore" response that occurs once a perceived threat is past. When muscles relax and anti-stress hormones are released, the body can re-balance itself.
A typical grief massage includes about 20 minutes of gentle therapeutic work on an area of particular discomfort identified by the client (often the neck/shoulders/jaw) and a 40-minute relaxation session that focuses on the back, arms and hands, calves, and feet. Touch is soothing and calming, aimed at comforting a client and easing tension. Because people in grief often become fixed on trying to "deal with" their losses through their heads or their hearts, grief massage also encourages them to reconnect with their bodies, to get in touch with what they are physically feeling. By doing so and experiencing the relaxation of grief massage, along with physical self-care suggestions appropriate to their situations, they can begin to feel physically better and so address the self-perpetuating fight-flight-freeze stress response. While grief massage by itself cannot "fix" a loss or bring a person to acceptance, it can offer people a sense of hope: physical symptoms, at least, can be addressed. Often simply doing this can be a very powerful comfort.
Depending on a client's wishes and situation, not all grief massages at Balsamroot Massage will follow the exact paradigm of gentle relaxation work noted above. Clients may want more clinical components and/or deeper pressure. The principle is the same, however: by disrupting the body's self-defensive tensing/ release-of-stress-hormones response and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, someone who has suffered a loss can feel better.
Grief massage is obviously appropriate for people who have lost a loved one. It can also, though, be very effective in the case of other kinds of losses: of a pet, of a job, of a marriage or relationship, of a cherished hope for something, of good health through diagnosis with an illness, of a "nest" now empty.