Massage is a useful treatment for stress reduction. Have you ever wondered how? Have you ever been deep into a relaxing massage when your stomach starts making noises? I frequently get asked, “Why does my stomach do that when I’m here?” Believe it or not, it’s fairly common to experience a growling stomach when receiving massage. Not because you’re suddenly hungry, but because your autonomic nervous system is reacting to the application of massage. To understand why this happens and how this all relates to stress, you first need to know a bit about the autonomic nervous system.
The ANS is a control system that regulates bodily functions. This system works unconsciously (autonomously). It controls functions like your heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. The autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches; the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The SNS controls your “fight or flight response”, also known as the acute stress response. This response exists to help your body react to stress or danger. It triggers the release of chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline. It also increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
The PNS is almost the opposite of the SNS. It helps maintain normal body functions and conserve physical resources. It tells your body to “rest and digest”, slowing your heart rate, increasing intestinal activity, and relaxing muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.
Many forms of massage therapy stimulate the PNS, shifting your body away from the stress response and generating relaxation and homeostasis. This is why your stomach starts to make noise when you’re receiving massage. Your body starts to “rest and digest”. Due to an increased amount of stress in our daily lives, many of us tend to live in the “fight or flight” state. The good news is, regular massage can teach your body how to shift in the other direction and function more effectively.
– Rachael Turner, LMT, Pilates instructor & Founder of Inertia6