Eldercare: The Gift of Massage

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By: Eileen Bristol

The elderly are growing closer to the end of their life and going through a process of excarnation (preparing to leave the body), just as young children are involved in a process of incarnation. A course of massage therapy can be of tremendous benefit in this stage of life, although, as always, we must recognize individual needs. A ninety-year old woman who practices yoga daily and teaches square dance classes once a week recently commented on her preference for massage treatments that were not too delicate. She found a deeper touch to be more satisfying, while a weakened pa­tient, in severe pain from chronic illness, might find a gentle massage the one thing that soothes their soul and enables them to relax and sleep.

Specific ailments can also be ad­dressed through massage. Anyone work­ing in a nursing home can confirm the importance of bowel regularity for their elderly patients' sense of well-being. Through our inquiries we may bring awareness to a patient that a bowel move­ment every 3-4 days is not normal. In addition to the obvious corrective and preventative measures the massage thera­pist can offer tremendous help through frequent massage of the legs, low back, and hips as well as the abdomen.

We can best approach the abdomen by beginning with gentle effleurage al­ways in a clockwise direction, follow­ing the movement of the content of the bowel. We can follow this with gentle petrissage (kneading) - also clockwise, and friction that spirals in and out, par­ticularly over the colon flexures. These flexures, where the colon makes a bend, deserve extra attention as they are often sluggish or congested,. Be sure to avoid kneading or applying pressure over the region of the actual stomach and solar plexus or other organs. It helps to look up a human anatomy chart in order to re­fresh your memory about the placement of the abdominal organs and the flexures in the colon.

Massage also offers support to those without specific ailments. Besides the obvious encouragement of blood and lymph circulation and joint mobility, the patient can receive important benefits for the life of their soul, their psychological health. The elderly person is in the pro­cess of digesting his or her life experi­ences. It can be a very fruitful time for reflection. What does this have to do with massage?

Consider the human body as having different aspects. The physical body is the part which remains behind af­ter death. If left to the forces of nature, tissues break down over time. During life the physical is permeated with the 'life', or 'ether body' This with­draws at death, along with the other higher members. One of the functions of the ether body is storing memories. Individuals who have had near death experiences, such as Lavender through an accident or near drowning which may cause a temporary loosening of the ether body sometimes report that their whole life flashed before their eyes as if in a panorama. Occasionally, a pa­tient may experience the reliving of cer­tain memories during the course of a mas­sage. You may ask what aspect of the human being is experiencing the memo­ries? It is the soul itself.

Many people have a tendency to withdraw from their body, or not pen­etrate it fully, especially if in discomfort or pain. Through a series of massages we can develop a better body awareness and healthier penetration. I believe this can help in the process of accepting and digesting our life experiences.' Indeed, the role of "bodywork" in self develop­ment is accepted by many who strive on a spiritual path.

Massage can also serve those who seem to be ready to pass on and yet are somehow unable to "let go" and cross the threshold of death. Interestingly, what can often benefit such patients is to mas­sage the calves and feet. Just as we may have difficulty falling asleep if we are "all in our head" and find help with a nice warm foot bath, so dying patients may need help to once again fully enter their body before they are able to leave it and enter the spiritual world. As always re­member to go slowly; the patient will appreciate having the time to digest each stroke. Allow for a natural breathing be­fore you move on.

Massage oils which might serve the elderly patient include Dr. Hauschka's Rose Oil and Moor-Lavender Oil. Both of these oils provide a sense of enveloping the patient with care and kindness. The Moor-Lavender also provides a sheath of warmth. Blackthorn Oil, also produced by Hauschka Cosmetics can be a restorative following a prolonged illness, and enhance the rhythms of breathing. If the patient is able to bathe, natural lavender and pine bath oils can be relaxing and encourage breathing.

One additional aspect deserves comment. Many elderly people are no longer in situations where they regularly receive touch in a caring way. Their spouse and close friends or family may have already passed on or be in a depleted health situation. The warm, gentle, caring touch of a massage can be a source of light and encouragement in an elderly persons' life

Eileen Bristol is a practicing Rhythmi­cal Massage Therapist in Chapel Hill, N. C. She trained at the Austin School of Massage Therapy and at the M. Hauschka School in Germany.

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