When it comes to health and wellness, I'm almost always up for trying new things—especially when said things aren't really new but actually ancient practices trusted for millennia. Last week, I was getting a regular Swedish massage and when I turned over onto my back toward the end of the session, the massage therapist asked if I wanted him to massage my stomach. While I've heard stomach massage stories from friends—who were, mid-massage session, just as surprised to be getting one—I'd never had one myself, so I agreed to try it out.
While it certainly didn't have the super soothing, feel-good effect of massaging tired muscles, it was more pleasant than I anticipated. I expected the sensation of having someone's hands pressing into my stomach to feel uncomfortable and awkward. He worked his hands in a clockwise motion, stopping at certain points to apply more pressure or smaller more concentrated rotations. While it took some getting used to, I eventually found it to be relaxing and restorative, as if it were relieving tension by working out the knot in my stomach I get from stress and anxiety.
After the massage, I was curious to learn more about the practice. I did a deep dive into learning about stomach massage benefits and found out that it has its roots in Chinese medicine. Chi Nei Tsang is the centuries-old practice of abdominal massage. First used by Taoist monks to help detoxify and strengthen their bodies, it seeks to work the energy of the internal organs in order to improve physical and emotional health. Chi Nei Tsang stems from the belief that unresolved emotional issues are stored in the digestive system, and when left unchecked can lead to illness and disease. What's more, it turns out that the noninvasive treatment can be beneficial to health in so many ways beyond digestion. It's used to treat an array of health concerns—particularly those related to the stomach, but it can also benefit overall wellbeing and comfort.
We're all familiar with feeling unease in our stomachs when under stress or experiencing negative emotions. Even on the most basic level, stomach massage can help relieve some of these uncomfortable symptoms. But below, we'll examine a handful of the other surprising health benefits abdominal massages can provide. You can visit a massage therapist for a session (while mine was just five minutes of my hour-long Swedish massage, there are clinics that offer exclusively stomach massages) or even learn the proper techniques for self-applied massage. It is said that even just five to 10 minutes of daily massage can provide innumerable benefits. As always, if you have medical concerns or are pregnant, speak with your doctor before beginning the practice.
Improves Digestive Function
The most obvious benefit of stomach massage is that it can aid digestion. Gentle pressure applied in clockwise circular motions helps get everything moving. Studies have shown that abdominal massage can help those with more serious digestive issues. Last year, one study found that 15-minute massages twice a day for three days showed improvements in the digestive issues of individuals who had an endotracheal tube. Furthermore, the massage group also saw a reduction in their abdominal circumference and experienced a significant decrease in constipation.
Boosts the Immune System
So much of our health and wellbeing starts with our gut, and you might be surprised to find out that a significant portion of our immune system is actually in our GI tract. If our gut health is suffering, we'll feel the ramifications throughout our whole body. Stomach massage can stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems. Bolster your body's natural defense system by maintaining good gut health through a nutritious diet, managed stress, enough sleep—and regular abdominal massage.
Decreases PMS Symptoms
Abdominal massage benefits aren't just limited to the stomach. Researchers from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that massage techniques like circular stroking of the abdomen (as well as kneading the feet and thighs) can help improve PMS symptoms such as pain, water retention, and distress.
When we have gut and stomach ailments, our posture sometimes suffers because of it. Working out any cramping or other discomforts occurring in the midsection with abdominal massage can help relieve tension, and consequently will help correct misalignment.
Releases Physical and Emotional Stress
One of the main reasons we get massages is to relieve stress. The same benefit can be found in the practice of abdominal massage. Especially because of the societal pressures that surround our stomach, letting go and allowing a massage therapist to do work in that area—or making time for ourselves by massaging our own midsections—can provide some much-needed attention and self-care to body parts we've been made to feel uncomfortable about. Dismissing our own judgments and insecurities to take care of our bodies can be just as cleansing as the physical benefits at work.
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Chung M, Choi E. [A comparison between effects of aroma massage and meridian massage on constipation and stress in women college students]. J Korean Acad Nurs. 2011;41(1):26-35. doi:10.4040/jkan.2011.41.1.26