Calming Massage is no ordinary relaxation music. Besides being an ideal album to complement massage treatments, it is an album that encourages specific breathing rhythms and proactively trains the modulation function of the nervous system. It is an album that can have noticeable health benefits if used properly. Consider the following scientific background and rationale:
Studies have demonstrated that the beat of a healthy heart changes in accordance with different circumstances and situations. In a healthy individual, the heart beats faster in situations such as during exercise or when an individual becomes emotionally aroused or anxious, and then promptly slows down when a person is relaxed. This normal fluctuation of heart rhythm is called heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is generally greater among young, athletically fit healthy individuals. Decreased HRV is associated with cardiovascular diseases and many other illnesses . HRV also tends to decline with prolonged high stress, an unhealthy lifestyle, and aging. The heart rate also changes with respiration (slows down upon exhalation, and increases upon inhalation). The part of HRV specifically associated with respiration is called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) . Biofeedback practitioners, for instance, have been treating a variety of health concerns and conditions by training individuals to maximize their RSA with specific paced breathing exercises [3, 4].
This album’s intention is to guide listeners to breathe in the ideal rhythm (with the aid of gentle breathing cues that are mixed with the music) in order to increase HRV. Breathing is a basic living activity that everyone performs every single moment without paying much attention to the act. Besides the simple exchange of air, breathing plays another critical role – it can become a powerful tool to balance and optimize our nervous system, thus creating a positive impact on our entire system. When we breathe slowly at a specific rate, RSA is increased and the rhythm of the heart and respiration beco me synchronized. Research has suggested that when the heart is beating in such a synchronized pattern with increased HRV, functionality of the physiological reflexes (i.e., baroreflex, an important homeostatic mechanism that maintains blood pressure) is greatly enhanced [5, 6].
It should be emphasized that while individual’s heart rate slows down when they listen to relaxation music, their HRV is often quite small. In contrast to typical relaxation music, Calming Massage strives to maximize HRV, which will be followed by overall reduction in heart rate in many cases. This program is focused on enhancing the modulation functions and adaptability of the autonomic nervous system (which controls virtually all of our internal organic function) rather than simply aiming for a passive, transitory relaxation response.
It has been discovered that when breathing at the rate of about 6 breaths per minute (0.1 Hz), HRV is maximized for most people . It should be noted, however, that as long as an individual is breathing at about 6 breaths per minute, this ideal coherent HRV pattern can occur even when that person is not fully relaxed. When the ideal coherent heart rhythm is mechanically created, it can lead to calming of the mind by feedback signals sent from the heart back to the brain through the afferent autonomic nerves. Typical relaxation or meditation exercises, on the other hand, are designed to calm the mind first, which can lead to subsequent slowing of heart rate and breathing rate. According to neurocardiology research, our heart and brain work in a highly interactive fashion, sending and receiving signals back and forth from one another . It is logical to conclude that the most powerful short and long-term stress management solution would be to approach both our brain and heart simultaneously.
The main concept of Calming Massage, therefore, is to relax the listener’s mind through carefully composed and performed music and at the same time, proactively slow the respiration through gently implemented breathing cues, which in combination can lead to the physiologically ideal heart rhythmic pattern and more harmonious interaction of mind and body.
Tim Hideaki Tanaka, Ph.D.
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