A Massage Therapist’s Research into the “Bodymind”

By Marsha Walker, PhD, RN, LMT

I have had a massage practice in Austin for 33 years now, with many clients getting a massage every 2 weeks for 20 years.  I still love it and feel very honored to be trusted to help people in such an intimate way with their health.  No other health professional gets to spend 1 whole hour touching a client.

In 1989 I had been a massage therapist for 12 years, with the last 9 years being self employed doing home visits only.

I had been a nurse also for 12 years, but had not worked as one for about 6 years.  One day I had one of those life changing moments.  I picked up a magazine and on the cover it said something about stress and your health, do your thoughts matter?

I had never really considered that my thoughts and feelings could really affect my health.  We never learned anything about that in nursing school.  I had been wondering why some of my massage clients really seemed to love the massage I gave them, and it didn’t really seem to work well for others.  Could my thoughts and feelings have anything to do with the results of my massage?

This was the beginning of a 21 year exploration and adventure into the world of the power of our thoughts and feelings.  I got a Masters degree in nursing studying the power of our thoughts to affect our own health.  The field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) was just beginning to be researched and published in the literature.  Previous to this time, science thought that the immune system was an independent system, operating solo to fight invaders and keep the body healthy.  This new research discovered that our thoughts and feelings affect the functioning of the immune system.

Our experience of stress (the thoughts we have about experiences) downgrades every single immune function, affecting allergies, getting colds, cancer, skin problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.  Our experience of stress affects all digestive functions, such as constipation, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and the absorption of all nutrients.  Our experience of stress affects all functions of the endocrine system, such as fertility, thyroid function, diabetes, our ability to handle stressors, and how well we sleep.  Our experience of stress affects memory, how well we learn, and how easily we can change old habits.

In other words, it affects our health in every way.  So, since most people get repeated massage for stress management, I realized this information could not only help me and my family, but all of my massage clients.  Over the next 8 years, I used it in my own life and shared it with clients when they asked what they could do to feel less stressed and improve their health.

In 1997, another of those life changing moments occurred.  While reading the latest research about stress and thoughts, one article talked about the power of our thoughts to affect other individuals at a distance!  I was amazed that this was in a scientific journal and could hardly turn the pages fast enough.  The new field of distant intentionality was emerging.  After much thought, I entered the PhD program in nursing to do my own research and learn more about how our thoughts and feelings can affect others.  Could my thoughts and feelings as I massage someone affect their thoughts, their health, and how they experience the massage I give them?

What I learned blew me away!  With our thoughts and feelings we can affect other people, plants, animals, bacteria, cancer cells, and even machines from great distances away.  When I immersed  myself in this literature, I discovered a vein of it where scientists were beginning to research the effects of prayer on the health of others at a distance.  The findings regarding prayer have led researchers to look at the effects of spirituality, relationship with the Divine, and health.  Even physicists are reporting that there seems to be a conscious field of resonance or vibration affecting, permeating, and connecting everything, and that it can be contacted or influenced.

So in my PhD program I researched, with the participation of a group of nurses in a hospital, a technique I developed and had used in my massage practice for years called HeartTouch.  The nurses practiced it with patients in the hospital and people in their personal lives.  The nurses said they experienced less stress, more meaningful connection with others, more of a sense of personal control and choice in their lives, and a greater sense of spiritual wellbeing.  HeartTouch includes techniques for noticing and changing your thoughts and feelings during or after a stressful encounter.  These techniques also offer ways to have caring, meaningful connection with people you don’t really know (like a new client), and a way to bring the healing power of spirituality into the workplace.

Scientific research as well as personal experience continues to discover amazing and exciting information about who we are, how we are all connected, and the ability of our thoughts and feelings to influence the health of our own body and that of others.  We are all awakening, helping each other become more conscious and kind.  The heart as a center of energy for healing, the power of love as a universal connecting vibration, and the role of spirituality in the health of the mind and body are new frontiers of exploration.  Let us go boldly, with reverence and great awe…..

Marsha Walker, PhD, RN, LMT holds a PhD in Holistic Adult Nursing from the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation research focused on Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and Distant Intentionality, which studies the effects of what we think and feel on the health of ourselves and others. Marsha has been active in the field of Holistic Health Care for 30 years, with a private practice in Austin offering massage and energy-based therapies. During this time, Marsha has also offered a variety of workshops, locally and nationally including energy-based therapies, massage, reflexology, stress and PNI, and spirituality and health.