By Giuliana Fenwick
How Massages Help the Brain
Last time I shared with you information about the executive brain functions. I will cement this in a little more now along with sharing information about the other functions of the frontal lobe but also share knowledge and research about the other areas of the brain and their functions and how this all fits together. Because neuropsychology is really just a huge, grand word for looking at the AMAZING way our brains are put together and what the different parts of this beautiful, intricate, perfect jigsaw do!
There can be a lot of focus on the executive or higher brain functions when people are ‘ wired differently’, but the other areas are equally as important as you will discover …
It’s both addictive and fascinating in equal measure. This is why I completely love my job!
The Frontal Lobe
The frontal lobe, as I explained last time, houses the “ conductor “ of the brain. In other words the executive brain functions are stored here, things like planning, judgment, foresight, focus, concentration, attention, motivation, productivity, problem solving, organization, weighing up consequences and self-monitoring. However, the frontal lobe also houses anticipation, speech, awareness of abilities and creativity. An important emotional area is also stored here : this is where most of our ‘flight or fight’ responses come from. Mental flexibility, e.g, coping with the unexpected, is also found here. And don’t forget stimulation of the pineal is accessed here, regulating mood, anger and aggression levels. Melatonin is produced in the pineal and this regulates our daily and seasonal circadian rhythms which determine our sleep, hormone and stress levels. Don’t forget that children on the autism spectrum tend to have much higher stress levels than “ regular “ children so gentle, therapeutic stimulation here is so deeply beneficial.
The Temporal Lobes
The temporal lobes are just as fascinating too! Really think about what I am sharing with you in relation to the autism spectrum and other different abilities – and how gently stimulating these areas through nurturing massage really can scientifically bring about tremendous short and long term benefits. I have hundreds upon hundreds of case studies to back this research. The skull is so close to the surface of the head, so the brain, when you massage, is very easy to stimulate and balance.
Located within the temporal lobes are areas for social cognition, confidence, flexibility, emotional association and empathy! Reading and processing faces, coordination, imagination, organization, sequencing, hearing, multi awareness along with understanding an processing language are also found within these lobes of the brain. Now you know why I say that the focus has to include the whole head/ brain and not just the frontal lobe and the executive functions. It truly is incredible how we are made! The pituitary gland is also accessed via the temples and therefore all that beautiful and very important serotonin and dopamine, the happy and pleasure hormones respectively, are stimulated. Both short term and long term, gentle massage really has the most incredible here.
It is deep work, accessing emotional and mental layers as well as the obvious physical and scientific benefits such as encouraging the flow of blood, oxygen and neurotransmitters to the brain thus stimulating productivity , concentration and deep , long-lasting well being. You are working on every level for that individual: physical, emotional and mental.
The Parietal Lobes
Moving on to the parietal lobes, these house functions such as processing multi sensorial information, sensory association, tactile information / sense of touch ( so a good area to massage to acclimatize someone to touch ) and memory of sound. Seeing differences is also housed here along with spatial perception, visual perception, comprehension and clear thinking.
Last but not least, the occipital lobe plays an important role, storing areas for visual memory, sight and the still points just underneath the occipital ridge which lower blood pressure and heart rate. Very excitingly there is also an amazing point just above the medulla oblongata ( the slightly hollow bit at the center of the base of the skull and the top of the neck ) where eye contact can be gently stimulated! How incredible is that ?!
So really, when I work on the head, it is so much more than a head massage and I really do get a bit wild when people describe it as a treat rather than a treatment or even worse as a beauty therapy. It is deep work, accessing emotional and mental layers as well as the obvious physical and scientific benefits such as encouraging the flow of blood, oxygen and neurotransmitters to the brain thus stimulating productivity, concentration and deep, long-lasting well being. You are working on every level for that individual ; physical, emotional and mental.
So let me share with you a few techniques to stimulate and regulate all these different parts of this exquisite jigsaw. Remember always that the individual is in charge, you are never just trotting out a set routine. Always be guided by where the recipient feels they like it the best because 100% for sure this will be exactly where they need it. You are always working “ with “ someone and never “ on “ them. Depending on the individual, and not just their ‘label’, you can spend more time on some areas than others. Do not do anything too stimulating to the head on anyone with epilepsy or around the crown area of anyone with long term depression, anxiety or psychosis as it can lead to over stimulation.
TECHNIQUE ONE : WINDSCREEN WIPERS
Standing behind the recipient, cup your fingers and thumbs together to form a hard ridge like a ‘C’ shape with the edge of your hands. Starting at the base of the skull, follow a path up the sides of the head, crossing the parietal and temporal lobes, up to the top of the frontal lobe and the crown, then back down the center of the head to the base again. Repeat this path at least 3x from the base of the skull, up the sides to the temples, up to the frontal bones and back down the center of the head. You are moving and pushing the edges of your hands together like inverted windscreen wipers. Some of the children I work with call this one angel wings or bird wings if this helps you picture it easier.
Gentle but firm massage here loosens tight scalp muscles including the temporalis muscle which can cause headaches and migraines. It also encourages blood, oxygen and lymph supplies to the head. As you are working on all the areas described above, you are doing great work on physical, scientific, neuropsychological, mental and emotional levels.
TECHNIQUE TWO : FINGERTIP RUBBING
Using the index and middle fingers of both hands, and really moving the scalp this time, follow the exact the same path as above at least 3x. You are going in deeper this time and a little more vigorously so all those areas we talked about before are being really stimulated naturally and also balanced.
TECHNIQUE THREE: SHAMPOOING
You can do this one on those with epilepsy as it is not so vigorous. Standing behind the recipient and using your thumbs as anchors only ( so not weight bearing ), use your fingertips to gently but firmly rotate and really get the skin of the scalp moving. It is like giving someone the most beautiful and delicious shampoo. Cover the entire head, including under the occipital ridge and the temples so the still points are stimulated along with all the essential happy and pleasure hormones. Do this for at least 3-5 minutes, if not longer. Nerves relating to the head and neck are unblocked and the free flow of blood, oxygen and lymph are promoted. Tiredness and stiffness are eased and concentration, focus, memory, immunity and productivity are encouraged. Wellbeing and euphoria are flowing beautifully. All of the amazing neuropsychological areas are also being naturally stimulated so the technique is also gorgeously beneficial on emotional and mental levels as well as scientific, physical levels. If someone feels emotionally and mentally relaxed and happy, they are more productive, confident and focused. It’s a no brainer. When I massage special children within schools, the classrooms are always noticeably calmer, more focused and more productive on those days.
TECHNIQUE FOUR: COMBING THROUGH SCALP
Following all the stimulation of the previous techniques, this one is very calming and soporific. Using your fingertips, gently stroke through the hair, covering the whole scalp. This not only tidies up those who really do hate looking or feeling ‘ messed up ‘, it also reinforces all the work to those important neuropsychological areas and brings deep calm.
TECHNIQUE FIVE : THREE FINGER ROTATIONS ACROSS FOREHEAD
Standing to the side of the recipient and supporting the back of their head with your free hand, use the three middle fingertips of the other hand to very slowly, gently and firmly rotate the skin of the whole forehead, working from one temple out across to the other temple. Really take your time with this and move the fingers up and down as you travel across the forehead so that the whole frontal lobe is covered.
This is stimulating all those executive brain functions and neuropsychological areas that I shared with you earlier.
It doesn’t matter if you cannot remember all the functions that each area of the head houses; you will be stimulating them and doing great work anyway. Always do extra where the recipient wants it. You can always look up what that particular area does afterwards – it is how I learned and cemented my own knowledge over years!
Giuliana Fenwick is an author (“Indian Head Massage for Special Needs” by Jessica Kingsley publishing, available from Amazon ) , a writer for various national and international publications and autism websites , a specialist therapist working extensively with children and young adults on the autism spectrum and with special needs , a teacher/trainer , fundraiser and international public speaker .
Most importantly she is a mother to a beautiful ,courageous , gifted autistic son, Ollie.
For more information, visit her website: www.therapiesforspecialneeds.co.uk