How do you feel when you walk away from a massage? Refreshed? Relaxed? Like a weight’s been lifted off your shoulders? Though your therapist deserves tons of the credit — it takes major skills to turn a one-hour session into a mega-dose of happiness — there’s also a scientific reason behind those responses. Ahead, we dig into what exactly makes massage therapy tick and how you can use it to improve your mind, body and spirit.

Next Stop: Relaxation

Here’s a little secret: Your nervous system wants to chill out. Its stress response — that combination of racing pulse, shallow breathing and increased blood pressure — is designed to protect you from dangerous situations, but it taxes your body when the stress hormones are pumping more often than not. Massage gives the system a green light to return to normal; not only does it slow down the heart-pounding physical effects, but studies show that it might also increase the availability of serotonin, a chemical that many scientists believe can affect positive changes in your emotions and mood. This involuntary relaxation response might also decrease the complications associated with stress-related diseases like hypertension.

Let’s Talk Mechanics

Of course, there’s a purely physical response at play here as well. According to the University of Minnesota, massage can increase the circulation of both blood and lymph, allowing your cells to receive a greater store of nutrients and oxygen. What’s more, both Swedish and deep-tissue massage can release compressed nerves caused by contracted muscles, tendons and ligaments, which results in both pain relief and improved function. This might seem like a no-big-deal moment, but think about it this way: When your body isn’t working at its highest capacity, your well-being suffers. Fix the deeper problems, and you might just find that you feel better overall.

The Touch Factor

All physical perks aside, there’s a deceptively simple piece of the puzzle that might affect more than anyone originally imagined: the benefits of human touch. Studies have shown that our bodies react to any type of touch thanks to tactile cells living in the base layer of our skin. If that touch is positive — in other words, if we read it as a pleasurable experience — it might trigger a release of oxytocin, otherwise known as the cuddle and love hormone. That could be why you come away from a massage session feeling totally at peace; your body simply received a signal to amp up the chilled-out vibes. That’s our kind of scientific breakthrough.

Ready to feel the benefits for yourself? Book a session with the massage therapists at Bella Vita.