By Hara Estroff Marano, published on July 1, 2007 - last reviewed on June 6, 2011
Name: Kiambu Dickerson
Profession: Massage Therapist
Kiambu Dickerson can feel your pain. Literally. Through his well-trained hands, the massage therapist can find where a body is harboring its hurts and gently persuade the tissue to let down its guard. A practitioner of orthopedic massage, which is both full-body and oriented to specific sites, he recognizes that a disturbance in one area can lead to systemic dysfunction. He can figure out a lot about a person just from massaging their muscles. "People often carry around with them old injuries both emotional and physical and they learn to live with them. They don't realize it until you touch them, which can set off a powerful emotional release." Before he approaches a client, he spends time centering himself. "I have to work with intention, never to 'fix' anyone or impose my ideas about how a person should function but to support the body in its natural inclination," he says. Early in his career, Dickerson worked in a clinic for HIV-positive patients. "That was very powerful," he reports, "as most had not been touched by anyone for a long time." Now codirector of New York Orthopedic Massage, he says his work "is geared toward getting people into a better state of health."
Hands-On Hope: Call it "tactile nurturance." Massage seems to do for eating disorders what other treatments do not. Anorexic women randomly assigned to massage therapy two days a week for five weeks experienced benefits both immediate (reductions in anxiety, depression, and levels of stress hormones) and long-term (less body dissatisfaction) that were not seen in a control group getting standard treatment.
Untouched by Fear: Holding a spouse's hand diminishes the brain's response to threat. Those in the highest-quality marriages show the greatest sign of relief when touched.
From Art to Heart: Just seeing the strong colors, "creepy eyes," and stern expressions in several modern paintings of Elizabethan queens raised the blood pressure and anxiety levels of patients in the waiting room at the University of Ottawa's Heart Institute. The effect was so strong the artworks had to be moved elsewhere.
Moved by Beauty: Beauty is less in the eye of the beholder than in the motor cortex of the brain, which is activated differently depending on whether you judge a painting lovely or ugly. Landscapes, portraits, and abstract art each excite distinct areas of the brain, but the motor cortex seems to be the seat of beauty perception.
Borderline Vision: Your native culture sculpts your brain over time and influences what you see. Easterners and Westerners not only view the world differently—Asians focus more on context and background, Americans on foreground objects—but actually experience differing patterns of neural activation when looking at the same sights.
Sight for Sore Ears: Even among people with normal hearing, seeing a speaker's face makes it easier to hear them. Viewing creates familiarity with speaking style that our brains transfer to listening mode.
Not Seen But Heard: Just being blindfolded for 90 minutes can enhance your hearing. Short-term light deprivation appears to be enough to jump-start auditory circuits lying dormant in the brain's visual cortex. The findings help shed light on long-term brain changes following blindness.
Mood n' Food: Human taste perception is subject to significant alteration by general anxiety because both are under the influence of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. The more anxiety—or depression—the higher the threshold for both bitter and sweet taste, paving the way for the appetite changes seen in mood disorders. Because normalization of neurotransmitter levels is linked to mood improvement, a taste test might identify the best drugs for depression treatment.
A Scent to Remember: The fragrance of roses or another familiar scent can help the deep-sleeping brain consolidate memories and boost retention of facts that it learns during the day. The odor intensifies activation of recently recorded memories and enhances their transfer to permanent storage.