The practice of using touch as a healing method derives from customs and techniques rooted in ancient history. Civilisations in the East and West found that natural healing and massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. It helped reduce stress and produced a deep relaxation.
Massage therapy began as a sacred system of natural healing. However, cultural shifts rendered it a disreputable form of indulgence for extensive periods of history. Enduring these turns, massage has experienced resurgence in modern times. Today, massage therapy stands as a highly respected holistic healing method practiced across the world. Here’s how massage has evolved into the relaxing and therapeutic practice it is today:
Massage Emerges in India
Massage is an indispensable part of the Ayurvedic healing system and started approximately 3000 BCE.At home massage has been an integral part of the Indian culture through the ages and is often linked to social , religious or ritual customs. Ayurveda views that individuals incur illnesses and diseases when they live out of harmony with their environment. To treat their conditions, individuals must restore their natural mental and physical balance by reestablishing harmony between themselves and the world around them. At that point, they can begin to heal naturally. Massage therapy is one such way of bringing about a harmony within the system and was advised based ones constitution and illness.
Massage Culture Appears in Egypt and China
The earliest written records of massage therapy were discovered in Egypt and China. Furthermore, Egyptians are credited with creating reflexology in approximately 2500 BCE.
In China, texts documenting the medical benefits of massage therapy date back to approximately 2700 BCE. The Chinese tradition of massage therapy was developed from the combined expertise and methods of doctors in traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners of martial arts, Buddhists and Taoists who viewed touch as essential to their spiritual yoga training, and laymen who offered massages for relaxation.
Chinese massage methods originated from the principle that diseases and illnesses arise due to a deficiency or imbalance in the energy in specific pathways or meridians that represent physiological systems. Through massage and other specific bodywork techniques, energy will flow more harmoniously through these pathways, allowing the body to heal itself naturally.
Monks Bring Massage Therapy to Japan
Starting around 1000 BCE, Japanese monks studying Buddhism in China observed the healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine, including massage therapy. Japan soon began to import and customise Chinese massage techniques, giving rise to traditional Japanese massage or anma, which grew into Shiatsu.
The primary goal of Shiatsu is to raise the energy level in the patient. In turn, this increased energy level regulates and fortifies the functioning of the organs and stimulates natural resistance to illnesses.
Massage practitioners stimulate pressure points in the body in an effort to rebalance the patient’s energy. They use their thumbs, fingers and palms, working without needles or other instruments. Through treatment, patients can achieve balance in both their physical body and emotional well-being.
Athletes and Philosophers Introduce Massage to Greece
Derived from the Eastern philosophies and practices, massage progressed into Western civilisation in approximately the eighth century BCE.
Athletes in Ancient Greece employed massage to keep their bodies in peak condition prior to competitions. Physicians of the time used herbs and oils in combination with massage techniques to treat many medical conditions. Greek women recognised the benefits of these aromatic oils and used them as beauty treatments on their skin.
In the fifth century BCE, Hippocrates prescribed “friction” to treat physical injuries and instructed his physician colleagues on the benefits of rubbing to help the body heal itself.
Massage Spreads to Rome
In Rome, during the first century BCE, Galen, a physician to many emperors, began using massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and diseases. Following Hippocrates’ principles, Galen believed in exercise, healthy diet, rest and massage as integral pieces in restoring and maintaining a healthy body.
While the wealthy received massages in their homes by personal physicians, many Romans were treated in public baths where trainers and doctors delivered massages. The recipients would first bathe themselves and then receive a full body massage to stimulate circulation and loosen their joints. Massages typically included oils to benefit the skin.
Highly popular in Roman culture, the public baths eventually earned a reputation as being more about excess and the pursuit of pleasure instead of as an avenue for healing. In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine condemned the public baths for abusing the Roman culture standards.
Europe Recognises Massage’s Healing Powers
Massage therapy declined in popularity and practice in the West until approximately 1600 CE. Scientific breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology were changing the foundation of modern medicine. Manual methods of healing faded from view.
Between 1600 and 1800, numerous physicians and scientists observed and documented the benefits of massage. However, Western techniques made few advances until the 19th century.
In the early 1800s, the Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This system incorporated massage with medical gymnastics and physiology. Techniques included stroking, pressing and squeezing, and striking to manually treat physical issues.
The United States, Massage and the Wellness Boom
Through the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practiced. In particular, massage was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock.
However, massage remained out of the mainstream as a form of treatment for many years. It was perceived as a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Furthermore, its reputation endured another unsavory period with the advent of massage parlours where the practice became associated with the flesh trade.
In the latter half of the 20th century, rising interest in natural healing methods revitalised massage. More and more states started to regulate the practice, and industry standards in licensing and education emerged. As a result, massage earned a place as a legitimate and respectable form of alternative and complementary medicine.
Today’s massage therapists practice a multitude of techniques originating from ancient methods. From those roots, they remain inspired by a goal cultivated centuries ago – to help others heal their physical and emotional well-being and experience a higher quality of life.
Massage therapy is more than relaxing me-time. Studies continue to prove the physical, and emotional benefits of even a single massage therapy session.
There are various types of massage and understanding the differences will assist you in choosing the most effective technique to alleviate your discomfort.
- Swedish massage – best known and most widely practiced approach to massage. It focuses on improving blood flow to the skin and muscle and removing muscle tension. Swedish provides generalised relaxation, improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and enhances one’s overall state of health.
- Deep Tissue and Trigger Point Therapy – uses slow friction and deep finger pressure on body areas suffering from chronic muscle tension or areas that ache or feel contracted. This type of massage is useful for areas of hypertension, such as a stiff neck or sore shoulders. Deep tissue work works well in combination with traditional Swedish therapy.
- Myofascial Release – All muscle is covered by a thin layer of tissue (called”fascia”) that helps maintain body posture and provides support and strength for the muscles. Fascia can tighten or become stuck in places, constricting muscle and not allowing it to fully relax. With Myofascial Release, the practitioner gently stretched fascia along the direction of the muscle until
the tissue releases and is fully elongated. The result of myofascial work is postural improvements and noticeable relaxation of cramped muscle groups.
- Sports massage – Sports massage, geared toward athletes and fitness enthusiasts, is more vigorous than other forms of massage. Sports massage is used to warm up muscle tissue, assist in training, prevent injury, and aid healing in case of soreness or injury. It is used both before and after exercise, as well as in the treatment of sports injuries such as sprains, strains, or tendonitis.
- Reiki – Reiki is a form of energy work. It uses a series of hands-on holding positions that correspond to vital organs and nerve plexes to assist the body’s own recuperative processes and restore mental calm. Reiki is excellent for those with anxiety or mood disorders. It is also gaining favor with cancer patients. Reiki works at the deepest levels of the body and is extremely relaxing.
- Reflexology – Reflexology is based on the concept that all the organs of the body are mapped to our feet (and hands). Reflexology applies finger pressure, some stretching and movement to pressure points on the feet with the goal of promoting healthy functioning of the body’s various organs.
- Shiatsu – This is a Japanese form of bodywork that is rooted in the same principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine as acupuncture. Both see the body as an interconnected web of energy pathways called meridians. Blockages to flow of energy results in imbalances: some areas have an excess of energy and others a deficiency. These blockages lead to tension, pain, and diminished health. The Shiatsu practitioner uses a combination of pressure, stretching, and holding key points to treat these blockages and restore a smooth flow of energy and balance in the body.
- Lymphatic Massage – A very light, gentle, repetitive stroke is used to stimulate the activity of the lymphatic system where there is edema. Lymphatic massage is used to reduce swelling resulting from injury or post-surgery.
- Heated Stone Massage – For these treatments, the therapist uses heated basalt mineral stones and/or semi-precious stones that represent the chakras. Muscle tension is released as the smooth stones move over the muscle. Heated Stone Massage is also thought to align subtle energies within the body for greater attunement and harmony.
- Craniosacral Therapy (CST) – Craniosacral therapy monitors the rhythm fluid that is continuously draining and refilling around our brain and spinal cord. By monitoring the craniosacral rhythm, the therapist discovers where healing is needed and corrects the sources of pain using extremely subtle manipulative techniques. CST is an extremely gentle hands-on technique that causes deep relaxation for the client.
- Rolfing – Rolfing is a system of body restructuring and movement education. It works with the deep myofascial structures of the body in order to release fascial adhesions and allowing the muscles and bones to return to balanced relationships. The focus is on alignment throughout they body – legs, torso, arms, etc… You may want to research more into Rolfing if you have serious postural deviations.
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy massage is designed to decrease tension and swelling and increase circulation for both pregnant women and those who have just given birth.
- Geriatric massage – is designed to address the specific needs of the elderly population. This type of massage for the elderly uses gentle and light application of massage techniques and can include passive stretching and a light oil or lotion to permit your muscles to be worked on without causing excessive friction to the skin. These techniques can help enhance blood circulation, combat depression, improve balance and flexibility, reduce the pain of arthritis, increase joint mobility, improve posture, and encourage overall well-being.
Geriatric massage can be especially helpful for maintaining and improving overall health as we age. It also has been shown to relieve anxiety and provide comfort, especially to touch-deprived elderly clients.
- Thai massage -Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. The founding father of Thai massage was an Ayurvedic doctor named Jivaka Kumar Bhacca, who is revered still in Thailand as the “father of medicine. The therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches.
Thai version focuses on circulation and pressure points, promoting internal health as well as muscular flexibility. Treatment often begins with the feet and gradually moves upwards towards the head.
Rhythmic compressions, rolling of limbs, and gentle rocking are Thai massage methods employed in order to relax and realign energies in the body. Varying amounts of pressure are applied to energy lines (or ‘Sen’) along the body in accordance with the Ayurvedic principles of balancing one’s energy.
Note: Always make sure to tell your therapist if you are on any medication especially blood thinners that may cause you to bruise more easily. Conditions that result in decreased or increased sensation will need to be made aware of. Massage therapy helps to reduce the healing time of injuries but make sure you and the therapist know what kind of injury it is and how old it is so that proper techniques are used.
Make sure you have given a good health history to your therapist and make sure your therapist has experience and knowledge in the type of massage you need, to make massage therapy a good and healthy experience.