When Americans think, “Massage,” most are probably thinking massage performed on a table underneath a sheet with lotion or oil applied. Most people either look to relax or for therapeutic, deep tissue work. Western massage is associated with Swedish massage, deep tissue or sports massage, Myofascial release, lymphatic drainage, trigger-point therapy, and cranio-sacral therapy.
Massage goes back thousands of years (as discussed in my post last week regarding Thai massage). Ayurveda dates back to around 3000 BCE in India. This type of healing body work was and still is used to create balance within the body. It uses a combination of herbalism, diet, aromatherapy, sound therapy, color therapy, and touch therapy.
In Egypt and China dating back to 3000-2500 BCE there are hieroglyphs depicting massage by the Egyptians, and the Egyptions are credited with Reflexology. There are Chinese texts explaining the use of massage in Chinese medicine. The Chinese viewed massage as a way to balance the energy within the body through pathways to help the body heal naturally. There were multiple techniques used and still used today including acupuncture, acupressure, and Tui Na.
Around 1000 BCE Monks brought massage to Japan, which morphed into Shiatsu. Shiatsu, like Thai massage, works to raise the energy level of the receiver using acupressure.
Massage made its way to Greece, the west, around 800 BCE. Greek athletes used massage to help their bodies stay strong and healthy. Hippocrates talked about “friction” on the body to treat physical injuries, and he instructed his colleagues on the benefits of massage facilitating self-healing.
Between 200 and 100 BCE massage made its way to Rome. Galen, a physician to the emperor, used massage to heal ailments and pain. Galen followed many of Hippocrates’ philosophies regarding diet, exercise, rest, and massage. Massages were given to the wealthy in their homes and the general public would receive in the public baths. Massage was used to stimulate circulation and loosen joints.
Up until the 1600’s massage’s popularity declined, but between 1600 and 1800 the benefits of massage were documented. However, “there were not many advances made in Western techniques until the early 1800’s when the Swedish physician, Per Henrik Ling, developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System.” These techniques included stroking, kneading, pressing and squeezing, and striking to treat physical pain.
In the 1900’s Americans used massage to treat WWI veterans suffering from PTSD, but it remained out of the mainstream because many viewed massage as a pass-time reserved for the wealthy. In the 1940’s and 1950’s massage became associated with the sex trade because of the development of massage parlors, but in the second half of the 1900’s alternative healing techniques became of interest again and put massage back on the map. Massage became regulated and formal education emerged. Because of this many physicians and chiropractors recommend massage to their patients as complimentary medicine. As an alternative form of medicine it helps with self-healing and focuses on disease prevention through wellness.
Massage has a multitude of benefits. Studies have found massage to help with anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, headaches, sports injuries, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome, just to name a few. Massage is a wonderful way to release oxytocin and endorphins. Of course, massage isn’t meant to replace all western medicine, but rather be a compliment to it. As an alternative form of healing, though, it can definitely add to a person’s well-being, self-care, and self-healing journey.
My use of Western massage works to incorporate different modalities–Thai, Swedish, deep tissue, myofascial release (MFR), Gua Sha (use of a scraping tool along the skin to bring blood to the surface to break up adhesions in the muscle tissue), and Ashiatsu (use of feet, elbows, and forearms to work deep into the muscle). I do this in order to tailor to my clients’ needs and incorporate as many tools as I can to facilitate self-healing. Along with Reiki, massage is a wonderful way to help heal the body and the mind and raise a person’s energy.