Massage Therapy: History and Its Types

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Massage therapy has been touted as one of the oldest forms of medical treatment. First recorded in China during the second century B.C. in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, massage was mentioned as a recommendation for the treatment of certain ailments. Traditional Chinese Medicine, a holistic system of healing modalities including dietary therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and exercise, has always included massage, which since 800 C.E. has been known as “TuiNa” (literally, “push and grasp”).

Today TuiNa is increasingly popular in the West, as people turn to massage for serious therapeutic work, as well as for pleasure. Through much of the 20th century, massage in the West was mainly seen as a luxury — for feeling pampered and relaxed (Of course, relaxation is itself deeply therapeutic, but this was the mainstream view.), a diversion for the wealthy. As natural healing and holistic approaches caught on over the latter half of the twentieth century, more and more people realized how much could be accomplished with the healing touch.

In India, the traditional healing system of Ayurvedic medicine also prescribed massage for a variety of medical conditions. Physicians of ancient Greece and Rome utilized massage as one of the primary methods to treat pain. In the West, during the fifth century B.C., Hippocrates also instructed his fellow physicians on the many benefits of rubbing.

Although rooted in Eastern tradition, massage eventually traveled westward to the ancient Greeks and Romans. When the Roman Empire fell, however, massage, like many medical and scientific practices, became suspect. Eventually resurfacing in Europe during the Renaissance, it continued to evolve as a form of healing.

Today we usually think of Western medicine as not being holistic in its philosophy and approach, but it was not always that way.

In the 5th century B.C.E. in Greece, Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, said, “A physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly also in rubbing.” He said that massage — along with fresh air, good food, baths, music, rest, and visits to friends – is the key to treating disease.

Aesculapius also promoted massage, in conjunction with herbs, diet, relaxation, and hydrotherapy. Aesculapius was another 5th century B.C.E. healer in Greece who was pivotal in the development of Western medicine.

You might not recognize his name, but you’re bound to be familiar with the symbol of Aesculapius: two serpents coiled around a staff, the symbol of modern Western medicine. This image is related to the ancient yogic conception of kundalini, the energy coiled at the base of the spine that rises upward through the body with meditation and yogic practice, visualized as a serpent. If you’ve seen a picture of the body’s seven chakras connected by a spiral or a double spiral, you’ve seen the diagram that prefigured the staff of modern Western medicine.

In its simplest form, massage is the external manipulation of the structures of the body (such as skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones) with positive intentions of relaxation, psychological or physical benefit to the recipient. Massage is therefore thought to be as old as humanity, or older – if one includes its use by other animals before upright Homo sapiens evolved!

It would seem that the impulse to rub a hurt was quite instinctual, but up until the early 1800s, there were few advances in the actual massage techniques until Swedish massage was developed. A Swedish doctor named Per Henrik Ling is often mistakenly associated with Swedish massage. He actually incorporated massage with medical gymnastics and physiology and developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System.

Early on, physiotherapy was actually originally based on Ling’s manual methods.

Massage Therapy had been used for many medical and psychiatric conditions until scientific breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology substantially changed the foundation of medicine in the West. Quite simply, drugs became the solution for many ailments and electrical instruments gradually replaced manual methods.

Massage did not become a respectable or reputable practice until the 19th century.

In 1894 a group of women formed “The Society of Trained Masseuses”, which eventually became “The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy”, which still exists today.

Over the years, though massage faded in and out of our Western medical system, it seems there has always been an awareness of its inherent healing and therapeutic value. During the 1960s, a wave of interest in natural healing once again revitalized the practice of massage and has continued to be a popular method of dealing with stress. Perhaps this is why massage has become mainstream as the increased pace of life has created all sorts of stress related problems.

In 1997, a U.S. survey showed that consumers spent between four to six billion dollars on massage, approximately 30 percent of the total amount of money spent on complementary and alternative medicine. At the Touch Research Institute at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine, medical doctors are researching the beneficial effect of massage therapy on a variety of conditions such as stress-related disorders, depression and anxiety, pain, and auto-immune disorders. I think it is fair to say that our ancestors were on to something when they rubbed themselves well!

Since World War II, massage has enjoyed ever-growing popularity. Nowadays, thanks to strict industry standards and licensing of practitioners, massage is a commonly accepted form of alternative — as well as traditional — medicine. Many people rely on massage to maintain good health and energy, to prevent and cure illness, and for simple relief from stress and other consequences of life in the 21st century.

Much of what has been written on the history of massage typically emphasized the male shaman, priest and healer. In ancient times, massage was one of those healing arts that typically was passed down from generation to generation. What role did women play in this? Most cultures had midwives who utilized massage, particularly through the stages of pregnancy.

In every continent, from Africa, Australia, Central and South America, Europe, North America, to Asia, the midwife has been using massage to help woman during the stages of pregnancy and labor. Woman have always been healers. They bathed and looked after the sick, the young and the old; looked after pregnant women; delivered babies.

Historically, women healers were persecuted excluded from the medical profession and even barred from practicing medicine until around the 20th century.

Interestingly, the massage therapy profession is probably one of the most popular emerging job titles of 2005 according to Salary.com. The American Massage Therapy Association estimates that only 16 to 18 percent of therapists in the United States are male. Essentially, massage therapy is predominantly a female profession.

Massage is one of the oldest recorded healing practices. Ironically, though, what was passed on from generation to generation between women was rarely documented. It is well known that indigenous cultures have an oral tradition and rarely have written documentation on their cultural practices. Perhaps this is one reason why women are not well-documented and not given much credit in the history of massage.

Since World War II, massage has enjoyed ever-growing popularity. Nowadays, thanks to strict industry standards and licensing of practitioners, massage is a commonly accepted form of alternative — as well as traditional — medicine. Many people rely on massage to maintain good health and energy, to prevent and cure illness, and for simple relief from stress and other consequences of life in the 21st century.

Types of Massage

There are a number of different types of massage. Some of these are: Relaxation Massage, Remedial Massage, Sports Massage, Partner massage etc. The benefits vary from relaxing to energizing. Applications vary from massage for athletes who need high performance for muscles to massages for relaxation or wellness to therapeutic medical massages and massages that aim at providing better self-contact, enhance the body image and provide integration(touch therapies).

All over the world, there are 400 types of massage, but we will discuss here only the most common types of massage. Here is a quick guide to the most popular types of massage to help you figure out which massage style is right for you.

Swedish Massage Therapy

This is the most common type of massage in the United States. It is also known as Swedish massage or simply massage therapy. It is a slightly vigorous and very relaxing therapeutic massage using various strokes, usually with lubrication. Massage therapists use long smooth strokes, kneading, and circular movements on superficial layers of muscle using massage lotion or oil. Swedish massage therapy can be very gentle and relaxing. If you’ve never had massage before, this is a good one to try first.

  • Massage therapy improves circulation by bringing oxygen and other nutrients to body tissues.
  • It relieves muscle tension and pain, increases flexibility and mobility, and helps clear lactic acid and other waste, which reduces pain and stiffness in muscles and joints.
  • It helps the body’s stress response by lowering levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
  • Massage therapy also appears to enhance the immune system

Massage therapy is not recommended for certain people: infectious skin disease, rash, or open wounds; immediately after surgery; immediately after chemotherapy or radiation, unless recommended by your doctor; prone to blood clots. There is a risk of blood clots being dislodged. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before having a massage; massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed skin, unhealed wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, or areas of recent fractures.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy with the addition of one or more scented plant oils called essential oils to address specific needs. The massage therapist can select oils that are relaxing, energizing, stress-reducing, and balancing, etc. One of the most common essential oils used in aromatherapy massage is lavender. Aromatherapy massage is particularly suited to stress-related conditions or conditions with an emotional component.

The nostrils are attached to a part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system controls emotions and influences the nervous system and hormones.

When you inhale essential oil molecules, messages are transmitted to the limbic system and affect heart rate, stress level, blood pressure, breathing, memory, digestion, and the immune system. Some oils calm while others energize. The subtle aroma of the essential oils fill the air around you during the massage. After the massage, the massage therapist may suggest a blend that you can use at home in between massage treatments.

Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a form of Japanese bodywork that uses thumb pressure and works along the energy meridians in the body also with a lot of stretches the same meridians as acupressure. You are fully clothed while being worked while on a mat on the floor. It is uncertain whether it originated from Chinese Zhi Ya. During Shiatsu each point is held for 2 to 8 seconds to improve the flow of energy and help the body regain balance.

People are normally pleasantly surprised when they try shiatsu for the first time. It is relaxing yet the pressure is firm, and there is usually no soreness afterwards. The pressure feels more localized, because unlike other types of massage, the finger pads are used to apply pressure for most of the treatment instead of the entire palm.

Certain pressure points may feel tender, which some people describe it as “good pain.”

Thai Massage

Known in Thailand as Nuat phaen boran, which correctly translates only as ancient massage or traditional massage, this form of massage is also known as Thai ancient massage, traditional Thai massage, Thai yoga massage, yoga massage, Thai classical massage, Thai bodywork, passive yoga or assisted yoga. It is usually soothing because of its emphasis on stretching and loosening the body. Its roots go back far into history, originating in India based on the Ayurveda, and then becoming popular in ancient Siam, now known as Thailand.

Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body using gentle pressure on specific points. Thai massage also includes compressions and stretches.

You don’t just lie there–the therapist moves and stretches you into a sequence of postures. In some gestures, legs and feet of the giver are used to fixate the body or limbs of the recipient. In other gestures, hands fixate the body, while the feet do the massaging action. Oil is not used in traditional Thai Massage.

A full Thai massage session typically lasts two hours or more, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body; It’s like yoga without doing any work. Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It is also reduces stress and improves flexibility and range of motion. The traditional therapeutic practice of Thai massage should not be confused with the sexual service of the same name that is available in some hotels and brothels.

Sometimes the traditional therapeutic Thai Massage, or ancient massage, is referred to as “old lady massage,” while the sexual practice, which has nothing to do with therapeutic traditional massage is called “young lady massage.”

Reflexology

Although reflexology is sometimes called foot massage, it is more than simple foot massage. Reflexology involves applying pressure to certain points on the foot that correspond to organs and systems in the body. Reflexology is very relaxing, especially for people who stand on their feet all day or just have tired, achy feet. Most people find reflexology for the most part to be very relaxing.

Reflexology shouldn’t be painful. If you feel discomfort, be sure to tell the reflexologist. He or she should work within your comfort zone.

Some areas may be tender or sore, and the reflexologist may spend extra time on these points. The soreness should decrease with pressure.

If you’re ticklish, not to worry. The reflexologist applies firm pressure to the feet.

Sports Massage

Sports massage is specifically designed for people who are involved in physical activity. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to have one-it’s also used by people who are active and work out often. The focus isn’t on relaxation but on preventing and treating injury and enhancing athletic performance.

A combination of techniques are used. The strokes are generally faster than Swedish massage. Facilitated stretching is a common technique. It helps to loosen muscles and increase flexibility.

Erotic massage

Erotic massage is the use of massage techniques for erotic purposes. A common slang used for the act is rub and tug.

For example, instead of draping the subject’s body with towels, an erotic massage is usually conducted with the subject naked and undraped. Areas of the body such as the areas around the groin and intimate parts of the body, which are normally not touched in therapeutic massage, will be touched in ways that increase sexual arousal.

Erotic massage may be utilized as a means of stimulating the libido, or increasing the ability of a person to respond positively to sensual stimulus. In some cases, erotic massage can be a form of foreplay without sexual gratification, intended to heighten the sensitivity of an individual prior to another engagement where sexual arousal and fulfillment is intended.

In other cases, erotic massage may be used professionally to help men address issues of premature ejaculation. Methods employed may teach the recipient to circulate erotic energy and relax the musculature of his pelvis and thus prolong arousal and increase pleasure.

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