Introduction and History of Massage

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Massage – the manipulation of the body’s soft tissues - is the one of our oldest techniques of healing.

It is thought that the word ‘massage’ derived from the Arabic ‘mass’ or ‘mas’h’ meaning to press softly.  

In many cultures, and even for many animals, massage manifests as a basic instinctual reaction - providing reassurance and comfort in response to pain, easing stress or muscular tension and speeding healing.  

In the East, ancient Chinese, Indian and Japanese manuscripts refer to the use of massage to prevent and cure disease and to heal injury.  In the West, we have the words of Hippocrates from the 5th century BC:

'rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too tight……. can make flesh or cause parts to waste; hard rubbing binds, soft rubbing loosens.’ 
 In our more recent past, the Victorians advocated massage for pain relief and for strengthening the body and since the start of the 20th century massage has become increasingly popular as people search for alternative ways of dealing with stress and health issues. This has resulted in more emphasis being placed on the pleasurable and relaxing potential of massage as well as its physical benefits.

There are many different types of massage and bodywork, all of which involve the application of various techniques to stimulate the muscular structure and soft tissues of the body.  

Massage can be broken into broadly Western and Eastern categories.

Western methods e.g. Swedish Massage, Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage work mainly on the external physical body and involve the application of soft tissue manipulation through five basic techniques.

Eastern methods e.g. Shiatsu, Acupressure, Thai Massage and Tui Na are used to assess and restore the vital flow of energy through ‘meridians’ or energy channels.  

In addition to these, there are a range of other massage related therapies such as Energy Based Treatments like Polarity Therapy and Reiki which work on the body’s energy field and involve either the application of pressure or the holding of hands on or above the body.  Structural Re-alignment methods such as Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and Rolfing place an emphasis on the structure and movement of the body in relationship to gravity and involve the correction of inappropriate patterns of posture and movement.  

The benefits of massage are many and deep: it can help relieve and prevent chronic pain; lowered vitality and recurring infections; it can help conditions such as migraines, digestive disorders, hypertension and high blood pressure; it can be used to improve postural alignment and sports performance and it promotes a sense of equilibrium.  In the modern world where we suffer increasingly from emotional, mental and physical stresses, massage is one of the best ways to retrieve a sense of balance and reduce our feelings of anxiety.  

The treatment time of a massage will vary between different methods and can be anything from half an hour to a full hour or ninety minutes.  Massage can be carried out with or without lubricants and fully clothed, partly clothed or naked according to the method employed.

Massage teachers and therapist will over the years master their own distinct and favoured methods of practice, many will also train in various methods and may combine techniques to produce a treatment to suit the individual or location, On-Site Massage for example combines techniques and is tailored for the ease and convenience of the work place.

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