Massage: Therapy or Relaxation?

– Danielle De Natris, Naturopath BScND, CNM Lecturer

There are not many people in this world who would say no to an offer of a massage. In actual fact, these days a gift voucher for a massage treatment is a highly appreciated present.

Massage has been around for a long time. Basically, as long as there have been living creatures on this planet, there has been massage in one form or another.

It is an instinct. It is a well-known fact that newborn animals need touch/massage by the mother to be viable for survival. This is the crudest form of massage: The mother animal licks the young. Either on television, or in real life, you have all, hopefully, witnessed the tender licks of the mother sheep licking its lamb, or the cat with its litter of kittens.

Humans dont quite go about massage in this way, which is a fortunate thing, dont you think! These days massage is used for many different purposes: By the sportsman after his game, by the stressed housewife for some well-deserved relaxation, and in palliative care to facilitate a sense of peace. Even the corporate world has found the benefit of massages for their employees. A twenty minute massage in a purpose-built portable chair is gradually replacing the Friday afternoon drink at the office.

In countries like Japan, these types of corporate massages, which do not require undressing, are very common, as the managers know that happy and fit employees are more productive. This trend is slowly catching on in Europe, probably because more and more Eastern companies are opening offices here, bringing with them certain customs.

The first written recordings of massages date back as far as 1400 BC, in China. Surely, massage would have existed before that date, but nobody wrote about it so we will stick with that timeframe. In those days, massage in China was purely used for therapeutic purposes, in other words, to heal pains and ailments. The Chinese diverted a bit form the original technique of rubbing and kneading by the practice of Moxa, whereby herbs were burned on areas of disease. Acupuncture was another form of massage as viewed by the Chinese, and needles were inserted in specific spots to break the line of pain.

In India, at around the same time, initially massage had a lot less to do with therapeutics. The Indians used their massage in a much more emotional way, and often used scented oils to create sensual relaxation. Sculptures at a place called Khajuraho are evidence of that, and numerous pictures in the Kama Sutra, the Book of Love, can attest to this as well.

But massage also became one of the principal aspects of Ayurvedic Medicine, the oldest form of Indian medicine.

More oils were used, this time therapeutically, such as Rose, for the liver, stomach and blood, and Chamomile, for headaches, dizziness and colds.

In ancient Greece, massage was a common part of the typical Hellenistic treatment for illnesses. Air, herbs, diet and massages were frequently used by the well- known doctors/healers of that time: Hippocrates (460 BC-377 BC) used massages for sprains, dislocations and even for constipation.

In ancient Rome, things were similar, and it is reputed that Julius Caesar himself was massaged on a daily basis.

Galen, another famous healer who lived a little later (130 AD 201 AD) was another firm believer in massage techniques.

Originally form Greece, he went to Rome and incorporated massage into his treatments, together with herbal tonics. (Galen specialized in treating wounded gladiators, so you might wonder if massage would have been the right sort of treatment!)

In Europe, massage really took of in the eighteenth century. The English word massage most likely stems for a Portuguese word amasser which means to knead In those days, with the Portuguese owning many colonies on the Asian continent (e.g. Goa), it stands to reason that they would have experienced massage there and given it its own word.

The father of European relaxation massage as we know it now is undoubtedly Henrik Ling, a Swede who lived from 1776 1839. This doctor established a range of massage movements. These were deemed so beneficial that in 1813, under Royal Patronage, his type of massage technique became officially known as Swedish Massage.
In 1859, the first British Training School for Swedish Massage was established, and up until today, it is a widely popular topic, with numerous Colleges in the U K offering studies into various massage techniques.

Unfortunately, not everything about massage has always been equally positive and legal. At one stage, working as a massage therapist was equal to working in a brothel, and in Thailand this is often still the case.( I speak from experience here: I walked into a place advertising Relaxation Massage in the city of Chang Mai, after a long day traveling with a backpack. Just what I needed, I thought, a nice relaxing massage for the poor back. The girls in there laughed and laughed when I asked for a treatment, and when they explained in hand signals, sorry no speak English, what the massage was about, I left, very embarrassed, but an experience wiser!).

A friend of Freud, Wilhelm Reich, had equally different ideas about massage. In his doctors practice he tried to cure neuroses by a certain type of massage. He thought that by releasing muscle tension, he would be able to measure orgons.

The word orgon was his terminology for the energy released during an orgasm. By measuring the levels of orgons in his patients during massage, he could prescribe the right cure for their neuroses. Obviously, this practice was regarded as illegal, he was arrested, and died as a convict in jail.

Massage can have numerous benefits, as you no doubt know. It can unwind you after a hard day at the office, and often you will be so relaxed, you will sleep well after such a treatment. Especially with the use of certain oils, such as lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang or jasmine it is easy to de-stress.

When you make a booking for a massage that involves the use of aromatherapy oils, always choose a qualified therapist. It takes a trained person to know about things that may affect you, the so-called contra indications. Did you for instance know that Lavender can lower blood pressure? That means, if you already have low blood pressure, you might find that you become dizzy when you stand up from the massage table.

A qualified massage therapist will know all these important factors, and very often will therefore ask you some health related questions before the massage.

If you are lucky enough to have a friend who offers to give you a massage, use a neutral type oil such as avocado, jojoba or sweet almond. These oils are easily absorbed by the skin. If you are not able to spend BPS 10-15 on a massage oil, use olive oil. Just as effective, but not as well absorbed, and a little less sensual!

A good massage should always be given on a proper massage table, but a blanket on the floor can do the trick as well. If you are suffering from pain after sport or injury, a deep tissue massage can be wonderful, but is best done by someone qualified, as working deep into the muscles can do harm when not done properly.

A normal relaxation massage can be given by almost anyone with a bit of feel for it. Using your fingers, palms of hands and gentle, varying strokes can be a source of wellbeing for the recipient. Always make sure that you do not use too much pressure, and make sure you look after your own comfort too: Do not bend your back, and wear sensible footwear so you have a stable grip.

When massaging children or babies you must be extra gentle: Use a natural oil such as sweet almond, and work in small circular movements without applying any pressure. Concentrate on the back and shoulders, and with babies, make sure to roll them back off their tummy afterwards. Children with sleeping problems often respond well to a massage at bed time.

If you want to massage a friend/partner/child who is ill, always check with their doctor if it is appropriate. For instance, cancer patients might not be permitted a massage at certain periods during their illness or treatment, and you would not want to cause harm in such a case.

Massage relaxes the body, but at the same time it stimulates the flow of blood and lymph, so it can be a great addition to a detox. An Epsom Salt bath, followed by a massage, and plenty of water intake, will rejuvenate you in a wonderful way.

With winter at the doorstep, having a massage when you feel a cold coming on, can do wonders as it cleanses your body by mobilizing waste and bacteria, and it stimulates your immune system.

Finding a professional massage therapist that you like is best done via the official british Massage Therapist organization, or via a look in the Yellow Pages. Make sure you feel comfortable with the therapist of your choice, you are after all going to undress for this person, and you may feel vulnerable if you do not trust the person who will massage you. Ask friends, or your doctor, or at a sportschool if they can recommend someone. Or if you are lucky, ask your partner , but promise one in return.

So, what are you waiting for: bring out the oils, blanket and soft music (Or the phonebook!) and induldge youself in a massage.


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