The practice of using touch as a healing method derives from customs and techniques rooted in ancient history.
Civilizations in the East and West found that natural healing and massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. What’s more, it helped reduce stress and produce deep relaxation.
Massage therapy began as a sacred system of natural healing. 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:
A Form of Massage Emerges in India
Believed to be of divine origin and passed down orally through generations, Ayurveda is the traditional holistic medical system in India. In approximately 3000 BC, ancient seers and natural scientists developed this system based on centuries of studies, experiments and meditations.
Massage Culture Appears in Egypt and China
The earliest written records of massage therapy were discovered in Egypt and China. Tomb paintings in Egypt believed to be from between 3000 and 2500 BC depict individuals being kneaded by others. Furthermore, Egyptians are credited with creating reflexology in approximately 2500 BC. In this system, the practitioner applies pressure to specific points or reflex zones on the feet and hands. In turn, the recipient experiences beneficial effects on the areas of the body which connect to those zones.
In China, texts documenting the medical benefits of massage therapy date back to approximately 2700 BC. 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 BC, Japanese monks studying Buddhism in China observed the healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine, including massage therapy. Japan soon began to import and customize 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
As early as 800 BC, 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 recognized the benefits of these aromatic oils and used them as beauty
In the fifth century BC, Hippocrates prescribed “friction” to treat physical injuries and instructed his physician colleagues on the benefits of rubbing to help the body heal itself. Moreover, he promoted a combination of massage, proper diet, exercise, rest, fresh air and music to restore the body to a healthy state.
“Do as the Romans Do” – Massage Spreads to Rome
In Rome, during the first century BC, Galen, a physician to many emperors, began using massage therapy to treat 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
Europe Recognizes Massage’s Healing Powers
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.
In the latter half of the 20th century, rising interest in natural healing methods revitalized 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 and became recognized in society’s wellness boom—the focus on disease prevention through maintaining and wellness.
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.