The Fine Art of Massage

There's a definite healing power in your hands, as you'll discover when you practice the art of massage.

| January/February 1983

All animals, including the human species, tend to instinctively grab or rub a hurt in order to ease the pain. That simple urge to seek comfort in touch is the origin of massage. The word itself has been borrowed from French and can be traced back to the Arabic massa ("to touch or press"). In fact, the systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body has been practiced in many lands since ancient times, but unfortunately, modern "massage parlors" have sometimes given massage a less than respectable reputation.

Thanks to today's rebirth of interest in wholistic health and natural healing techniques, however, the art of massage has once again taken its place as a legitimate and very effective means of providing relaxation, body tone, and even "drugless therapy" for a number of minor ailments. When the simple techniques of massage are performed with knowledge, skill, and care, they can ease tension (which the body often "expresses" in terms of tight muscles or aching joints), improve circulation, and promote deep relaxation, which contributes to both good physical and good emotional health.

Massage can also serve as a powerful form of nonverbal communication. During a massage session, whether it's conducted at home or in a professional setting, a healing transfer of energy is said to take place between therapist and patient — an exchange that can ultimately "recharge" the body and promote a general feeling of well-being.

International Origins

Although crude massage can be seen as an automatic reaction to pain, the practice was probably first raised to the level of an art by the Chinese, who recognized that a deep, rhythmic stroking of the skin could help balance the flow of chi (their word for essential life energy) through the body's meridians (or energy channels). Somewhat later, Greek and Roman physicians used massage as a form of rejuvenative therapy. Similar techniques were developed by Hindus, Persians, and South Pacific islanders (who referred to their version of the art as lomi-lomi ).

The use of massage fell into disfavor during the Middle Ages, but this healthful "laying on of hands" was revived late in the eighteenth century as a respected medical treatment largely through the efforts of Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish doctor who developed a fitness system that combined regular massage with therapeutic exercise. Swedish massage, as Ling's regimen came to be called, is now the most widely practiced form of "bodywork" and is taught at most schools of massage in the Western world.

Your Muscles Will Love It!

The appeal of this healing art — which has maintained its popularity in so many different cultures and cut such a wide swath through history — stems from the effects it produces. Besides the generally warming, soothing feeling that results from a gentle rubdown, a thorough massage can promote well-being by positively influencing the body's physiological functions. As the therapist's hands move over a patient's skin, they excite sensory receptors in the epidermis, which then send reflex stimuli through the nervous system, exerting a profoundly healthful effect on the deeper tissues, muscles, and organs.

Sarah E. Meyer, LMT
3/5/2011 6:37:20 PM

This is such a pleasant surprise to find such an in depth and well written article on the subject of massage. As a Licensed Massage Therapist in the state of Florida, I very much appreciate the research and thought that went into the writing of it. There are a few things that need to be corrected - nit picky perhaps, but here goes: We are called Massage Therapists, not masseuses or masseurs or RMT's. We are licensed nationally and by the state in which we work as LMT's - that's Licensed Massage Therapists. We are a light hearted, but earnest bunch, and we take our work very seriously. The time required to earn those licenses varies by state and can be in excess of 1000 hours of college level studies. We work in our own practices, chiropractic offices, spas and some of us are at large and go to offices or homes of people who need us there. One more little correction and then I'll leave it alone - Swedish massage, specifically effleurage is slow, heartbeat rhythmic movements. Apart from these details, I am still so pleased to find this article in your magazine. Thank you so much for publishing it.

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