"A massage from Beverly is a truly rejuvenating experience. Her comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, combined with years of experience reassured me that my pregnant body was being treated in a safe therapeutic manner. Regular massages up to 38 weeks greatly contributed to the management of the physical and hormonal changes I experienced and helped me to have a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy."Camille Robinson
Mother and Doctor of Physical Therapy
Types & Benefits of Massage
Nowadays we hear so much about different types of massage – Swedish, shiatsu, deep tissue, acupressure, ayevedic – the names can go on and on and on. The profession known as "massage" is also being called "bodywork" or, less commonly "somatics." In the following paragraphs I will try to clarify for the reader how to determine what is meant by the various terms and specialties being promoted in this field.
“Massage” is generally thought of as a service provided to a client lying on a table (or sometimes sitting in a chair). It is usually passive, meaning all the client has to do is to lie there and relax while the massage therapist strokes, rubs or otherwise affects the body of a client who is undressed and draped by towels or a sheet. Usually oil or lotion is used to lubricate the skin (unless the massage is a client on a chair).
“Bodywork” is used interchangeably, although some practitioners use this term to mean deeper or more therapeutic rather than relaxing work. It is also used for work that involves some client participation, maybe with postural awareness. Some of the styles in which the client remains clothed are called bodywork, although even this is not a standard definition.
“Somatic” literally means “of the body” and usually focuses on how the client feels “from the inside out”. This field usually involves more sophisticated systems of postural analysis and education than massage– often only using touch incidentally to increase self-awareness and teach new patterns of body use.
All of these terms are today used interchangeably.
Benefits of massage fall into four broad categories: physiological, orthopedic, energetic and educational. Since the techniques of different approaches are so often similar, it seems sensible to choose a type of massage based on the benefits one hopes to achieve.
Almost all “massage” done with oil is derived from Swedish massage. Swedish massage generally intends to improve circulation, enhance relaxation and increase joint mobility. Five basic strokes comprise Swedish massage, and you will see these same strokes in almost all types of bodywork, in some form. As originally developed, Swedish massage also involved exercises to maintain joint mobility.
These basic techniques show up in many different types of massage. What changes is the application and intention. Pressure used can range from quite light, in some cases without physical contact, to very deep.
Definitions Categorized by Benefits
Physiologically and/or Structurally Beneficial Massage
Massage in this category affects the body primarily physiologically and/or structurally. Physiological benefits include relaxation, increased circulation, enhancement of the immune system and overall health. Structural benefits include release of tight muscles and trigger points, greater joint range of motion and easing of pain – used to prevent and help recover from injuries. Most types of massage also affect the energy of the client and bring greater self-awareness.
- Deep tissue massage is often misused to mean a firm massage, using strong pressure. To be accurate, deep tissue refers to a system of securing the superficial (surface) layers of muscle to work on the deeper layers of muscle and tendon. Applied properly, deep tissue work can be relatively light and gentle. Whether it is applied with a strong or soft touch, it should always be gentle enough to relax into the pressure as the tissue releases.
- Esalen massage – uses slow gentle strokes to enhance self-awareness and promote deep relaxation. Pressure is usually light to moderate.
- Relaxation massage – can be any type of massage applied in a soothing manner to facilitate the release of stress. Pressure can be light to very deep.
- Sports massage – again, can be any techniques applied for the purpose of optimizing physical well-being and athletic performance, reducing incidence of, and assisting recovery from injury. Sports massage is often appropriate for active seniors who are concerned with maximizing function while reducing likelihood of injury. Sports massage administered during an event, like a marathon, is different – either short, warm-up techniques prior to the event, or stretching, cool-down afterwards.
- Reflexology – sometimes not considered massage, reflexology tries to improve health by stimulating points on the feet, hands and sometimes ears.
- Trigger point (also sometimes called Neuromuscular therapy)– works to release areas of adhesions in muscle and fascia (connective tissue). Generally involves strong pressure to localized points of sensitivity.
- Orthopedic (sometimes called medical or clinical massage) - usually massage intended to achieve goals of prevention and rehabilitation of injury, maximizing efficient body use. Can use any techniques, and usually involves more systemized problem solving than general massage.
- Medical massage – when used to mean massage done in a medical setting, such as a medical office or hospital, can range from orthopedic massage to palliative, soothing massage for critically ill patients or those in recovery from illness and surgery.
- Rolfing® is a structural approach to release tensions in the deeper layers of tissue.
- Aston-Patterning® uses postural analysis, massage, deep tissue work and movement education to release unnecessary tensions and teach more effective ways of using the body.
- Hot stone massage – any style of massage using hot rocks as tools to help relax the muscles and provide more pressure
- Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® - deep tissue massage using the feet as tools with the massage therapist holding onto bars on the ceiling. While it is strong, it is generally quite soothing –the feet apply a gentle pressure that feels like giant soft hands.
II. Energetically Beneficial Massage
This category includes energy systems of bodywork include such styles as shiatsu, acupressure, Thai, Reiki, Jin Shin Do and Juyitsu, tuina, polarity and ayurvedic. Mostly originating in Asia, these approaches all intend to maintain and restore health by stimulating points and meridians along which the life force is believed to flow. Most of these approaches are done without oil on a fully clothed client. Some, like shiatsu and Thai, involve stretching and moving of the body. In fact, Thai is called "the lazy man’s yoga." Some styles involve finger, elbow or foot pressure held on specific points – others like Reiki may not even make physical contact with the client. Western applications of energy work include Therapeutic Touch and Touch for Health to promote healing by affecting the person at an energetic level. Zero-balancing works with energy using the bones as fulcrums. Cranio-sacral Therapy uses the motion of the bones of the skull and rhythm of the cranio-sacral fluid to restore well-being. While addressing the “energy” of the body, these systems almost all affect overall health and muscular tension.
The techniques of either Asian systems or western Swedish based massages can all be adapted to meet the needs of numerous special populations such as athletes, the elderly, pregnant and post-partum women, etc.
For more information about Thai massage, please go to www.thaistretch.com.
III. Somatic Systems to Enhance Self-Awareness and Teach New ways of Using the Body
Of the approaches named above, only the educational component of Aston-Patterning® is generally considered to be a somatic system. Others include the Feldenkrais Method®, Alexander Technique®, Rosen Method® and Rubenfeld Synergy®, all of which focus on education with touch used only incidentally. Trager® work involves gentle rocking and shaking to re-educate the nervous system to greater ease of movement.
At Redwood Massage & Sauna, all of us are highly trained and skilled. Most of us will incorporate numerous techniques and styles into a general massage designed to meet the needs and goals of the individual client. Feel free to let us know when you book your appointment if there is a particular concern or type of work you are interested in.