The Evolution of Massage
Massage therapy evolved from this natural tendency to rub and stroke the skin for relief of pain and stress into a science. The word “massage” is derived from the Arabic root “mass’h” that means “to touch, knead or squeeze.”
There are various dates assigned to the beginnings of massage as a practice. One form of massage, called Ayurveda, emerged in India in approximately 3,000 BCE. Ayurveda was developed by ancient seers and natural scientists based on centuries of studies, experiments and meditations. Some time between 1500 and 500 BCE, texts about this practice were written down and were widely adopted throughout India and Asia.
Ayurveda theorizes that the body must be in harmony with its environment. When it gets out of harmony, it can get diseases and various problems with pain. When balance is restored, then the body will heal naturally. Ayurveda uses the five senses to interact with the environment to create balance. In addition to touch therapy, Ayurveda uses herbalism, aromatherapy, color therapy and sound therapy to restore balance.
The actual oldest written record of massage is Chinese, and is about 4,000 years old, dating back to 1,800 BCE. It was found in a Chinese medical text, Con-Fu of the Toa-Tse. This text mentions the use of massage for therapeutic purposes.
We know that the Egyptians used forms of massage around 2500 BCE, such as Reflexology, because there are hieroglyphs showing hand and foot massage. One particular hieroglyph in the tomb of Ankmahor, probably Pharoah’s physician, shows two slaves massaging the hands and feet of their masters.
Hippocrates of Cos (460-380 BCE), author of the Hippocratic Oath, wrote: “The physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly also in rubbing (anatripsis); for things that have the same name have not always the same effects. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid . . .”
In the 1800s the Swedish doctor, gymnast and educator Per Henril Ling developed the form of massage best known today in the West as the Swedish Movement System. The Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger then defined the hand strokes of Swedish massage. In addition to Swedish massage, the Japanese massage practice of Shiatsu is also the most commonly practiced type of massage practiced in the West today.
The practice of massage and its incorporation into Western medicine is just now coming into its own. The demand for it has never been higher, and the medical community is just beginning to understand its capacity to relieve pain and heal the body.
Photo: Accupressure points on Sen lines at Wat Pho temple in Thailand. Creative Commons Licence by Ryan Harvey