This Step back in time to discover the ancient rituals and healing revelations massage has brought to the world.
From hot stone therapy to myofascial release, acupressure to shiatsu, osteopathy and beyond – there are hundreds of different types of massage to suit almost every health and wellbeing need. But how did there come to be so many?
The art of massage is ancient, dating back thousands of years and found, in some variation, at the heart of most traditional healing practices around the globe. Still today new techniques are being developed all the time to treat an enormous range of physical and psychological ailments.
Here, we explore some of the secret history of massage to give you fresh insight into this time-honoured skill.
Ale Romo photography
Some of the earliest evidence of massage can be traced back to somewhere between 500 and 1500 BCE in India and South East Asia. Here, it was originally used as part of a sacred system - holistic healing in Ayurvedic practice.
The wisdom Ayurvedic practitioners adhere to is believed to have been passed down from a divine source, so massage treatment was (and still is by many) thought to ascend way beyond the physical. It’s always been considered to be a vital part of regaining and maintaining balance in all areas of the mind, body and soul, to re-establish harmony both internally for the individual and extrinsically, for the world’s alignment as a whole.
As this particular method of ancient massage is completely holistic, the actual manipulation of muscles and joints is just a small part of it. In Ayurvedic medicine, massage is often paired with herbalism, dietary changes, sound therapy, colour therapy, and aromatherapy for an all encompassing experience.
Unlike other types of massage therapy, the aim of Ayurvedic massage is to guide the body back into a place where it can begin to heal itself, which is why ongoing meditation, yoga, specialist diet and emotional release are all huge elements of the process.
Relics unearthed from tombs in Egypt and medical texts discovered in China and Japan indicate that some unusual forms of massage had become prominent in different parts of the world by 2700BC. Although, some suspect these cultures were in fact creating new massage techniques as far back as 1000BC!
There’s no way to be completely sure now, but one Chinese medicine book written at this time entitled ‘the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine’ contains a section on "Examining Foot Method", which appears to be demonstrating the connection between points on the foot with ‘essential life force’. This could easily be referring to reflexology - a technique where pressure is applied to specific parts of the foot or hand to benefit the whole body.
Others believe reflexology was first developed in ancient Egypt, along with aromatherapy, supported by an array of astounding tomb paintings. But there’s no denying that both acupressure and acupuncture (where a practitioner inserts needles or applies pressure to points across the whole body, including hands, feet and even head and ears!) stem from Chinese and Japanese healing traditions at around the same time.
Despite the geographical distance between these countries, the idea behind these all of these practices is that by inserting a needle or applying pressure, stagnating energy or ‘Qi’ (chee) is freed up to flow through energy pathways or ‘meridians’. It’s thought that other wellbeing practices, such as yoga, chi-going and certain martial arts, achieve a similar result.
The concept of meridians lies at the heart of much of Chinese and Japanese holistic medicine, including more hands-on massage techniques which are considered to be vital for spiritual development. Xi-Hua Xu, Qigong Grand Master and professor of Taoist philosophy at Yunan University says that meridians were discovered through spiritual practices like Qigong and meditation. He explains that “by allowing themselves to become immersed deeply in another state of consciousness, ancient masters could literally “see” inside the body.”
While solid evidence of this is limited, scientists at Seoul National University claim to have discovered the meridian system (which they refer to as the “primo-vascular system.”), which they say is a crucial part of the cardiovascular system. Further studies have used CT scans and biophysical dye methods to reveal what may be the meridian lines to the naked eye for the first time.
Today, most massage therapists acknowledge that even contemporary and physiotherapy massage can sometimes release energy and emotions trapped in the tissues. Some therapies such as Myofascial massage, Somato Emotional Release, EFT, Seifukujitsu and Trigger Point Therapy actually focus on this.